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


Connect Don’t Communicate …

As many of you know, I’m quite the emotional guy.

[OK, I get it … that’s an understatement. Let’s leave it there]

But while this can sometimes result in me having an ‘Elton John’ moment [™ Elton John] I have always been a huge believer in the value and importance of empathy.

Part of this is because my Mum always told me to be interested in what others are interested in, but as I got more and more into my planning career, I realised that if you can truly understand the feelings and emotions someone is experiencing, it enables you to make work that others will also feel and resonate with.

A perfect example was this work we did ages ago for Nike in China.

It had already been decided the idea for the global 2012 Olympics Campaign was going to be Greatness. The problem was that when we spoke to kids all over China, they didn’t feel they were ever able to refer to themselves as great.

They felt that was a term saved for the chosen few. The people who the government deemed as having done things that raised the entire nations profile and success.

Of course they didn’t articulate it like this … we got there by spending time with them and slowly pulling away the layers of codes and confusion so we could understand what they wanted to say rather than what was being said.

Or said another way, we wanted to understand rather than get answers.

Now I am not denying it took a while … and I also accept being an Olympic campaign, we had the time and the money to do things right. But the thing is this rigour was worth it … because not only did it turn into an incredible campaign … not only did it become China’s most successful ever campaign … it helped changed attitudes towards what greatness is and allowed millions of kids to feel they could feel valued and valuable.

This is the work.

The reason I say this is because for the past few months, I’ve been working with The University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project in exploring new ways to use creativity to engage and deeply resonate with audiences.

Thanks to the work of Sir Richard Faull, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland and Nuala Gregory, a fellow of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries – also at The University of Auckland – we have explored and experimented with a whole host of different creative formats to identify which one can create the best conditions for connection.

The findings have been astounding.

While the vast majority of communication spend goes towards television, digital and outdoor advertising … none of these had the same impact on audiences as the power of the poem.

In fact, when poems were used as the content for television, digital and outdoor, the increase in engagement went up on average 13.3%.

THIRTEEN!

OK, I know that may not sound a lot on first impression, but when you consider last year, companies spent SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIVE BILLION DOLLARS GLOBALLY on advertising … if this can improve connection to potential audiences by 13%, then it has huge commercial opportunity.

[And by that, I mean for brands, creativity and the University of Auckland]

Now I suppose on one level, none of this should be a surprise.

Rap is a kind of poetry.

A way to communicate that’s felt as well as heard.

But while we have started to explore this, our focus has been on poetry and the results, as I detailed above, have been fascinating.

Sir Richard believes this may be heavily influenced by the challenges the World has faced over the past few years. Where the feeling of isolation of helplessness has created an yearning for any sort of emotional connection. And while TV may have their manifestos, they often come over as contrived … whereas poems have a fragility to them that enables them to better resonate and connect to audiences.

For example … of the literally thousands of poems tested, this was one that achieved one of the highest scores, despite being from an anonymous author.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders
But through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

While it is deliberately ambiguous, it appeared to connect to audiences as they saw it as capturing the struggles they felt in life. Where there is still an expectation for progress and yet the conditions people find themselves having to deal with are increasingly harsh and difficult.

Other poems that resonated – and follow a similar theme to the previous example, except it is by contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong – include this:

And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way

As well as a piece from his work entitled ‘Life’, which has a much darker theme:

Loneliness is my hiding place
Breast feeding my self
What more can I say?
I have swallowed the bitter pill

We are still working on the research but have set up an instagram that lists the poems that have tested particularly well.

I would love it if you could visit the page and let me know how the poems affect you. If they do.

Now I appreciate this leaves me open to all sorts of ridicule.

And I assure you that I am not trying to suggest poems are the future of effective advertising.

This is simply a project to see if there are techniques that allow us to better connect emotionally to audiences without necessarily needing to spend months in the field meeting endless people.

While I am part of this work, it is ultimately the property of Auckland University.

Fortunately, they have said I can promote the work because they would love to have more respondents take part. So if you are interested in discovering more – and helping see where this creative adventure could lead, can I ask you to sign up here.

That said, I would recommend you do it today … because studies have found April 1st is the optimal day to get people to sign up to ‘research’ that is actually just some 80’s song lyrics from Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses and Queen.

Have a great day. I know I will.



Twisted Logic Is More Interesting Than Corporate Logic …

When I was living in Shanghai, I met a young guy who said to me,

“I think the Chinese government are rock n’ roll”.

