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


Why Being Dangerous Is A Business Strategy …

There’s a brilliant documentary on the band The KLF.

For those who don’t know who they are/were, they’re a band formed in the late 80’s who wrote some of the early 90’s biggest selling singles.

Except, if truth be told, The KLF were more artists than musicians.

I don’t mean that in terms of them having many different business interests …I mean it in terms of them expressing their creativity in ever-more dramatic, provocative and intriguing ways.

From burning a million pounds to sampling without permission to firing a machine gun full of blanks at an audience live on television to delisting every song they ever made … and a whole lot in-between.

It’s a truly fascinating documentary, where you realise that everything they did – while not planned – was definitely deliberate.

But there’s one quote about them that stood out for me.

Not just because it captured who they were, but because it revealed what is missing for me in so much of the work the industry is producing.

I love that.

I love it so much.

But sadly, many in my discipline of strategy – and all the self-proclaimed marketing gurus – have killed that in the quest to flatter their own ego.

And it gets worse.

No, I’m not talking about the clients who value function, logic and attribution over shaping or changing cultures opinion, attitudes and feelings – though I could definitely talk about that – but the agency creative departments filled with people who want to make ads rather than use creativity to push boundaries.

The KLF may have been seen by the industry as anarchists … but for a band who had a few – albeit massive – hits in the 90’s, their work still is remembered, stands up to scrutiny and can be directly associated with cultural change which is more than pretty much anything our industry, or most industries for that matter, produces these days.

Of course, given the untold billions brands spend to have culture know them, value them and want them … this is pretty ironic.

Oh I get these brands still make a ton of money.

More than even The KLF could burn.

But this isn’t about distribution, habit or media spent, but influence, change and ambition.

This doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there to make something like this happen.

It is.

But it means nothing if the role it’s used for is to give clients what they want rather than what culture can never forget.




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.



Create Change, Not Ads …

One of the reasons I always loved Colenso was their approach to advertising.

Rather than always make the ‘ad’ the solution – or worse, use ads to promote the problem – they used creativity to solve the challenge in front of them and then created brilliant advertising to amplify awareness of whatever solution they’d come up with.

I’d talked about this approach in a presentation I did way back in 2008 for PFSK in Singapore.

We had just launched Sunshine and I was talking about the difference between solutions and ad solutions … all while Colenso had found a way to bridge both.

They used this ‘double dipping’ creative approach for everything.

Treehouse Restaurant for Yellow Pages.
Asscam for Levi’s.
Play for Spark.
Tally for State Insurance.
X-Ray Cast for Anchor.
Speed Dial for Volkswagen.
MyHooman for Pedigree
Brewtrolium for DB Export.
K9FM for Pedigree.

There’s too many examples to write about, and now I’m at the agency that did all this brilliance.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen this approach in action almost every day.

Of course it doesn’t always work … and it doesn’t always get bought … but the idea of bringing audacious solutions to problems rather than just audacious advertising is something pretty infectious.

There are a few really exciting things on the table, but recently we launched something – with our client Spark – that doesn’t just excite me, but makes me so proud I’m going to break my habit and actually write about it.

I know, who am I?

Beyond Binary is our way to create a better internet. A more inclusive internet.

In conjunction with our client, Spark – and working alongside rainbow communities – we developed a piece of code that anyone can download and easily add to their website.

What this code does is change the field formats on websites so they no longer only offer Male or Female options.

While to many this may seem a small thing, to the Trans and Non-Binary community – of which we are talking millions – it is important. Not simply because it represents them being seen and valued by organisations, but because it stops them being forced to misidentify who they are to fit in with established internet protocols.

In addition to the code, we made a film [see below] to help communicate why this is important for the non-binary community and business … as well as a website where you can download the code, learn how to add it to your existing site, hear stories from people who are affected by this situation every day and even access a pre-written presentation you can use to show your bosses why they need to do this.

A lot of people spent a lot of time working on this – which is why I was so thrilled when Campaign Asia wrote such a lovely piece about it.

I am not saying this because they used a competitor campaign to highlight how good ours is – though that helps, hahaha – but because they got it.

The understood exactly why we did it and how we did it … and that’s important because we sweated this. A lot.

Obviously we’re very proud of Beyond Binary but the key is getting companies to take part … so if you read this blog and work for a company with a website, please can I ask you to get involved. The more inclusive we make the internet, the better it is for everyone.

Thank you Colenso for being stupid enough to bring me over.
Thank you Spark for making this actually happen.
Thank you to the communities for helping and trusting us to do this right.
Thank you to anyone who takes part.

This is why it’s so important …




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.



How To Stop The Smallest Minds In The Room Create The Biggest Headaches …

I recently read an article in the Guardian about the launch of the X-Box.

Given the brand has been part of gaming culture for the past 20 years, it’s easy to forget what an achievement this has been for Microsoft.

Let’s remember back then, the brand was far more synonymous with office computer programs than gaming … so to come from such a negative space and place to become the powerhouse it is today, is nothing short of incredible.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Sure, their cause was helped by SONY seemingly forgetting everything that had made the original PlayStation launch so successful … but even with that, Microsoft were still coming from pretty much a standing start.

It’s a great article that’s well worth the read, but there was one part that really stood out to me.

This:

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there …

Where someone chooses to ignore a statement of obviousness and instead, attempts to turn it around so you look like you’re making a potentially dangerous assumption.

Don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t blindly assume common sense is common sense, and – without doubt – there’s been a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions that have ended up being the backbone of ideas and campaigns all around the World, but this sort of behaviour is nothing but an act of petty cowardice.

However, let’s assume for a moment the person who wanted proof that people did expect DVD quality to be better than the crunched-up shit that was on screen, was right.

Let’s assume that we didn’t know that DVD brands had been communicating ‘improved image quality’ to the general public for years.

Even if all that was true, the real issue was still not being addressed.

And that is facts doesn’t mean standards.

So rather than fall into a ‘fact inflation fight’ that no one was going to come out of well – even though I get why they were triggered – they should have asked Mr Petty if the image on the screen reflected the quality of product and performance he – and the company – wanted to globally be associated with?

Quickly followed up by enquiring whether Microsoft had the technology to dramatically improve the current standard of performance?

By doing this, they not only side-step the pointless barrier being placed in front of them and refocused the conversation to values, standards and ambition.

I’ve seen this situation happen so many times.

Where political point scoring derails ambition, potential and standards.

Where the company starts focusing on the ‘minimum viable product’ rather than what could drive the brands perception.

And while these situations have also seen me lose my shit – A LOT – I always remember my Dad telling me the real way to win these sorts of arguments, which is to elevate the discussion to reputational standards not down to petty point scoring.

He was brilliant at it.

Me? I’m still working on it.