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


This Is Why I Love The Internet …
June 21, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Culture, Internet

I am of the last generation who knew life pre-internet and post-internet and I have to say, I sometimes wonder how I survived without it.

Yes there are dangers. But there are dangers everywhere.

The reality is the internet has given us access to information and knowledge we may never have never ever known. It has opened our eyes to what is possible … changed our expectations for the life we can lead and provided opportunities to millions who would otherwise been left far behind. And while some say it is infected with lies, conspiracies and errors, I think it is very important to remember what Franklin Roosevelt said about it …

“The internet never lies”.



Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.



If You Don’t Know Your History, Everything Is The Future …

Burning On Fire GIF by Barbara Pozzi - Find & Share on GIPHY

When I was at R/GA, we got invited to do a big pitch in China.

I was travelling a lot so asked some of my brilliant colleagues to help me with developing the overall strategy.

When I came back, I found they had done a ton of work.

Huge amounts of research.

Huge amounts of analysis.

Huge amounts of thinking.

It was fantastic, there was just one problem.

It was all wrong.

Not because what they had done wasn’t true or accurate, but simply because they’d fallen for planners achilles heel.

‘What they thought was interesting and new wasn’t interesting or new for the audience they needed to talk to.’

While they will never make that mistake again, you’d be amazed how much this happens.

I used to see it in China all the time.

Westerners coming into the country for the first time and throwing down all the things that they found fascinating without realising what they were saying was just normal life for anyone there.

The vast populations of cities.
The local alternatives to twitter, youtube and facebook.
Wechat’s amazing array of features that are embedded in everyday life.
The incredible migration of the country during the New Year festival.
The amount of money spent on 11.11

Yawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwn.

It’s such an easy and dangerous mistake to make.

Driven by a pinch of arrogance here … a sliver of laziness there … and underpinned by a big dollop of what I wrote about a while back.

I see it all the time … doesn’t matter whatsoever if it’s strategists talking about cultures of other nations or cultures in other parts of their own nation.

Hell, some of the stuff I heard spouted in London planning circles have been bordering on embarrassing.

From using data without any element of context to allegedly reveal ‘why Northern values are unique values’ right through to a continuous barrage of repurposed and reclaimed ‘trend reports’ which enables them to state with utter certainty they know how ‘TikTok is shaping culture’ … despite never once referring to China, where the platform has been in operation for years and where culture there are literally light years ahead of the West in terms of how they use it and how they are influenced by it.

Seriously, when I see or hear this stuff, I wonder if they realise it say’s far more about them than the people they are supposedly expertly explaining?.

Look, I totally appreciate there are many reasons why this situation is occurring.

And as I said, there are many parties guilty of this situation.

But – and it’s a big but – we, as individuals and a discipline, have to take some blame for it.

Thinking we don’t have to interact with people to talk about people.
Believing having an answer is more important than having understanding.
Valuing individual revelation more than contextual appreciation.

All this does is lead to work that satisfies our ego while boring our audience to death.

We can be great.

We can be valuable.

We can push the potential of creativity.

But it won’t happen if we continue to think if it’s new to us, it must be new to everyone.



Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



Are Warc Berks?

Last year, WARC made the terrible mistake of inviting me – and Martin, though he is never a mistake – to talk at their show at Cannes.

While our talk on chaos seemed to go down rather well, I was still amazed they invited us.

Well, me.

Amazingly, they still haven’t come to their senses, because last month they asked me to write something about how COVID-19 was affecting business. And while they wisely edited down what I’d written, you’d have think they would have learned their lesson by now.

But no.

And while I would love to say the reason I am posting it on here is because I feel it is a worthy read, the real reason is I am too tired to write a post today so this solves that ‘problem’ nicely.

I know this gives you no incentive to actually read it, but it does talk about Pornhub in it.

And penis shaped pasta.

And David Lee Roth.

Oh who am I kidding, you don’t even read the short posts.

Damnit.

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If You Think Change Only Happens When There’s A Global Pandemic, You’re Not Paying Close Enough Attention.

