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


Underwhelming Aspiration …

A few weeks ago, the Nottingham Evening Post had this story as the front page lead on their website …

Putting aside the fact it’s a story about a local cafe going up for sale … using the words ‘nice’ and ‘good’ to describe it hardly ignites excitement in you does it.

But there’s maybe something to learn from it.

The marketing world seems to think the way to connect to real life is via a firehose of marketing superlatives.

Amazing.
Outstanding.
Revolutionary.
Extraordinary.

But maybe – just maybe – that approach has worn thin with culture.

What if they now can see past the hype and the spin and simply put up blinkers whenever faced with it.

That for all the eco-systems, friction removal processes and product subscriptions the real way to connect to them – or at least local communities – is via the anticlimactic wonderfulness of simply acknowledging you’re solid.

Not amazing.
Not outstanding.
Not revolutionary.
Not extraordinary.

Just solid.

The stuff that Martin Parr captures so well in his photography.

A grandeur in the ordinariness.

Something that allows us to connect to more easily than the most refined UX approach and feel more engaged with than the results of the most rigorous focus group.

Because maybe the marketing world’s strategy of elevating the importance of your individuality is no longer as influential or aspirational as the desire to feel part of something real.

Where a brands distinction is in their mundane honesty rather than their superlatives or brand assets.

Or as George coined decades ago …

Massperation is born from wanting to belong not wanting to be apart.

I still loathe the term, but not as much as I despise he may be right. Again.



Stop Filtering Out The Weird, Because That’s What Makes Us Human …

I’ve written about this subject before, but one of the biggest issues I think is facing marketing strategy these days is the obsession with corporate logic.

The quest to create frameworks and messaging that ultimates dictates and demands order, consistency and control. Not to help clients build the brand, but to help clients feel safe and comfortable.

And while that may all sound great in theory, the reality is – as the owner of the store with the horn discovered – that it often backfires magnificently.

Because great strategy isn’t logical, its logic born from the ability to make sense of the ridiculousness of reality.

Whether that is amateur artists buying a Mona Lisa painting when they really want the frame or

And the beauty of that is it liberates the possibilities of creativity …

Whether that is an actor who lets the paparazzi see them every night to avoid being photographed by them to the Chinese Government adding a mini ‘scratch card’ on till receipts to get customers to ask for it so it forces the seller to put it through the till and the government can ensure they get their tax through to a beer that is an act of love.

I’ve been talking about the power of devious strategy for years … and while I’m not claiming it is anything extraordinary, when you compare it to what so many think passes for good – I’d choose it any day of the week.

Not just because it leads to better work, but because creative ridiculousness is becoming a far more powerful way to drive commercial effectiveness than corporate-appeasing, logic.



When An Ad For A Door Handle Is Better Than All The Super Bowl Spots Added Together …

A long time ago, I met a prospective client who absolutely loved Wieden.

They were besotted with them.

I was at W+K at the time and asked them what it was that they liked about us – expecting them to talk about NIKE or some other global work.

Instead they said this:

“Any agency that can make me care about a brand of milk is genius”.

The ad they were talking about was this:

Now while that was nice to hear, there were 2 things that led to them that point of view.

1. They worked in a different market and category to milk, so the fact they saw this, reinforced the stretch of great creativity.

2. They looked for the brand of milk in their local supermarket … which reflected the stickability of great creativity.

Of course, what they were really saying was the secret to great creativity … and that is it changes how you look at the world.

I say this because I recently saw a great example of it.

It may not have the charm of If Cats Had Thumbs.

And it certainly doesn’t have the budget.

But it’s up there with making you stop, think and reassess.

Isn’t that great?

A simple statement that has changed what I think of door handles and the importance of door handles.

Or said another way, it’s made me care – possibly for the first time in my life – about something I use every day of my life, without fail.

When you consider the ad is simply a photo of a bloody door handle, you not only realise how brilliant the idea of equating it to a ‘good’ handshake is, you realise how shit so much advertising must be when they’ve got tens of millions to spend and they still can’t make something you remember.



Beware. Looks Can Be Deceiving …

A few weeks ago, I walked into our lounge to see Jill watching the very first edition of The Golden Girls. For those of you too young to know what it is, have a look at this ‘best bits’ compilation.

After a couple of minutes, Jill asked me to guess how old the main characters were supposed to be in the show.

Given the name of the program and the style of fashion they were wearing, I suggested in their early to late 60’s.

I was wrong.

Jill told me that the ages were 47,53 and 55.

Or said another way, I was older than one and just a few years behind the others.

Then she hit me with this …

The characters were supposed to be the same age as the women in the reboot of Sex And The City.

To help explain why this news impacted me, have a look at this.

Now we are talking about ‘character age’ not real age … plus the ‘backgrounds’ of each show are about as different as you can get … but still.

Then a few days later, this was posted featuring Dorothy from the Golden Girls and Lisa Rinna from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Again, one is in character and the other is … OK, probably also in character … but the shift in age perception – or presentation of it – is startling.

On one hand there’s something awesome about it.

While I – and society – absolutely don’t want to see me sashaying down the street wearing designer clothes and botox lips … the idea that people in their 50’s don’t have to hide themselves away and can feel they are an active member and contributor to society is awesome.

However by the same token, the thought you may need to match the look and behaviour of people much younger than you, just so you can be ‘validated’ is terrifying.

Now of course women have been facing this situation for centuries, which is why the older I get, the more I realise what a brilliant role model I had in my Mum.

