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


If A Video Game Company Can Do It, What’s Your Excuse?

For all the talk about diversity and inclusion being spouted by companies, I don’t see much diversity and inclusion.

I still see companies mainly filled with people like me and where there is diversity, it tends to not be at the management level.

And on the rare occasion that it is, you then see the media go after these people with a zeal rarely seen towards anyone white. Or male.

Of course, diversity is more than simply heritage … though companies often use that as a convenient excuse to not hire People of Colour, ignoring that – SHOCK HORROR – People of Colour can also come from low income areas, have physical disabilities, be members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or have any other number of ‘minority’ characteristics you wish to throw at me … which is why I am so excited by a new video game that deals with diversity head on.

Forza Horizon 5 is a brilliant racing game on XBox.

The graphics are amazing.
They’ve introduced a ‘story’ mode to the game.
And the world you get to explore is almost limitless.

But … and it’s a big but … the really brilliant thing is the level of customisation they allow you to make of your character.

Look at this …

And this …

How amazing is that!

You can customise your identity and add prosthetics.

No doubt, this will cause huge offence to presenters on Fox News for succumbing to ‘wokeness’ which makes it even better … but they’re missing the point in 2 fundamental areas.

1. Being called woke means being called someone who considers the context and needs of others so they can live a similar life in terms of opportunity as you. For me that’s a compliment, not an insult.

2. The option is not to get headlines – though it does, because of its rarity – but to allow people who are minorities, feel seen and valued and celebrated for who they are, not who they aren’t. Anyone who thinks that’s a bad thing to do can basically go fuck themselves.

The gaming industry has a bunch of issues – from how it operates to the storylines of the games it makes – however they seem to be far more committed and focused on making change than so many of the companies who talk about their D&I programs on social media and in magazine articles.

People can accuse Forza Horizon of jumping on the woke bandwagon all they like.

They can shout that they’re only doing it because they don’t want to alienate potential customers.

They can say it’s a ‘one off’ and should be treated as such.

People can say what they like … it’s still more than most have done and will mean far more to the millions of people who have been ignored by companies for decades for no other reason than simply being a bit different to supposedly ‘common’ characteristics.

And I can tell you, that will mean more to them than some press release about a companies D&I program that doesn’t change a damn thing.

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Thank you to James Whatley for letting me steal his screen shots, even though I own the game myself. THAT’s how lazy I am. Not that you didnt know it.



If Everything Is An Experience, You Better Make Yours Great …

I’ve written a lot about experience in the past.

How important it is.

How it can drive brand value and growth.

How it can create distinction and differentiation in crowded categories.

I’ve also talked about how badly so much of it is done.

That it’s more about consistency than excellence.

That it isn’t a new approach, just a new profit centre.

That many aspire to everything average than some things spectacular.

It blows my mind what some agencies and companies think is ‘an experience’.

Especially when you compare it to people who genuinely ‘get it’.

Whether it’s certain luxury brands or my client, SKP-S in Beijing.

Which is why I love the picture at the top of this page.

At the time, the person on the runway was 62 years old.

SIXTY TWO.

This was taken on the first of 3 nights of performing to 68,000 paying people.

So over 200,000 in total.

In South America.

Think about that for a second.

OK, so the person in question is Brian Johnson … lead singer of rock band AC/DC.

But let’s also remember we’re talking about a group of pensioners.

Literally.

Yes, I appreciate there are all-sorts of factors/considerations/contexts/excuses you could use to explain why they can achieve that sort of response when brands – with all their experience models and big budgets – can’t.

But the one thing AC/DC understand is if you want to keep people coming back, you need to focus on creating a seminal moment for your audience not average consistency.

It’s why I always ask ‘experience strategists’ about their life rather than just their work. I want to know what their frame of references are for experience. Because frankly – and I appreciate I’m being a massive snob here – if it doesn’t include festivals, theatre, art, music, retail, museums … then I don’t know if we’re ever going to share the same ambitions.

