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


Be Metallica, Not The Eagles …

I was recently in a client meeting where we had a discussion about ‘scale’.

The person in question was suggesting – as many do – that the only way to achieve it was to make sure you offer something for everyone.

Now there’s two ways you can do that …

Literally offer something for everyone or be so bland that you don’t alienate anyone.

And when we had this discussion, it reminded me of the Ferdinand Porsche quote that – paraphrased – reads something like:

“Be everything to someone not something to everyone”.

But it was early in the morning for me.

I was talking to clients in America.

So instead, I gave the worst analogy I may have ever used …

I pointed out The Eagles are the best selling American band in history.

That their ‘easy listening’ songs were designed to literally appeal to the widest audience possible. That their repetitive approach has been used to reinforce their position.

Or lack of one.

However the second best selling American band of all time is Metallica.

OK, I’m biased, but no one can say their music is designed for mass appeal.

Even their more ‘audience friendly’ albums still targeted a particular type of music fan. A fan that is anti-mainstream and anti-easy listening.

And yet Metallica’s fierce focus on who they are and what they believe – matched with their desire to continually explore and experiment with formats and approaches for their music – has resulted in them attracting ever bigger audiences rather than chasing them.

But its even more than that …

In the fickle, fast-changing world of music, Metallica haven’t just been able to maintain their credibility and authenticity, they have managed to still be seen as a contemporary band.

A band that is more popular now than they’ve ever been, while not changing who they are, what they believe or who they’re for.

I finished this rant off with the words:

“Be Metallica, not The Eagles”.

Fortunately, given I was doing this call at stupid o’clock, people let it pass.

However, while the analogy may be bollocks, the reality isn’t.

We live in an industry that is increasingly falling into rules of how things should be done.

And there are some – without doubt.

But we are in danger of ignoring the power of culture and creativity in favour of box-ticking and formulas and yet it’s the brands and bands like Nike, Metallica, SKP-S, Kanye, Liquid Death who not only hold – and set – the cultural attention and narrative, but continue to fast-track growth and profit compared to a category who blindly follow a system designed to play more to the ‘safety’ of the middle rather than the power and influence of the edge.

I’m not saying it’s easy.

I’m not saying it’s not without risk.

I’m not saying it happens in a smooth, straight line.

But when you do it well … when you know who you are, who you’re for and what you believe, it’s definitely worth it, against pretty much every metric you can measure it against.

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If You Want To Do The Impossible, You Use The Incredible …

I don’t normally write about work I’m involved in, but today I’m going to make an exception because it’s slightly bonkers.

One of our clients is a company called FFI.

They make a product called Green Hydrogen.

Put simply, it’s the only energy source that can maintain the World’s energy requirements without killing the planet because it is carbon neutral.

Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

And while the fossil fuel companies will claim they have similar products – like blue or grey hydrogen – they don’t, because the reality is green hydrogen is called ‘green’ for a reason and that reason is its main ingredient is nature and so it’s impact is also good for nature.

I know … sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?

In fact, when we were pitching for it, I wrote a slide that said “this sounds the sort of wizardry you’d expect from Harry Potter”.

And it is. Except it’s real, not magic … even though it feels like it should be.

Anyway, without going into too much detail, one of the things we want to do is ensure youth culture know about it … know there’s something that can actually given them and their planet a future despite the fossil fuel companies trying to burn it all for their own profit.

I know … it may sound weird to do that … but there’s very good reasons for it, especially when we have a generation who have seen the power they have with their united voice and focus.

From legitimising non-binary attitudes to undermining presidential campaigns to shorting hedge funds to forcing national demonstrations against the NRA to name a few.

But the question was how can we do this?

How can a major, corporate company connect to culture in a way where it’s not try hard and still allows the science to be celebrated?

The answer …

Work with a scientist who lives and breathes in their world.

Which is why we are working with the brilliant Rick Sanchez, from Rick and Morty, to help spread the word, educate the world and push for change.

And while this won’t happen overnight … I’m very excited to see how our brilliantly bonkers partnership will help move us there. After all, there’s plenty of examples that show if you want to change established attitudes and behaviour – then there are occasion where doing something ridiculous is the most sensible thing you can do.

It all starts from here …

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The Great Effectiveness Swindle …

There’s so many agencies, consultancies and self-appointed guru’s out there who talk about how to be successful at business.

They all have their models, eco-systems, philosophies and proof points.

And yet so few have ever done it for themselves.

They’ve chosen to ‘succeed’ under the safety-net of anothers money, reputation or effort.

That doesn’t mean what they do or think doesn’t have value – of course it does – but it also doesn’t mean their viewpoint is the only one worth counting.