Given I couldn’t imagine anyone less rock n’ roll, I asked why they said that. To which they replied:

“You told me rock n’ roll was about doing whatever you want to do, regardless what other people think. That’s the Chinese government”.

Mind. Blown.

Never in a million years would I consider the Communist Party rock n’ roll … and now that’s all I can think. I say this because recently I had another of these moments.

It was when I read this:

How amazing is that?!

Now whenever I talk to my friends named Tim, I keep imagining them as a moth.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

If you don’t leave space for conversations and understanding, you will miss out on these little gems of opinion. These things that can make you look at subject in a completely different way. That can take you to different place with even bigger possibilities than you could imagine.

And yet we – as an industry – aren’t leaving space for this.

We actually think getting into the real world is a hindrance.

Too messy. Too much time. Too many opinions.

So we actually advocate building creativity and brands from a weird sort of recipe book.

Where equal parts questionable data, brand assets and self-serving logic come together to make something that looks like a cake but generally tastes bloody awful.

Because we’d rather follow what everyone else does than create something everyone else wants.

Valuing attribution more than change.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I get the importance of all these things.

I agree and value their role in brand building and creativity.

But as I wrote a while back, it’s utterly bonkers that as an industry, we value the condiments of the meal more than the steak.

Recently, someone called me irresponsible for demanding my team spend time meeting, talking, listening and understanding people from all walks of life.

They literally used that word: Irresponsible!

Now I don’t mind admitting there’s many things I could be accused of being irresponsible for, but valuing the role culture has in liberating creativity and possibility isn’t one of them.

No wonder society is so bored of what we do.

No wonder brands have had to reframe bribery as loyalty.

Or membership.

Because while we think we have all the answers, culture has the interesting.



Design Changes Possibilities …

Yesterday I wrote about laziness in retail, well today I’m going to write about when you care deeply about it.

Have a look at this packaging:

Maybe it’s because I’m half Italian.

Maybe it’s because pasta is my undisputed favourite food.

Maybe it’s because the brand uses wheat from the region of Italy my family is from.

But how utterly glorious is it?!

It does everything packaging should do …

It is distinctive without trying too hard.

It shows the quality of the product inside.

It feels premium without being pretentious and charming without being childish.

It is a bloody masterpiece.

I love that because the pasta shape is an integral part of the packaging design, it allows the overall look to be clean while still being informative.

What’s even better is that while it started out as a project by Russian designer, Nikita Konkin … it ended up being turned into a real brand by German company, Greenomic Delikatessen, who bought the idea of Nikita.

Or said another way …

Creativity turned an everyday product into something with a highly desirable and distinctive commercial value.

Isn’t it funny how all those marketing training programs being flogged left, right and centre never talk about this sort of thing. Instead it’s all dot-to-dot processes to build identikit branded assets, eco-systems and strategy frameworks.

But then this also shows the difference between design and adland.

Designers identify real problems and look for ways to solve them with clarity, simplicity and distinctiveness. Whereas too many in adland choose what problem that want to solve and then add all manner of complexity to the solution in a bid to look like they’re fucking geniuses or to try and justify the ever decreasing fee the procurement department is forcing on them.

Remember Peggy?

The ‘innovation’ JWT Australia claimed ‘would allow their client to empower people to maximise their day through weather aggregation technology’. What that bullshit translated to was a ‘scam product and app’ that would tell you if it was going to rain so you’d know if you should hang your clothes out to dry

Yep, forget weather apps.

Forget USING YOUR EYES TO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.

JWT was going to revolutionise the ‘washing line process’.

By making it longer, shitter and more expensive.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Unsurprisingly nothing happened with it because it was utter bollocks whereas everything happened for Nikita because he actually saw something that had real commercial value without extensive investment.

However in classic Russian melodrama style, he says he came up with the idea when he was “in love and perhaps this influenced me, though it could be just a coincidence” … which suggests he’s no longer in love and probably spending his time designing vodka bottles that look like your heart is dying. Or something.

I have written a lot in the past about the importance and value of design.

Whether it was the brilliant SONOS ‘sound waves‘ or the potential of using BK’s new logo as an emoji for food ordering.

Underpinning all of this is consideration, simplicity and craft.

Yes, I appreciate a personal project affords you more time than a client project … but designers are getting it right more often than adland and yet the talent in adland is there.

There’s tons of it. Everywhere.

And while there are still some amazing things coming out from the industry, I can’t help but feel design is pushing the possibilities of creativity more … which means the issue for adland must be something else.