COVID COVID COVID. That’s all I’m hearing.

Of course I get it … it’s a terrible situation with ramifications that could fundamentally change the way we live, work and operate forever.

Hell, just a few weeks ago, the head of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, suggested the demand for travel – by road or rail – will reduce so dramatically [due to companies and employees recognising the ability to work from home] that the government may be better putting money into broadband instead of bolstering infrastructure.

That statement, if true, would have a seismic impact on an incredible amount of industries … from car manufacturing, train services, commercial leasing and banking to name but a few. And then, when you add in the expectation’s [some of] society is placing on the actions and behaviour of brands through websites like didtheyhelp.com, you see why some are saying the societal reset button has been pressed.

But I’m not going to write about that.

Not because I don’t believe it, but because everyone is writing about it.

My point is less dramatic. It’s simply that how we live, work and operate is always evolving, so if you only think it is happening now, you’ve been asleep at the wheel.

If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards

I don’t want this to be a big piece for R/GA, but we’ve always loved playing to where culture is heading rather than where it is.

It’s part of the reason why we’ve continually reinvented ourselves as a company and why we’ve been able to fuse creativity with technology to either define the future normal or open the door for it to start establishing itself.

Some of these ideas required us to be ridiculously audacious – like when we created Fuel Band for NIKE to start changing the way everyday athletes train and develop or when we created one of the first digital banks – NEXT in Brazil – because we saw how the values and aspirations of 20-30 year olds were totally different to the products and services the established banks were offering.

And while those two are on a grand scale for liberating change, the reality is it doesn’t matter what the size of the project is, we always place huge value on exploring cultural and sub-cultural changes because pandemic or not, people are always evolving.

While I really didn’t want to talk about COVID-19, the fact is the biggest shifts occur when there is a crisis and it’s fair to say, that’s what’s going on now.

Put simply, crisis collapses time.

What could take decades to evolve can happen in years, months, weeks or minutes.

For example, after arguably centuries of being denied, women were finally recognised as societal equals* after people [read: men] saw the vital role they had played in the war effort of WW2.

[* acknowledging that women are still continually denied equality in so many aspects of life]

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Newton’s 3rd law, which states ‘for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction’ has been around since 1686. But some had started to believe these shifts only occurred through technological revolution when the reality is cultural adversity is equally as powerful … and the reality is COVID-19 is creating some major changes of attitude and behaviour.
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At the time of writing …

35% of Britons are worried about their employment.

The average Londoner is saving over 2 hours per day of commuting time working from home.

The top 10 fastest growing products being bought on the internet right now are in the categories of healthy eating, medicine and gym equipment … though chips, popcorn and snack foods are also all experiencing triple digit growth.

64% of people believe their community is stronger now than pre-COVID-19 … with approx. 1/3 of people offering to help vulnerable neighbours.

Families are now spending approx. 16 hours awake together compared to a previous average of 2.5.

Google searches for ‘meditation’ has reached its highest level in history.

Visits to Pornhub.com has risen globally 11+%, with ‘corona virus’ searches in the site reaching 1.5 million on March 5th alone.
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These are all big shifts with major implications. And while I accept there is a chance things will return to the ‘old normal’ when the situation becomes a bit more stable – there are 3 things to remember:

1. The longer this goes on, the more likely these new attitudes and behaviours will become established and self-sustaining.

2. Not everyone’s situation is the same, including when isolation will end for them.

3. Even if things do return to the past for every single person, they will all continue on their individual journey of evolution … whether in attitude, behaviour, aspiration, ambition or a combination of all.

A New Value Of Money?

Once upon a time, the rock singer, David Lee Roth, said:

“Whoever said money doesn’t buy you happiness doesn’t know where to shop”.

While this may well have been the attitude for multiple generations, right now – across the entire World – the value of money is literally being re-written by society.

