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


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.

Comments Off on Welcome To The Industry Of The Deliberately Ignorant …


Tone Deaf Truth And Complicity …

I’ve written a ton on brand purpose.

How it’s become meaningless and is just another tool for marketing mediocrity.

[This was the latest rant]

Well, recently I found an example of purpose that is undeniably true.

No, not Patagonia …

Mainly because this is not about a powerfully good purpose, more a purpose that is simply true to them.

Or should I say, to both of them.

Because it’s for KPMG – and, bizarrely, PWC.

Fuelling/Building Prosperity … I mean, come on.

Financial organisations who exist to generate riches … no fucking shit, Sherlock.

Of course, the cynic in me thinks what they’re actually trying to say is their purpose is to find ways to generate riches for themselves. Regardless of the cost.

Maybe if they had written it in a way that included WHY or HOW they fuelled/built prosperity, I’d be less of a bastard towards it… but because they didn’t, I now think they left it out on purpose so they can exploit financial opportunities for themselves and then say, “we never said we’d do it for you”.

Is this what purpose has now become?

Where you badly explain what you do and think that’s a higher order.

The lack of self-awareness is so bad that I almost want to advice them to go and spout some of the meaningless bollocks most other brands out there, shout.

That said, I kind of respect them for it.

Because as we’ve seen countless times before, what companies say about themselves and what they do are so far apart, it’s almost refreshing to have someone own their truth.

Even if it’s a truth that has the potential to repulse more than attract.

Comments Off on Tone Deaf Truth And Complicity …


Collabs Are Becoming A Circle Jerk …

Before I start, I’ve been a huge fan of collabs over the years. Seeing what happens when two different artists or brands or artists and brands come together has been fascinating.

And for every terrible LG x Prada phone, there’s a Nike x Ben & Jerry’s sneaker.

But … but … it feels we’ve moved from collab to labelling.

Where it isn’t about what two parties can create with each other, but just renting space for another brand to slap their logo on.

Take these Travis Scott x Playstation x Nike sneakers …

Jesus Christ.

Where the Ben & Jerry’s felt crafted and cared for this is just … well, put it this way, it feels more like a bad promotional item than something that represents a true collab.

And the thing is, this approach is happening more and more – across all manner of categories – which is why I kinda love what Nobuaki Kurokawa has done with their first product launch from their CUGGL label.

Let’s be honest, they’re taking the piss.

Like, blatantly and unashamedly.

Not only does it look like it say’s Gucci, by making the design resemble graffiti, it feels like they’re also sticking two fingers up at the terrible and contrived Gucci/Balenciaga collab.

The Gucci x Belenciaga is especially horrific because individually, they’ve not really laid a foot wrong in building the value and position in culture of their brands. And then they do this.

Lazy.

Fake.

Obvious.

Out-of-date.

Dad at the disco rubbish.

Basically, the fashion industry version of this.

Which is why I like what CUGGL have done so much.

Punking the brands pretending to be punking fashion.

Of course, Diesel did something like that before – though their mischievous eye was aimed at the counterfeit industry [even though it kinda said ‘fakes may be real’, which is the last thing they needed to do] however in terms of greatest accolade for mischief, that prize should have gone to the band Blink 182.

I say ‘should have’ because they ended up pulling out of potentially the greatest burn ever.

In the early 2000’s, Axl Rose was making a new Guns’ n’ Roses album.

It was unique because the only original member of the band was Axl himself.

He had fired all the band and was basically at his most indulgent ego best.

The only thing he’d announced was the album was going to be called ‘The Chinese Democracy’.

For years and years nothing came out.

The album postponed time and time again.

At one point, his record label, Geffen, pulled funding … and yet the recording still went on.

Enter Blink 182.

They announce they were recording a new album and guess what they were going to call it …

That’s right, The Chinese Democracy.

Better yet, because Axl was taking so long to release his version – they could be sure they’d be first, so history would always make it look that Guns n’ Roses copied Blink 182.

Alas they went cowardly on the idea, which is a shame … because that would have set a benchmark CUGGL and Diesel could only dream of reaching.