Whether that is time, expectation, budgets or relationships, I’m not sure … but whatever it is, the attitude of ‘good enough is good enough’ is far too prevalent these days.

Or should I say, it is until someone like Nikita comes along and shows companies what they could have if they allow the experts to show them how they see the World rather than being told what to create by a committee of middle managers who value speed over quality and lack taste, judgement and real understanding of their audience.

It’s not easy to make something great.

But as a packet of pasta proves, it’s worth it.

Creatively, commercially and culturally.



The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection …

Recently I watched a show on Netflix called ‘7 Days’.

It was about about the preparations for the presentation of Chanel’s new couture collection.

I know … I know … I am the arsenic of fashion, but for reasons no one has quite worked out yet, I am doing a bunch of work for a number of super-luxury fashion labels [thanks to my Chinese client not only is one of the biggest investors in the industry, but is seen as the Patron Saint of street culture and luxury fashion] and so I’ve had the real honour of watching these people up close in terms of how much they believe, value and protect craft in all they do.

Put simply, it’s mindblowing.

For an industry many like to label as superficial, they’re miles ahead of many of the places I’ve worked at who go on about how obsessed with craft, creativity and culture they are.

Don’t get me wrong, some truly meant.

Hell, a couple even practiced it.

But compared to how high-end fashion brands embrace it, few come close to that level of commitment and focus.

And that’s what I loved about the Chanel documentary because it showed their relentless pursuit for perfection throughout the entire creative process.

From the cutting of fabric to the very last second before a model hits the runway … they have people checking, fine-tuning, considering, questioning and executing every detail in micro-detail.

A production line of seasoned experts, all looking at the clothes through their particular area of specialisation, but always considering their choices and decisions through the lens of the chief designers vision and the needs and focus of the other experts they work alongside.

Or said another way …

Every person involved in every detail is singularly focused on delivering an experience that lives up to the standards, vision and excellence of the head designer, rather than doing whatever they think works for them.

That doesn’t mean they have to lower their standards or deny their self-expression or individual flair – if anything, the total opposite is true. Because every person involved has been specifically chosen – or approved – by the head designer because they know these experts eye, judgement, skill and obsession for excellence won’t allow anything other than the brutal, uncompromising quest and commitment for the absolute majesty of perfection.

I wrote about this recently in connection to the film director Michael Mann … and how this approach is far more about collaboration than the bullshit that passes for it inside many companies, which is why I encourage everyone to watch this magically inspiring show, because you’ll not only re-evaluate an entire industry, you’ll see what it takes to be truly great versus those who simply say they already are.



Another Year On This Blog Is Officially Done …

So this is it, year 15 of this blog is officially over.

YEAR 15!!!

Christ, this might be the most I’ve ever been committed to anything. What a shame this blog is basically worth nothing, hahahaha.

But we’re here.

A year that the World hoped would represent huge, positive change after the hell of 2020 … but ended up being more of the same.

For us, of course, this was a year with a huge difference – namely we now live in New Zealand.

Moving countries can be a pain in the arse at the best of times, but doing it in a pandemic adds a whole lot of stress that no one needs. However, despite that … despite saying goodbye [or should I say, au revoir] to the beautiful house we had just bought … despite not being able to physically see my beloved Paul and Shelly before we went … despite the hassle, broken furniture and time to get settled in … it’s been amazing.

There’s many reasons to that.

From the 2 week quarantine we had to do, which let us – and Rosie, the cat – get acclimatised to the obscene time difference to the kindness and generosity of the people here. To the fact we had bought our beautiful home – and cars – before we arrived, which made things so much easier. To the covid vaccinations we received. To the community we have found ourselves in. To the outdoor life – excluding the insane rain and 4 month lockdown – we have been able to enjoy.

So much.

But it would be wrong for me to not mention the role Colenso and, specifically my team, have had in it.

Everyone of these talented souls has been wonderful.

Not just to me, but Jill and Otis as well.

Plus there’s the fact my team have [generally] put up with my ‘ways’ … and we all know how painful that can be. I’ve always been incredibly fortunate with the teams I’ve been a part of and this lot are no different.

Sure, they’re mouthy bastards with no end of opinions, ideas and considerations but that’s – as you probably could guess – is exactly why I love them.

We’ve only been together 7 months but I’ve seen enough to be excited about what damage we can do in 2022 – reinforced by the fact we finished this year being named Agency Of The Year by the Effies organisation for a whole host of work that solved problems in interesting ways.

So to Lizzie, Henry, Teresa, Emma, Gi, Augustine, Amy and Liam … thank you for everything.

