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


When Life Gives You Angostura, Make A Cocktail …

Recently I read the story behind Angostura’s strange bottle.

For those of you who don’t know what Angostura is, it’s a bitters used in cocktails.

For those of you who don’t know what is strange about their bottle, it’s this:

Yep, that’s their normal product.

A bottle, hidden inside fucking massive packing.

The story – as told by Abraham Piper – is the business was taken over by the founder’s sons in 1870.

To help grow its awareness, they decided to update the ‘look’ and enter the finished product into a competition in the hope the exposure would drive the business.

They didn’t have much time so to maximise efficiency, one brother designed the label and the other, the bottle.

One slight problem … they didn’t discuss the size.

Another slight problem … they didn’t realise until they brought both sides of their work together and by then, they didn’t have enough time to alter things before the competition was due to commence.

So they decided to enter it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, they lost.

Except one of the judges told them they should keep it exactly as it was because no one else was going to be stupid enough to make that sort of mistake … which means it was unique and would stand out.

So they did.

And that dumbass mistake – the sort of dumbass mistake that captures Dan Wieden’s classic Fail Harder philosophy, perfectly – was the foundation of a business that continues to evolve and grow to this day.

Now there is a chance this is not true.

They don’t mention it in their history timeline on their website for example.

But history is littered with happy accidents … from making Ice Cream to making Number 1 hit records … so there’s just as much chance it is.

And if that is the case, I’d bloody love it.

Because in this world where everything is researched to within an inch of its life, the products/brands that gain a real and powerful role and position in culture – not to mention whatever category they operate in – are increasingly the ones who keep the chaos in, rather than actively try to filter it out.

Whether that’s because they know it’s better to mean everything to someone rather than something to everyone is anyone’s guess. There’s a good chance they’re just lucky-accident dumbasses. Or they might understand the value of resonating with culture, rather than being relevant to the category.

Whatever it is …

The brands with the strongest brand attribution, assets and audience are increasingly the ones who never have to talk about it, let alone spend their marketing dollars trying to create it.

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Why Business Needs To Be More Seinfeld …

I was never a fan of Seinfeld.

Then I’ve never been much of a fan of Jerry Seinfeld either.

I always found him a bit of condescending, self-righteous prick.

Oh I get he is smart.

His observational skills are almost unparalleled.

But you can be a genius and still be an asshole. Step on down Elon Musk.

However recently I read something Jerry said that made me dislike him less.

Not simply because he didn’t know who McKinsey were, but because of what he highlighted is the problem with them. Or more specifically, the problem companies who use them, have.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this paints Jerry as a control freak.

And I also acknowledge that many companies hire McKinsey because they think the challenge they face is hard – rather than easy.

But what I do like about what he says is he won’t outsource his responsibility.

Sure, he could trust those around him more … and sure, his words smack of egomaniac … but to be fair to him, the product he sells is himself – his personality, his character, his humour – so it makes perfect sense he is obsessive about what goes out under his name because he cares deeply about his reputation, values and his quality control.

And that’s a major problem these days.

Too many don’t.

Oh they’ll say they do.

They’ll run internal and external communication that reinforce they do.

But then they’ll go and outsource their responsibilities and decisions to ‘for profit’ external organisations. Either because they don’t want the pressure … the issue is beyond their abilities … or they want someone to blame if things go wrong.

And the issue with this is the external organisation who are now responsible for answering this challenge, often do it with little to no consideration of who they’re doing it for.

How their clients look at the world.

The nuances and quirks that define who the company is and how they act.

So they provide a solution that does exactly what has been asked of them and nothing more.

Solutions agnostic of client values, beyond some superficial characteristics.

And this has resulted in a world filled with identikit functional solutions. Solutions that answer the issue, but at the cost of commoditisation. And all because senior people – who are paid handsomely to be responsible for their organisations wellbeing and growth – decided to outsource their responsibility to another organisation, even though they know they will never care as much about them as they should care about themselves.

Of course not everyone is like this.

Some are as committed and obsessive about how they do things as what they do.

But there are far too many who look for quick wins.

Easy answers.

Less pressure or responsibility.

