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


Listen To Yoda …

while back I read an interview with film director, voice of Yoda and countless muppets and expert puppeteer – Frank Oz.

It was a beautiful interview … a story of friendship, loyalty, creativity and compassion, so I urge you to read it … but there was one thing that really stood out to me and it was this:

Now it’s fair to say it’s no longer just corporate America who don’t understand the value of the things they’ve just bought. In some respects, we see it every day from clients who dictate and demand changes to a piece of creativity that an experienced professional has custom made for their specific situation … right through to companies who blame talent for circumstances and situations that they were directly complicit in creating and encouraging.

As I see it, the problem is three fold.

1. People judge output without any appreciation of how it happened.
2. People wildly overestimate their own talent.
3. It’s easier to look like you’re doing things than doing things.

None of these should be a surprise.

It’s why we tend to lavish our attention on individuals who are associated with ‘results’ rather than recognize the people around them who made it possible. It’s why we talk about wanting to follow similar paths to others but dismiss the pain, hardship and conflicts they endured to get there. It’s why companies build in-house creative departments without understanding the importance of objective viewpoints that lead to the work they want to replicate. It’s why people dismiss what others have done despite never having done anything of note themselves. It’s why companies talk about the importance of experience but see them as an expense. It’s why industries talk about D&I but don’t change the situations and contexts that make it an issue. It’s why companies talk about teams but have departments of exactly the same sort of people. It’s why companies become obsessed with proprietary processes even though the work and results it produces is nothing special. It’s why many consultants tell you what is wrong but never take responsibility for making it right. It’s why someone I once worked with on an airport project said – no word of a lie – “why don’t we push out the architects, because we could do a much better job”, despite the fact he wasn’t an architect and our role had little to do with it.

I could go on.

And on and on and on.

The reality is we’re all complicit in some way.

And the irony is if we learn to value what it takes to get the results we want – rather than simply focusing on the speed, power and control of ownership – then we’d all stand a much greater chance of achieving the things we want.

Or said as the wonderful Lee Hill once said to me …

Hire well.
Pay well.
Brief well.
Value well.
Trust well.

Have a good weekend.



Finally A Brand Experience That Stands Out From The Crowd …

As funny as the photo above is, the reality is it’s still a better brand experience than much of what passes for good brand experience these days.

Hell, if I was shopping there and saw that sign, it would make me smile, which is more than a lot of brands and their experience strategies achieve.

I’ve said it before but too many companies mistake basic interaction as brand experience. Or worse, think that by simply removing friction from the purchase process, they’re building a good brand experience.

Seriously, how boring and self-centred must their lives be to think that?

If done well, brand experience can be a huge thing.

And by well, I don’t mean making bad, average – or creating a consistent base-line standard across the company – I mean making the things that actually matter to audiences, personal and valuable … or focusing on the key things audiences think you actually do well and pushing that so the experience can become something that is almost seminal so people want to share, repeat and shout about.

I wrote about this a while ago [here and here, for example] … but it still blows my mind how many companies and agencies approach experience in terms of not getting left behind when they should be seeing it as an opportunity to move ahead … a chance to leave their competition looking slow, rather than themselves.

And before people say this approach would cost more money, it doesn’t. Or it doesn’t have to. It’s all about defining the experience you want to create.

Given a badly placed store sign next to some condoms gave me a better brand experience than so many of the systems, processes and strategies brand experience promotes, it’s safe to say the discipline may need to start understanding what people give a shit about rather than what they wish they did.



Originality Wanted …

I still remember buying a movie soundtrack only to discover none of the songs had actually featured in the movie.

When I looked at the cover, I saw “songs inspired by the movie” … in other words, the film company couldn’t get the rights to release the actual music, so they got some two-bit band to write some nondescript music supposedly after watching the film.

It wasn’t as bad as those albums where they got a covers band to sing a well known song – rather than the actual artist – but it was close.

The reason I say this is that I’m seeing a bunch of ‘write-ups’ of ads that seem to adopt the same position.

“Inspired by”.

“Influenced”

“Reinterpreted”.

Now there’s nothing really wrong with this … it’s something that’s been done by all manner of industries for centuries … however while there’s a common belief that ‘genius steals’, the counter to this is ‘lazy borrows’.

I know … I know … I’m being deliberately assholey, but the beauty of our industry is when we allow creatives the freedom to create.

To allow their crazy minds to take us all to crazy intriguing places.

But instead … thanks to budgets, timelines, dictatorial research, corporate fear, layers of management – and countless other things – we don’t.

Which is why we see so many pieces of work that are replications of a film, a meme, a song, a TikTok idea … basically a version of an album of popular songs that haven’t been played by any of the original artists.

Our industry is capable of brilliant things.

But we’ve sold creativity down the river in a bid to make things easier for people who don’t even value the power of creativity.

Nothing smacks of madness as much as that.

Meanwhile, culture leads change of behaviour, attitudes and choices through its endless energy to explore and express.

So while being inspired is one thing, duplicating is another and when certain brands expect people to spend hundreds or thousands on their products, it blows my mind they want to under-invest in the way they actually present themselves in their communication.

Oh they won’t see it that way.