You’ve given me laughs, headaches, pride, lessons and things to ponder … and I couldn’t be more grateful for all of it.

[And extra best wishes to Lizzie who gets married during the holidays. Made extra perfect because she had to postpone it due to Covid and this way she gets to make the holiday season even more wonderful for all her family]

But while NZ has been the major change in my year, there have been some other notable moments.

In some respects, it was a year of music.

From my Rick Rubin project to getting fired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the best passive aggressive endorsement ever seen in the history of mankind.

Given I’ll be working for The Black Keys, Muse and – weirdly – Journey in 2022, I can only hope the musical rollercoaster will keep me on my toes as much.

Talking of celebrity …

I met Noel Edmunds at a business ‘do’ in Auckland – which surprised him as much as it did me – and I got to hug Jacinda Ardern, albeit committing social faux pas when I interrupted her during a dinner she was having to say hello.

That I’m still allowed in the country is testimony to New Zealand’s humanity.

Then there was the Tokyo Olympics …

An event a year late from its original plan … met with global apathy, especially in their home country … only to win us all over and turn us back into fans.

Seeing young kids win medals in skateboarding will stay with me for a very long time.

In fact, having skateboarding in the Olympics may have just done more to get kids wanting to do sport again than any number of NIKE ad campaigns.

That’s how good it was.

Best ad of the year goes to the amazing MacMillan cancer ad.

I must have watched it a couple of hundred times now – hell, I’ve even built a presentation around it that I give clients – and I still cry when I see it.

Not because of sadness – though there’s plenty in it – but because of the human emotion it triggers.

As I wrote at the time, it has this incredible ability to take me back to the times I lost my parents but make me feel closer to them. Extraordinary.

I could go on …

I could talk about certain posts I wrote in the year, like Toxic Positivity, but let’s face it … you can’t be bothered to read it and I can’t be bothered to write about it.

So I want to say some thanks …

To everyone who reads, writes and insults me on this blog … I am eternally grateful – and surprised – you come here. Many of you have been coming here for almost as long as I’ve been writing it and I have to say I find comfort in knowing that whatever I’m facing in life, I can come here and all of it just fades away. So for that, thank you … I really appreciate it.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out to check on how we’re doing. You didn’t have to, but you did and that means a ton.

Extra special thanks go to Paul, Shelly, Martin, Paula, Amelia, Martin B, Meg, Rach, Mike, Sam, Mr Ji, Peter and Cliff … who all made me feel like you were just around the corner, even though you were thousands of miles away.

And finally, a special thanks to Jill, Otis and Rosie.

None of this would be possible without you and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.

You make me a happier, better person than I believed was possible … and while you may rightfully think I can be a total pain-in-the-ass, I can just tell you I’d be even worsr without you.

So thank you.

For everything,

I can never fully tell you how much I love you and am grateful for you.

The way you handle all this change is extraordinary …

Nothing sums this up more than something Otis chose to do recently.

As you all know, Otis has beautiful, gorgeous, stunning long hair …

Well a few weeks ago, he suddenly announced he wanted to cut it off so it could be donated to kids with cancer.

We asked if he was sure as it was a big thing and he said, “he wants to and is determined to”.

Then he added he will continue to do this until he’s 18.

Grow his hair.
Donate his hair.
Grow his hair.
Donate his hair.

So that evening, his Mum got scissors and a hair razor out and starting cutting 35 CENTIMETERS OF HAIR.

THIRTY FIVE!

Throughout the cutting he kept saying how excited he was.

How it was changing his life.

How much ‘lighter’ his head felt.

And afterwards, the little champ looked like this …

A new sort of rock n’ roll.

I thought it was impossible to love him anymore. I was wrong.

To have the capacity to be so compassionate and considerate at 7 years of age is incredible.

Even more so when he has had so much change in his life.

Four countries in 6 years.
New homes, new schools, new friends.
Almost 18 months of lockdown.

And yet he still has it in him to think of others.

Definitely his Mum’s son.

But proudly mine too.

Hell, he even offered me a chance to remember what it was like to have hair …

… though it could also have been to take the piss out of me.

So to Otis … Jill … Rosie … everyone I know and people I don’t but somehow have still come into my life this year, I wish you a wonderful festive season.

I really, really hope 2022 is much better for everyone than the previous 2 years.

I hope we have a year where everyone can have hope for the future.

I don’t know if it’s possible with the machismo bullshit of politicians, but let’s hope so.

Thank you again for everything, have a great time … just not better than me. Please.

See you on January 31st.