The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Punk Progress …

Recently I came across this photo.

I have to be honest, I absolutely love it.

Two extreme sides of society coming together.

Or that’s what I first thought because after a bit of consideration, I realised that maybe they’re not that different.

Because while the context, history and day-to-day realities they faced were very different, they shared a desire to break a system actively working against their recognition, individualism and progress.

Similar to when the LGBTQ+ community supported the miners strike in the UK in the 80’s … and then, later on, the miners came out in force to back the LGBTQ+ community in their fight for rights and a future.

Different Worlds brought together by a common objective/enemy and realising the power both bring to each other in their goal.

Now the reality is all the groups mentioned in this post continue to face challenges and oppression from the establishment. They continue to be dismissed and attacked by the powers-that-be.

But while you could argue that means this approach doesn’t work, I disagree.

Because even when the result doesn’t go the way you want – or at least, in the timeframe you want – knowing you are supported goes a long way.

It keeps you believing.

It keeps you fighting.

It keeps you hoping.

And the more people who see what you’re fighting for is simply a different context to things you are fighting for, the more the momentum of change can swing.

I get this may sound idealistic.

I get the World right now is pretty shite.

But in the last few years we have seen issues that were previously ignored by companies and governments, gain awareness, acceptance and advocacy.

From mental health, to the climate crisis to trans-rights to countless other issues … change is happening that not long ago was not even recognised as an issue worth talking about.

We could do with more of this.

Because when we recognise the issues being faced rather than get distracted by the individuals involved, we may just see we are far more alike than different.

And then the establishment can’t blindly and wilfully ignore change that threatens their control.

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You Can’t Stand Out If You Want To Be The Same As Everyone Around You …

Tone of voice has always made me smile.

A list of cliched terms that somehow supposedly captures the distinctive characteristics of a brand, despite using 90% of the same language.

Fun … but aspirational.
Premium … but approachable.
Smart.
Human.
Innovative.

Blah … blah … blah …

What ends up happening is two things.

1 It ends up all coming down to a ‘look’.
2 It ends up with some people ‘getting the brand’ but never being able to articulate what it is beyond those same cliched words every brand uses
.

That’s why I loved when Dan Wieden said …

Brand voice was given a huge amount of focus and time at Wieden.

It wasn’t some scribbled words shoved on a brief at the last second that everyone ignored … it was really delving into the soul of the brand.

How it looked at the world.
The Values and beliefs.
It’s point of view.

Oh, I get it, that sounds as pretentious as fuck doesn’t it … but that’s why you can tell a NIKE spot within 1/10th of a second … regardless of the sport, the audience, the language it’s in, the country it represents or even the style of ad.

That’s right.

They get brand attribution and can be as random as fuck.

And before you say, “oh, but that’s just NIKE” … Wieden [who are/were the undisputed champions of this] did the same thing for Honda, P&G, Chrysler, Converse and any number of totally desperate brands.

The reality is, when you really invest in getting the brand voice right – both from an agency and client perspective – it becomes something far more than a look or a tone, it’s a specific and individual feeling.

And that’s why I find this obsessive conversation about ‘brand attribution’ so amusing.

Oh I get it, it’s important.

But the simplest way to get it is to simply do something interesting.

An expression of how you see the World without constraint.

A point of view others may view as provocative but actually is born from your truth.

That’s it.

It’s not hard and you’ll get attribution automatically.

And not just any attribution … but the sort that has short and long-term commercial value rather than begrudged and meaningless familiarity.

However so many brands – and the brilliant Mark Ritson has to take a lot of the blame for this – think attribution is built on the repetition of brand assets.

And while there’s some truth to that … the difference is when ‘brand assets’ ARE the idea rather than born from it, then you’re not building a brand or creating change, you’re literally investing in complicity and invisibility.

Especially if those brand assets are so bland and generalistic that to not make any impact in the real world whatsoever.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth …

You can’t have commercially advantageous attribution and be traditional at the same time.

Oh I know there’s a lot of agencies and consultancies who say you can, but they’re literally spouting bullshit.

I’ll tell you something else …

If you’re relying on opening logos, watermarks or number of brand name mentions per execution to ensure your work is being attributed to your brand … then you’re not just likely to be showing your neediness and desperation, you’re probably admitting that you’re not saying or doing something that is worthy of making people care.

In fact the only thing worse is if you hire a ‘celebrity’ to front your campaign, then have to label who they are because no one knows them.

Sorry.

Now I appreciate this sort of approach may get you a ‘Mini MBA’ from the Mark Ritson school of marketing … and it may help with internal consistency and familiarity … but I can assure you that it won’t get you a sustainably disproportionate commercially advantageous position in your category, let alone culture.