Because while I appreciate ‘average but consistent’ has value to some organisations, I would rather drink bleach than advocate that as a brand goal.

Not simply because I have an aversion to average.

But because when you do experience right – which means knowing who you are and who your customers are – the profits extrapolate. See, I’m not totally selfish.



If You Don’t Know The Nuance, You Only Know The Cliche’s.


A client recently told me a story of a very successful client he worked with.

Apparently this person was a lover of cars and owned Ferrari’s and Rolls Royce’s.

My client asked him what the difference was between them.

Expecting some conversation about performance or comfort, he was surprised when he heard:

“When I pull into a hotel in my Ferrari, I’m treated like I’ve booked the Penthouse Suite. But when I pull up in my Rolls, I’m treated like I own the hotel”.

I really like that.

I like it for a whole host of reasons.

But the main one is the clarity in differentiating ‘success’.

So often, as an industry, we define things in absolute terms.

Good. Bad. Rich. Poor. Success, Failure.

But as with all things in life, there’s nuance and texture in there if you look closer.

Which is why planning – despite all the information that is now available to us – is still an outdoor job.

Going out to talk to people.
Listening to different viewpoints.
Watching how different groups react to different situations.

It’s not a ‘day out’. It’s not ‘superficial fluff’.

It’s the difference between doing work for people or about people.

I’ve banged on about the importance of resonance over relevance for years, but it’s never been so important … because with so much choice of who we can give our attention to, if we want to stand any chance of having people give a modicum of a shit about us and what we do/think, then we better be speaking their language and context rather than the language and context we think – or want – them to speak.

[A classic of utter bollocks is still the Gerard Butler, ‘Man of Today’ ad for BOSS. You can read the post I wrote here and see the ad it is referring to, here]

If the people behind the brilliant TV show, Succession, can talk to billionaires to ensure everything on the show reflects how the super rich spend their money – and how they act because of it, ie: they never bend their head down when entering or existing a helicopter because they travel by them so much, they know exactly where the propeller is in relation to their height – then surely we can go and spend some time with people to see what they do and hear how they think about brushing their bloody teeth or something equally inane.

If we want to get back to being valuable to clients, we’d go a long way towards that by stopping with audience generalisations – of which I am absolutely including broad – or even narrow – Lifestage segmentation – and knowing the real nuances.



Stop Thinking Different Means Disaster …

For an industry that loves to talk about doing new things – chasing new things – it doesn’t half hate trying new things.

The moment someone dares suggest something different, more often than not, they are shouted down by people saying it’s wrong … it won’t work … it’s foolish.

Even before anything different has been tried.

Now I appreciate we live in a world where clients want effectiveness and so the margin for error is getting ever smaller, but no one who is suggesting something new has the objective of being less effective, literally the opposite.

But if we can’t explore then we can’t move forward and instead of blowing things up, it may be interesting if we started building things up.

I say all this because I recently read a quote from the Chairman of Crystal Palace football club.

This year they have adopted a totally new philosophy.

Not because the old one had failed – quite the opposite, in many ways it had exceeded expectation – but because context had changed [their long-term manager retired] and they thought this was the time to try something new.

And while some have immediately come out to say what they’re doing is utterly reckless to the stability of the club, their chairman – Steve Parish – countered it with this lovely perspective on the situation they have chosen to enter …

I love that. I love how he dismisses the validity of any criticism and simply focuses on the fact.

No one knows if Crystal Palace’s new approach is better or worse than what has gone before – at least not yet, and maybe not for a significant period of time – the only thing people do know is the approach is different.

Different.

Not better. Not worse.

A simple change to the usual approach.

A change that will reveal, in time, how effective it was. And even then, it is still only an indicator as there are so many external influences that may affect it.

But for a moment, imagine if it works.

Imagine if Crystal Palace do better than they ever have.