They’ll talk about the celebrity they hired to front the campaign.

Or the music they licensed.

But underneath it all, they’ll they’re taking shortcuts.

They’ll kid themselves it’s working with charts on optimisation or efficiencies … but the reality is they’re trying to work out how long they’ve got before it all falls apart, because the difference between leading and chasing is not about spend, it’s about attitude.

Or said another way …

You either make music or you’re just a cover band.



The Pointless Reveals The Most Important Things …

This is a plant in our office.

I have no idea who owns it.

I must admit I don’t even really like it.

But that sticker …

Oh I like that.

I like it a lot.

Sure, to some it may be stupid.

Or even disrespectful.

But to me, it shows a company where the people within it have a mischievously creative spirit. The sort who spot creative opportunities to do something people will notice, or relate to or just feel for a whole host of reasons.

In just a single word, they found a way to make anyone who sees that little sticker not just see a plant, but a hard-to-please, always demanding, never content, forever dissatisfied pain-in-the-ass plant diva.

In short, they gave a plant a personality.

In one word.

Yes I know I have a ‘history’ with dodgy stickers – and I also loved the time someone at Wieden Shanghai put the sticker ‘freedom’ next to the ground floor button in the lift [which was promptly taken down, probably by the same person who still goes mental when they discover another of my Wieden leaving stickers hidden somewhere in the building despite me having left years ago, hahahaha] … but I particularly love this one.

I love someone thought it was worth doing.

I don’t care they may have given it no thought whatsoever – in fact that makes me like it more – because it’s those little, pointless things that reveals the most important thing you could ever want to know about an agency.

Are you entering a place that has a culture of creativity or a business that sells efficiency processes under the label of creativity?



The Power Of Presence …

So recently a friend of mine sent me this video of Prince performing at the Brit awards in 2006.

I don’t just love it because I miss his talent.

Nor do I just love it because it reminds me of what a phenomenal musician he was – with his guitar playing in particular being of Rock God standard.

And I don’t just love it for the beautiful moment he and Darling Nisi sing the chorus of Purple Rain – even though her smile shows how joyful she feels at the moment.

No, the main reason I love it is because of his stage presence. The sheer commitment to performance. The spectacle that is impossible to ignore.

This is more than just being a famous musician performing in front of others – I’ve seen many do that and bore everyone to tears – no, this is about his magnetism.

All eyes are on him. Despite a stage of dazzling talent and dance, you never move your gaze off him. You end up feeling all your emotions have been given a thorough workout despite him being on stage just 12 minutes. I haven’t seen anything like that since Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid … where in just 20 minutes, they secured their place as music icons.

There are actually less people who have this talent than you think, but one who had it in ‘the real world’ for me was a guy called Chris Jaques.

Years ago I wrote how I had to hold my hands together under the table at our first pitch presentation together because he was so amazing, I just wanted to clap.

I also wrote how anyone who ever worked with Chris who saw the carousel scene in the TV show, Mad Men, thought it could have been him.

He was that good.

But it wasn’t just because he was exceptionally smart.
Nor because he was also exceptionally talented.
But because he had an energy around him that you could not ignore.

He had the incredible ability to make you think he was only talking to you, even in a crowded room. He was clear, open and pragmatic with his opinions. He would go out of his way to ensure everyone felt included and involved. But there was never any doubt he was the leader. You wanted to work for him. Be better for him. When he walked in a room you felt his presence before he said a word. Not because of his power or wealth or standing … but because you felt it was going to be a valuable moment.

But what was even more special about Chris is that he never let this adulation go to his head. OK, not much anyway … certainly less than the people who think they have this impact … which meant he was always approachable but always valuable.

While there are some amazing people out in adland, there’s less Chris’ these days. Whether that’s because they have chosen different industries or this industry hounds people like Chris out is up for debate … but I do feel it’s a great loss.

Many like to refer to them as dinosaurs … people of another time who are no longer relevant. But people who say that have never worked with people like that. They probably wouldn’t want to as they would be challenged and questioned.

But what they don’t understand is their comments wouldn’t be about them.

They would just be talking about the work.

Wanting to help them be better by pushing their own boundaries.

And that’s why everyone should listen to this interview by the irrepressible Tony Davidson of Wieden London.

Tony – along with Kim – basically made that office and his interview is special.

He reminds me a lot of Chris.

Sure, their methods and approaches were very different, but the impact he had on me was very similar.

But after 20 years, Tony is leaving Wieden. While I am in no doubt that he will go on to do other amazing things, the reality is another person who made this industry interesting is going.

And while there are still some out there – Nils Leonard at Uncommon, Angela Watson at Colenso, Jorge Calleja at CPB, Ellie Norman at F1, Susan Hoffman at Wieden and Ryan Fisher at Wieden London to name a few – the industry still seemingly likes to give more face-time to the faceless and beige than the people who make things wonderful and weird.

Maybe that’s the industries insecurity showing [again] but as much as we are talking about mental health and work/life balance in a bid to lure people back to us [which is important and well over due]… maybe another way would be putting the weird, interesting and intriguing in the spotlight again.

Because you don’t attract the creative with even more logic, you attract them with people who have made ridiculous powerful and effective.