You see she always believed age didn’t defy you, your interest in what was happening in culture did.

It’s why she followed emerging artists in film, music, art, literature and politics.
It’s why she would go to a classical concert as well as watch new comedians.
It’s why she viewed ‘growing old gracefully’ as being interested in what others are interested in rather than extracting yourself from modern life because ‘it was easier that way’.

Now this didn’t mean she always like what she saw and learned – and she most certainly wasn’t going to dress in the latest trends and fashions – but she wanted to contribute to life rather than criticise it simply because it was continually evolving.

Which helps explain why I found the Golden Girls/Sex And The City comparison so amazing.

Because dramatic shift in terms of fashion and looks aside, the reality is ageing – especially for women – hasn’t really evolved at all.

Sure, you may not have to ‘hide yourself away’ as much as you used to, but looks are still the foundation of validity and fashion is still the criteria for relevance.

How utterly fucked is that?

For all the talk of modernity, the reality is not much has changed. In fact, it’s arguably even worse now as there is the illusion it’s actually better.

But it’s not.

White men are still born with inherent advantage.

As a 51 year old, badly dressed man, I still receive incredible benefits.

So don’t let the exposure of older, female actresses sway you from the reality.

Sexism and ageism is alive and well.

It’s something perpetuated by the media and championed by society the world over.

In simple terms, if you have to ‘look’ the part to be seen by others, something is fucked up.

And women have to do that more than men. Fact.

Growing old is enough of a pain in the arse without having to deal with that shit.

Which is why it would be so much better if we valued interest rather than image.

Another thing I need to thank my Mum for.



The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Neon …

One of the things I’ve found fascinating over the past few years is watching consultancies AND platforms mock the value of advertising and then increasingly try and enter that space.

And while you could argue it’s because they saw an opportunity to do it ‘properly’, the way they have embraced it – and executed it – has shown they seem to want to be more like the beast they wanted to slay than the beast they are.

What do I mean?

Go to Cannes and the whole place has been taken over by corporations.

All the best locations, beaches, hotels are the domain of tech, consultancies and platforms.

Now you could say that’s because they’re the ones with all the money – and that’s true – but what is amusing is WHAT they do.

Because rather than reflect ‘a better way to do what those ad agencies used to do’ … they seem to be doing the same thing ad agencies used to do.

Parties.
Give-aways.
Celebrity talks.
Expensive dinners.

In fact the only thing that is different is how desperately bad their attempts to show ‘they’re creativity’ actually are.

Nothing brought this home more than a poster I recently saw promoting an advertising festival.

An advertising festival representing the ‘modern’ world of the industry.

This was it …

What. The. Hell?

Seriously … what is it?

I’m not just talking about the design and colour palette that could make a 1987 acid house party feel embarrassed … I’m talking about all of it.

The email automation masterclass.

The ‘scale your YouTube’ talk.

The $15 million ad storytelling formula class.

And let’s not forget the ‘thumb-stopping’ direct response scripts.

Look, I get small business may get something out of some of this.

And I appreciate there are many elements to run a successful business.

But this all comes across as used car salesman shit.

Worse, used car salesman shit where their office is a portacabin on a muddy industrial estate in Slough.

In all seriousness, what I find astounding is this must be what the people behind this conference must think is creativity. And don’t get me started on what it says about the people presenting there.

I include Scott Galloway who said ‘brands are dead’ and then not only invests in elevating his own brand, but starts selling courses on how to approach better brand strategy.

[For the record, I respect Scott Galloway hugely but when he said that – like when Mark Ritson said his advertising course was a ‘mini MBA’, when it is nothing at all like a MBA – I couldn’t help but feel their focus was becoming more about building their own cult than building better marketers. In fact, given their approaches have now been so optimised, systemised and codified … you could argue it’s actually undermining brand building because everyone is following the same approach and the result is passive corporate conformity. But I digress …]

I guess what I’m saying is that for all the smarts of modern marketing, the people behind this conference – and potentially the people at it – are revealing they know jack-shit about creativity or culture.

And you know what? That would be fine if they didn’t pretend they otherwise.

But for all their big Cannes events … agency buy-outs … and talk about advertising, the reality is they view creativity as a ‘wrapper’ for their engineering type processes.

A belief there is a singular approach to engage and grow – regardless of audience or category. That the features around a brand are more important than the brand. Or as I told WARC, that the condiments are more valuable than the steak.

Do not get me wrong, advertising has a lot of problems.

It’s got a lot it can learn from platforms and consultancies.

But at our best, we know how to use the power of creativity and culture in ways so many of thehaven’t got a clue about.

Now some may say that statement shows how out of date I am.

How contemporary business doesn’t care about all that.

And maybe that’s right … but while I could point out the vast majority of brands who are infectious to culture were not born anywhere near a ‘consultants proprietary marketing playbook’ … all I have to do is point at the AdWorld poster and say, “Look at that shit”.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there will be a bunch of valuable stuff at the conference.

I am sure it will attract tens of thousands of people.

It may make the organisers a shit-ton of cash.

But for all the smarts appearing at Adworld, they sure as shit don’t have any appreciation of style. And I would like to point out that I say this as someone who was wearing an ironic Celine Dion T-shirt when I typed this.

And with that, I wish you a good weekend … which only gets better for you when I let you know there is a national holiday here on Monday so there will be no post till Tuesday [I know, I just had 2 days off for national holiday – deal with it] … so with that, I leave you with a sneak-peak of the Adworld virtual after party dance floor.