That they consistently elevate their standing and success?

It could happen. It stands as much chance as the opposite right now … and yet people are so quick to jump on the ‘disaster’ bandwagon.

Adland is exactly the same.

We like the idea of different but not the reality.

We choose to hide behind certainty and history, even if we didn’t have anything to do with the work we use to assert our argument. We grasp at learnings from other industries despite their context being vastly different. Or we state the fucking obvious but pretend it is an act of genius.

Maybe if stopped having the need to loudly proclaim something is right or wrong and just embrace the fact someone is doing somthing different, we may be more positive about change as an industry.

And maybe … just maybe … if more people focused on building things up rather than tearing them down, we may end up creating possibilities that encourages clients to embrace different rather than see it as an act of commercial defiance.



Fail Yourself Forwards …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden was giving a presentation to a bunch of executives from one of Wieden’s big, global clients.

Dan was talking about the power of failing and asked if anyone in the audience had ever been fired from their job.

Nothing.

Not one person raised their hands.

Dan surveyed the scene for a moment before leaning into the microphone and saying:

“Cowards!”

There was a nervous ripple in the audience before some people laughed … but Dan wasn’t saying it to be nasty – or to be funny – he was saying it because he truly believes in the mantra of ‘fail harder’ and the positive impact it can have for both creativity and commerce.

Fail harder is not about seeing how bad you can do something.

Fail harder is about …

+ the quest to push yourself.

+ the desire to challenge limits.

+ the goal to provoke change through complete openness.

And while many people get the concept of it … even agree with it … not everyone can bring themselves to participate in it.

Now that’s totally fine until you start criticising or judge others who are doing it.

Especially if the only reason you’re criticising or judging them is because they’re doing something you didn’t do.

Then that’s a dick move. An insecure, dick move.

I say this because lately there seems to be a lot of people doing exactly that … especially on twitter and especially in the planning/marketing groups.

Judging … dismissing and insulting people who are trying different stuff.

Not because they think it’s wrong.
Not because they think it isn’t valid.
Not even because they don’t think it’s clever.

But because they’re cowards.

Sure, some will have valid reasons for it.

Family.
Mortgage.
Others relying on them.

But what is disappointing is – like the people in that conference – many of these people throwing shade are seasoned, senior individuals.

People who have the experience to push boundaries.
People who have the smarts to challenge the status quo.
People who have the knowledge to be more than capable.
People who have the voice to champion change.

And while it is absolutely their prerogative to not do it, sending our snide comments or subtweets about those who are, is pretty pathetic.

Ridiculing the way someone talks about their colleagues.
Questioning the ability to be taken seriously by clients.
Looking down on what they’re trying to do and what they’ve done.

Hell, some of these people have actually started their own company, so you’d expect them to be a cheerleader for the new … but instead it seems they see them as a more interesting competitive threat, so keep throwing out their barbs.

Oh they probably think they’re being so clever.

That the people can’t see what they’re doing.

But it’s so transparent you could grow plants in it.

However here is where it all goes wrong …

Because not only are many of these people pioneering a great business out of what they’re doing … everyone can see these insults are simply a way to distract thems from the fact they didn’t do what someone else has had the courage to try. That someone is trying to create their own story rather than simply follow someone else’s.

Personally, I think that is an incredible thing to do.

And thank fuck we have people willing to do that.

Not just because the old way isn’t working that well, but because the definition of ‘Fail Harder’ is the realisation that even if you fail in your attempt to do something audacious, you’re already further ahead than those who simply have followed the path of ‘achieving safely’.

There’s a few people I know who are victims of this.

They say it doesn’t bother them, but it obviously does.

Of course it does … it’s shit … especially when coming from people in the industry who are supposed to be ‘senior voices’.

So fuck those guys [and it is nearly always men]

Make them cry tears of regret, because regardless what happens next, you’ve already gone further them most of them could reach.