Which is why I have always thought whether you are a shareholder or an employee, knowing how much the most senior people understand, value and protect the standards, nuance and quirks of the company they represent – not simply the balance sheet – acts as a good indicator you’re with a company who respects the value of their own value.

Not simply in terms of profit.

Nor in reputation.

But in the standards and values that drives all they do and create.

Which is my way of saying that while I still think Jerry Seinfeld is a bit of a dick, I now respect him for knowing where his responsibilities lie.

To both himself, his future and his fans.

Now if only there were more companies and brands who lived by the same mantra.

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Big Enough To Matter, But Not Big Enough To Count …

Recently I was reading an article on Brexit when I came across a comment that stopped me in my tracks.

The reason for it is that in a few words – literally a few – it not only highlighted the issue with many of the shortsighted fools who voted for leaving the European Union – and likely voted for the election of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – but also could be used to explain the decline of so many companies, institutions and individuals.

This is it …

What a perfectly constructed sentence.

A devastating set of words that places you perfectly in a corner you can’t get out of.

It’s almost a Hollywood movie line it’s so crafted in its underlying viciousness.

But of course, the people it challenges won’t accept it.

They will continue to refuse to acknowledge their complicity in the situation millions now face.

Because as I’ve written before, people has difficulty understanding something when their credibility and reputation depends on them not understanding something.

It’s why they will continue to cast blame on everyone else.

Why they will continue to claim the opposition are more dangerous than the government they voted in … the government that has brought an entire nation to its knees.

But let’s be honest, the reason for their attitude is even uglier than not wanting to own up to what they contributed to. Because for all their claims of wanting a ‘better Britain’ … the real reason behind their choice was to create a barrier between them and people they think are beneath them.

A way to feel socially, morally, professionally superior to those around them, while conveniently choosing to ignore they were either given great advantage from birth over the vast majority of people or seek to mitigate their situation by blaming everyone else for what they have not achieved, despite starting from greater advantage.

I get it. It’s kind-of human nature. It’s also the unspoken truth of democracy – where the reality is we tend to vote for what works for you rather than what’s right for the nation.

Of course the unspoken truth is still better than the alternative … however given the way politics and business are increasingly allowing spin, vitriol and lies, it seems we’re seeing ‘post truth’ as an accepted and embraced business strategy.

And that’s why the independent voice has never been so important.

Not just in the public domain, but within organisations, governments and individual groups.

Not to attack, destroy or dethrone – as is the current trend – but to protect.

To ensure the people making decisions – or the people asking to decide on the options – are aware of the range of possibilities and outcomes that could occur rather than just blindly following a blinkered promise of what will happen.

Not delivered with hyperbole or exaggeration, but with quiet, informed context and facts … delivered by an individual or organisation without political affiliation and respected for their independence.

It doesn’t mean it will stop things like Brexit happening, but it will ensure people who knowingly bend the truths to suit their own agenda or were deliberately ignorant to the choices they made are held to account. Because without that, we carry on down this sorry path where governments, organisations or individuals can choose to ignore previous choices they made, ignore the passing of time that changes the context of everything and ignore the realities others may have caught up and left us behind.

I am under no illusion that the truth hurts, but delusion damages us forever.

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Hello, End Of Days …

Artisan.

A relatively recent addition to the marketing lexicon.

The attempt to make an everyday product sound special.

The goal to appear you are offering individual craft and care.

The ambition to charge a premium for the smallest possible addition.

And that’s why we now have artisan burgers, cakes and now fucking peanuts … even though the reality is one has swapped a bread roll for a [bought] brioche bun, the other has put some hand-piped icing on the top of some cupcake and a packet of peanuts have had some salt and pepper chucked on top of them.

They’ll be claiming the artisan experience extends to the lorry drivers who chuck boxes of nuts in the basement of the local shop. Though they’d describe it as ‘our highly trained delivery operatives gently hand deliver our artisan nuts to establishments of repute, allaround the country, to maximise the taste experience and customer accessibility’.

This sort of shit does my head in.

What’s worse is it works. At least for some people and brands.

Not because people believe it’s really an artisan product, but because they want to believe they’re special and worth the ‘extra’.

Which says as much about the state of humanity as it does the state of marketing.