And maybe that’s fine, and that’s OK. But if it is, then own it … rather than put out press releases announcing your leadership position in the market when really what you’ve done is dictate the blandification of everything you say or do because your marketing strategy is based more on ‘blending in, than standing out’.

And nothing shows this more than tone of voice.

An obsessive focus of playing to what you think people want rather than who you are.

It’s why I always find it interesting to hear how planners approach what a brand stands for.

So many talk a good game of rigor but play a terrible game of honesty.

Spending weeks undertaking research and holding ‘stakeholder’ interviews to learn who the brand is – or wants to be – rather than going into the vaults and understanding not only why they were actually founded … but the quirks of decision they made along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, research and interviews have a place, but for me, learning about a brand at the start of life is one of the most valuable things you can do because it reveals the most pure version of themselves. Or naïve.

No contrived brand purpose … not ‘white space’ research charts … just a true expression of who they are and what they value.

Or wanted to be.

And when you start piecing those things together, you discover a whole new world.

Better yet, you get to a very different – and authentic place.

Oh, the things I’ve learned about companies over the years.

Not for contrived, bullshit heritage stories … but to understand the beliefs and values that actually shaped and dictated the formation and rise of the company, even if down the line it failed and/or modern day staff don’t know any of it.

There’s a reason The Colonel purposefully chose bigger tables to be in his restaurants when he started KFC. There’s a reason Honda made their own screws for their machines. There’s a reason Prudential helped widows and orphans.

It’s not hard, it just needs effort, commitment, transparency and honesty.

That’s it.

And while I could say this quick-fix, fast-turnaround, communication-over-change world we live in means good enough is good enough … the reality is for a lot of companies and agencies, they don’t think they’re sacrificing quality. They don’t think they’re sacrificing anything. They think they’re creating revolution and that’s the most fucking petrifying bit about the whole thing.

Inside the vaults lie the stories and clues that help you get to better and more interesting places. Not for the sake of it, but because of it. And when you get there, it will naturally lead you to bigger, bolder and more provocative acts and actions. And when you do that, then brands get all the attribution they could ever wish for, because by simply being your self, you will be different.

_______________________________________________________________________________

For the record, I truly respect Mark Ritson.

He’s smart, knowledgable and incredibly experienced.

He has also added a level of rigour in marketing that has been missing for a long time.

I also appreciate some of the issues I talk about are a byproduct of many other things – from talent standards, corporate expectations and plain misunderstanding.

However, when you say a course is the equivalent to gaining a Mini MBA, it not creates a false sense of ability – to to mention gets more and more brands thinking, behaving and expressing themselves in exactly the same way – it suggests the focus is on personal gain over industry improvement and you run the risk of becoming the beast you wanted to slay.

That said, he’s still much smarter than I’ll ever be.



It’s Only Classic If It Evolves …

So the cosmetic empire, Revlon, has gone bankrupt.

It’s a brand I remember from my youth with their big ads featuring big stars selling big statements.

But like Woolworths of old [how’s that for a linkage] they thought that was enough.

They thought they were enough.

But tastes change.

Evolve.

Hell, in just the past few years we’ve seen all manner of movements in the cosmetics space … from the nude look to the pastel and playful, both leveraged by brands like Maybelline and Glossier.

And then there’s Fenty …

Who came in and offered a foundation that had varieties specifically for African American skin as well as white – which shouldn’t be a surprise until you realise that until then, all major cosmetic companies excluded African American skin and expected them to use a foundation designed for white customers.

Seriously, what the fuck.

Of course, the success of Fenty saw many of the big players try to follow suit … but when actively you’ve ignored millions for 60+ years, you’re not going to convince them you suddenly care.

Which comes back to Revlon.

Who forgot the way you build a brand is not by communicating yourself over and over again, but doing things that earn loyalty.

Or at least prove you are working for it.

So many companies forget that. Either spending millions on what they want to say or ‘innovating’ with things that are what they want people to care about, rather than the things people care about.

It’s amazing how many brands fall for this.

But then, ego has that effect on people.

Causing them to place boundaries and blinkers around the comments that scream what people want you to do better at. What they want you to change.

But instead, companies choose to maximise short-term opportunities, rather than build things for the future. I get it … it costs a lot and there’s the argument it risks a lot.

Except it doesn’t cost or risk anything near what happens if you don’t do it.

And playing catch up never works because when you finally follow suit, you find out the others have already moved on.

Even the companies that promise ‘disruption’ never really go all in.

Often just focusing on one element the establishment do wrong rather than reimagining how they could completely evolve an entire category.

Function over benefits.

Product over brand.

That said, there are some out there who do it right.

Not just in the ‘cool’ categories, but in things like finance, health and paint.