I’m not talking about what and where people want to spend their cash [though there are some fascinating facts emerging, such as Ann Summers – the adult romance company – revealing the shortage of pasta in supermarkets had led to them selling more of their ‘penis pasta’ in 1 week than they’d sold in all of 2019] … I’m talking about their relationship with it and, as a result, their relationship with their banks.
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At the time of writing …

55% of people are very or extremely worried about the national economy, with 35% very or extremely worried about their household financial position.

950,000 people have successfully applied for Universal Credit in 2 weeks.

In the UK, car sales for March 2020 have fallen 40%.

56% of Britons actively want to support local businesses over global business.

22% of Britons are already changing buying habits, especially for non-essential items.

And while on their own, these might not seem scary – even though they only represent the first 4 weeks of Corona impact in the UK – when you overlay it with some of the cultural narrative appearing on Mumsnet and Reddit …

“I don’t want to live in a city where I can’t afford a back garden”

“Why have investments when they go down when you need them most”

“Who thought I’d value a full fridge more than full wardrobe?”

“The government needs to see public services as an investment, not a cost”

… you start to realise the fundamental attitudinal changes that are starting to occur.

Of course, many of these shifts in attitudes regarding money may be being driven by their circumstances.

Maybe they can’t believe how quickly their financial situation has changed.
Maybe for the first time in their life, access to what they’ve always enjoyed faces obstacles.
Maybe the lack of human contact has highlighted how alone they are.
Maybe it’s seeing a business they built for years fall apart in days.
Maybe it’s not being able to leave their apartment and breathe fresh air for weeks.
Maybe it’s realising that how you live is becoming more important than what you have.
Maybe it’s realising this isn’t a matter of wealth or poverty… but life or death.

Whatever the reason, you start to think that just maybe some of the fundamental values, attitudes and behaviours entire industries have banked on – and actively fought to maintain – are starting to shift.

If that becomes reality, then not only are the ramifications going to be mind-blowing for business, it will mean Alvin Toffler – the futurist, writer and businessman – was right when he said the illiterate of the 21st won’t be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

While I readily admit I have neither the brains, vocabulary – or even the looks – of Mr Toffler, I wholeheartedly subscribe to his belief that change is the only constant … which is why I thought I’d end this piece with 3 ways we help our clients be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

1. The Most Valuable Thing You Can Give Your Client Is Honesty

When we were helping create Next Bank in Brazil – part of Bradesco – we discovered nearly 70% of the target audience would rather visit the dentist than go to a bank. No-one likes to hear they’re not liked, but knowing what people really thought of them allowed us to make decisions that could drive the biggest impact and value. In simple terms, it meant everyone was behind creating a bank that didn’t act or operate like a typical bank.

2. The Culture Of The Category Tells You The Direction Of The Category

We spend a huge amount of time understanding the culture around a category. Not just in terms of how people transact or interact … but how they live, act, talk and behave. From the music they love to the hashtags they use. For example, with NIKE Girlstalk, we use interviews, social listening and data to understand how athletes are talking about sport … because often shifts in language indicate changes in how they see or play sport. Some may not think this is important, but it’s the difference between talking athlete to athlete or brand to customer.

3. Use Technology To Be More Human, Not More Automated

We believe customer experience builds and defines brands. It’s why we look at technology as much more than a tool to drive efficiency and optimisation … but something that can engage audiences emotionally and distinctly. For example, COVID-19 is revealing a multitude of ways people are using tech to feel connected to others … from Zoom background hysteria to virtual pub quizzes to mega concerts on Fortnite. All of this shows the multitude of ways society plays with tech to provide them with emotional – not just functional – fulfilment, which should remind brands their customers need more than just, ‘category best practice’ digital efficiency.

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Sources:
The Daily Mail, 6 April, 2020
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Office For National Statistics
Stackline Retail Intelligence
OnePoll on behalf of ChannelMum.com Survey
Prof Jacqui Gabb of the Open University
Google Analytics
Pornhub.com Corona Virus Data
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
The Guardian Newspaper April 1, 2020
Reuters, April 6, 2020
Hall & Partners
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Topics of conversation on Mumsnet/Reddit during March 2020