And yet, every single bloody day, that’s how it is presented.

Recently someone wrote a piece on how they had used their proprietary research methodology on a Cannes winning TV ad and declared it would not deliver sustainable growth for the brand in question.

Putting aside the fact they were judging work that had won a creativity award rather than an effectiveness one … the thing I found funny was their confidence in proclaiming their view was the ultimate view.

I am not doubting their smarts.

I am not doubting their data.

But I am doubting their breadth of business appreciation.

And yet somehow, the voices of a few have positioned themselves as the be-all and end-all of effectiveness.

Don’t follow us and you fail.
Don’t follow us and your brand will lose.
Don’t follow us and you will be labeled foolish.

Now I am not denying these people do have a lot of experience and lessons we can learn from, but they’re not infallible.

But that’s how the industry approaches them.

Lording them like they are Yoda’s of the future.

But they’re not.

Don’t get me wrong, they are very good at evaluating effectiveness from a particular perspective and set of behaviours. Offering advice that can be hugely important in the decision making process.

But there’s a whole host of brands and business that have adopted totally different models and achieved ‘effectiveness and success’ that leaves others far behind.

Incredible sustainable success.

From Liquid Death to SKP-S to Gentle Monster to Vollebak to Metallica to name but a few.

Oh I know what some will say …

“They’re niche”“they’re young”“they’re not that successful”.

And to those people I would say maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about … because in just that list, it includes the biggest selling brand on Amazon, the fastest selling brand in their category on earth and the second most successful American band in history.

But there were two things that really brought the issue of mindset narrowcasting to me …

The first was the launch of a book that was basically about creating future customer desire for your brand/business.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that … but no shit Sherlock.

Has the market got so short-sighted and insular that the idea of doing things that also drive your future value and desirability become a revelation?

It’s literally the most basic entrepreneur mindset, and yet it was presented like it was Newton discovering the laws of gravity.

This person is super smart.

They’ve done a lot of good stuff.

But it just feels the actions of some in the industry are driven by the fetishisation of icon status … even though, ironically, what it does is highlight their experience may be narrower than they realise.

But at least the book had good stuff in there.

Stuff that could help people with some of the basics.

A desire to look forward rather than get lost in the optimisation circle-jerk.

This next one was a whole lot worse.

Recently an ex-employer of mine went to see a current client of mine.

Specifically the founder and CEO.

Apparently they went in to tell him he was missing out on a whole host of business and they could help him get more.

They then proceeded to present a massive document on how they would do it.

He looked at them and told them it was very interesting but they were wrong.

He told them their premise was based on a business approach he doesn’t follow or believe in.

A business approach that didn’t reflect the industry he was in, only the industry they were in.

He then informed them he had the most profitable store on the planet and so while he appreciated their time, he had faith in his approach and it was serving him well.

But it gets better.

As they were leaving – and I’ve been told this is true by someone who was apparently there – the person showing them out informed them their boss had a personal net worth of US$36 billion and based on their companies current share price, that meant he was more valuable than their entire group.

Was it an asshole thing to do?

Yep.

Do I absolutely love it?

Oh yeah.

Will I get in trouble for telling this?

Errrrrm, probably.

My point is the industry has decided ‘effectiveness’ can only be achieved and measured in one way and any deviation from that is immediately discounted or considered ‘flawed’.

Often by people who have never actually built a world leading business themselves.

Again, I am not dismissing the importance of what is being said, it’s HUGELY important – which is why I’m proud we won the Cannes/Warc effectiveness Grand Prix – but, and it’s a huge one, if we think that’s the only model and only use that one ‘model’, then we are literally adopting a single approach to solve every one of our clients every problems.

One.

That’s insane.

Not just because it’s stupid but because if everyone adopts the same approach, then impact will be influenced far more by spend and distribution that strategy.

Please note I am absolutely not saying we should burn the models or philosophies or systems that have proven their value to drive business. No. Absolutely not. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be praying at the feet of them … especially when many are simply focused on creating steady impact rather than spectacular.

Yes, I know ‘spectacular’ has a lifespan – which is why innovation is so important – but so many brands out there either aim for the middle … reinforced by processes, protocols and rules defined as ‘best practice’ by people in a particular industry … or they bake-in ‘limitation’ into their potential because they’ve blindly adopted rules they never challenge or explore from other industries or entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, if a brand like Liquid Death can become the biggest selling water brand on Amazon because they found a way to make men actually want to drink water through a model and approach that is not only radically different to what so many of the industry experts say is ‘the only way’ … but is the opposite of it … then your brand may be inhibiting itself by following a model designed to make you fit in with it, rather than redefine how it fits in with you.

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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 …



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.