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Welcome To The Industry Of The Deliberately Ignorant …

I write a lot.

It may be rubbish, but I still churn it out.

Every week day, coming up to TWO DECADES.

Jesus Christ.

And yet despite that, a lot of it seems to be popular.

Or should I say popular in relation to the quality of the writing and what I deserve and expect.

Now over the years I’ve written about all manner of topics.

Death.

Queen.

Birkenstocks.

The impressive standing of my best friend’s penis.

You name it, I’ve probably written some rubbish about it.

And yet for all the stuff I put out, there’s one topic that never seems to capture the imagination like all that other stuff … and yet it is arguably, the most important and serious stuff I write.

It’s about diversity and inclusion.

Or more specifically, how we can, need-to and should do more.

Whenever I write about that, there is a noticeable decline in ‘engagement’.

Not just in terms of people commenting, but reading.

I find that fascinating and terrifying.

Why is this happening?

I may understand a lack of commentary but a lack of reading?

+ Is it that there’s so much on this topic that despite the changes not happening fast enough, people are over it?

+ Is it that people know they’re not doing enough and don’t want to read something that reminds them of that?

+ Is it that people think I’m trying to position myself as some sort of expert and don’t respect my opinion?

+ Is it that people think I’m just trying to be ‘woke’ and don’t want to encourage me?

+ Is it people just don’t give a fuck?

A few years ago my beloved friend, Chelsea, noticed this also happening on my instagram.

Same situation as this blog …

More likes/comments than I deserve up until I post something serious about race.

Then – at best – a murmur and – at worst – silence.

I don’t know the reason for this, but it is happening.

It even happened recently on two articles I wrote for Little Black Book, promoted on Linkedin.

The first – about the process of strategy – received a combined 1121 likes, 99 comments and 55 shares. But the other – promoted exactly the same way, but about the importance of making space for People of Colour to be themselves and respecting that value that brings – received 17 likes and 2 comments.

SEVENTEEN!!!

A topic far more important than how strategy is up its own arse got seventeen likes.

I am not an expert in this stuff.

I’ve made – and make – more mistakes than I should.

But I am committed to change and creating change and for all the talk of the industry wanting to do the same, it seems it only suits when they decide it suits. Of which there is no better definition of privilege.

None of this will surprise People of Colour.

They face this two-faced bullshit everyday of their lives.

I don’t care if people think I’m being woke.
I don’t care if people don’t read what I write.
I don’t even care if people don’t respect me.

This is about people talking a lot about the most serious issue facing our industry but doing practically nothing. Or worse, doing a small thing and then deciding it’s a big thing because it suits their agenda, even though they haven’t once asked the people it’s supposed to be there to help. It’s pathetic. Fucking pathetic.

I’d rather hear people say they don’t care or believe in D&I than talk earnestly about its importance but don’t do anything about it. Not even use their platform or position to keep the topic, top of mind.

The problem with our industry is it’s increasing lack of relevance and resonance with business, creativity and culture. The great irony is the most influential, interesting, and commercially powerful things in business, creativity and culture are born from People of Colour communities, especially Black/African American culture.

At the very least white culture should care because it can keep them earning a living.

But no. They think they are good enough to do it. Good enough to understand things they can never quite grasp as it comes from a lived experience they have never had to face. So they miss the nuance, the heritage, the soul.

Or maybe it’s not that at all.

Maybe it’s something else.

Fear.

Fear of being left behind by the knowledge, understanding and context of People of Colour.

Because unlike them, People of Colour see culture from the inside, the outside and deep within its creative soul. This not only helps them understand what’s influencing culture better than most white people, it means they understand white people better than white people.

So they can offer more insight and understanding.

More creativity and opportunity.

More openness and authenticity.

Giving them knowledge that not only puts most white people to shame, but can put most white people out in the cold.

That’s probably the reason.

White people want to keep People of Colour down.

Not all. But that doesn’t matter … because that many do creates this situation.

Continues this situation.

And while I’m not saying everyone who reads my posts – or should I say, doesn’t read them – are racist, I am saying maybe we all need to think about what we’re doing … because we can’t say we don’t know about the issues regarding diversity and inclusion just because we avoid reading about it.

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