Yes, paint!!!

Doing things where it shows they are truly watching and listening to culture.

Not just in what they want, but what is affecting who they are.

Once upon a time this was the norm. Now it’s all about promoting the condiments rather than focusing on the steak.

And while that can work in the short-term … giving you a few PR headlines you can leverage in the press … the brands who count succeed because they perpetually evolve culture – or evolve with the leading edge of it – rather than just keep them where they already are.



If You’re Going To Be Arrogant, At Least Earn The Right To Be That Way …

Recently I saw an interview with a photographer, I vaguely know.

[By vaguely, I mean it, we had a couple of interactions that he would never remember]

His name is Gavin Watson and he’s been taking photos since his early teens.

He’s almost 58 now and over that time, he’s built an enviable reputation for capturing the raw beauty of subcultures people either don’t understand or fear.

The photo he is proudest of is this one …

He took it while on a tube in London.

I think he was 15 at the time and it’s of his mate, ‘Skinny Jim’.

FIFTEEN!!!

But that’s not what I’m writing about, it’s about some answers he gave in an article in The Guardian.

Have a look at this …

In 3 answers, it says all you need to know about him.

Sure, you may think he is confident and arrogant … some may even suggest he reveals some bitterness in his response … but you’d be missing the point, because when he says, “don’t expect fame unless you photograph stars – and that’s boring as fuck, he’s talking about earning his right to his place in the photography world.

Doing stuff.

Learning, practicing, grafting.

Through highs, lows, tough times, good times.

It’s important because the value of graft is losing its value in a world of short-cuts to fame.

I wrote about this a while ago – specifically the value of graft versus the evil of hustle – but in a World where ‘industry fame’ on platforms like twitter is viewed as an act of career achievement, we need more Gavin’s than those who say a lot, but have created little.



Why People Who Believe In The Metaverse, Need To Be Dire Straits Fans …

After the amazing drama of yesterday, I need to calm things down.

Not for you, but for me … because my heart can’t take nerves like that.

And yet it’s going to have to do just that in a little over a week.

Bloody hell.

So to slow things down, let me take you back in time …

Back in 1985, the band Dire Straits launched a song called Money For Nothing.

It became famous for a whole host of reasons.

It was the first song of theirs that actually sounded slightly modern.

It had ‘modern’ day references in the lyrics.

It had Sting – from The Police – singing on it.

It had this video …

Did you watch it?

You didn’t did you?

You lazy bastards …

Well, to get back to the point of this post, here’s a screen grab from it …

Now while that image may not strike you as cutting edge, back in 1985, it was revolutionary.

Digital characters living in a digital world, where their universe was a blend of normality and possibility.

Hang on, does that sound like something else?

Something that a huge amount of the tech and marketing industry have been wetting their pants over?

Something that sounds suspiciously close to this …

Did you watch this?

You didn’t did you?

You über-lazy assholes …

Well, to get back to the point of this post, here’s a screen grab from it …

Yep.

Yep it does.

A music video from 1985 by the most snooze-rock band ever formed, not only communicated the metaverse, it did it in a style pretty close to what Facebook and every other brand have shown as ‘the standard’.

How terrifyingly embarrassing is that?

All these hip, technologists, futurists and strategists trying to look like they’re on the edge of culture creation and all the bollocks they’re banging on about was expressed by bloody Dire Straits 37 years earlier.

THIRTY SEVEN YEARS.

Hahahahahahahahaha.

I mean … when that Zuck video first broke, I wrote a post about how it was missing the point by showing things we can already do, but now – thanks to errrrrm, Dire Straits, I realise it was even worse than I imagined.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe technology and – the metaverse, even though what is being celebrated as it, isn’t what it is – will have the possibility to make a huge, positive difference to humanity. Eventually.

But making – and lauding – a film and idea that looks awfully similar to a bloody 1985 music video isn’t doing them any favours. If anything, it shows how much of this industry is filled with individuals who crave attention or adoration or just desperately seek relevance.

Not helped when you learn that, unsurprisingly, the main reason Zuck is so into the Metaverse is not for changing the world but upping his bank account.

Given how much Facebook tried to label Apple as ‘anti-business’ for the amount they charged creators and partners – which is a lot less than 47.5% – it makes the whole Meta situation even more laughable.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the new is often misunderstood.

And new technology should not be judged by the standards of established technology.

But when the ‘icons and industry leaders’ stand on soapboxes and stages to promote the future in a similar way that Dire Straits brought to the World almost 4 decades ago … it’s only fair to question if these people care about the future or simply their own career image.

Even though, sadly, we keep seeing hyping can get better career growth, than grafting.

If the Metaverse could fix that, then maybe we’d all sign up.

Then again …