Comments Off on Collabs Are Becoming A Circle Jerk …


Why Big Doesn’t Mean Better …

Scale.

A single word that has become the barrier to so much.

How big can you get it?
How much can you make it worth?
How do you plan to expand, expand, expand.

Now I get it …

If you want – or need – investors, they want to feel their cash will grow.

But the by-product of this is that scale has now become the measure we define ourselves by.

If it’s not big, it’s not worth it.
If it’s not the largest, it’s not the greatest.
If it isn’t known around the world, it’s not worth caring about.

And I’m not just talking in terms of investment, but in so many fields.

Advertising is one of them.

And I certainly have been guilty of it.

Thinking working on global brands meant I was somehow better than those who worked on more local clients.

But thankfully, I quickly learned that was bollocks.

Because on top of everything else, far too often global brands are a shitshow of politics and hierarchy.

Wading through pools of treacle.
That are located inside a maze.
Constantly being moved around.
In the dark.
All in a bid to delay making a decision.
Because not pissing off your boss is more important than creating value for customers.

Which is why for all the NIKE’s, Spotify’s and Metallica’s there’s a whole lot more … well. let’s just say there’s a whole lot more of those other sort of global clients.

And while I’ve been luckier than most with the global clients I’ve worked with – which is fortunate given most of my career has been working with them – the reality is it’s got nothing to do with their scale and everything to do with the values and aspirations of the individuals you’re working with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow … of course they do and that’s what they’re paying you to help them achieve it.

However growth and scale are different things.

Growth is building, evolving, creating and changing.

Scale is power, speed, conformity and consistency,

And that’s why people focused on scale, can tend to get blinkered …

Focusing on speed and size rather than standards and substance.

And before you know it, they’re churning out all manner of communication landfill, because they believe being something for everyone is better than being everything to someone.

Which is why I love this small hole-in-the-wall store I saw not so long ago.

I have no idea how many people need a quick buttonhole service …

I appreciate the sign is a ramshackle mess.

And yet it made me so happy because the shop looks like it’s been there for a long time which suggests the owner has built a position and value within the community they serve.

Where ‘quick’ is more a by-product of their experience rather than the objective of why they’re in business.

Maybe.

And while I could be completely wrong about them, the reason I love it is because it reminds me that we should celebrate business who wish to live up to a standard not down to a scale.

Comments Off on Why Big Doesn’t Mean Better …


When Advertising Said More Than Simply ‘Buy Me, Please’ …

Once upon a time, when I lived in Singapore, I popped into the restaurant next to where we lived on Club Street, to get some takeaway.

As I was waiting for my noodles, I saw a man at the bar having a drink.

He had a nice face but the only reason I noticed him was because he had a mark on his head that made him look like Mikhail Gorbachev.

The next day I found out, it was.

While Club Street was blessed with lots of nice restaurants and bars, seeing the ex-head of the Soviet Union having a drink next door to where you live, was not the sort of thing you expect to see.

But then Mikhail was good at the unexpected.

Like the time, in 2007, he turned up in a Louis Vuitton ad.

Back in the days when being an ‘influencer’ meant you had done something to impact the world rather than existed to simply flog product.

But Mikhail was an inspired choice for a whole host of reasons …

One was the visual metaphor he represented for Russia’s journey from communism towards capitalism.

The symbolism of a new era in Russia. And the rest of the world.

And while this ad came out in 2007 – 16 years after he had seen the dissolution of the USSR – what he represented was still clear. Made even more obvious by placing him in the back of a car – in a photo taken by Annie Leibovitz – driving past the Berlin Wall … another symbol of capitalism triumphing over communism.

For many who read this blog, the impact of this change may fly right past you.

I get it, especially if you’ve lived in Western countries, so to give you some context, let me take you to Communist China.

The modern metropolis that you see in photos of China today is certainly not what I found when I first moved there. Especially when you stepped out of central Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou. Though, to be fair, that’s still the case in many parts of the country – including Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou – despite the Middle Kingdom’s incredible modernisation and rise.

Anyway, when I first moved there, Louis Vuitton had a reputation – and nickname – of being ‘the mistress brand’.

There was a simple reason for it …

People who owned it were seen as ‘girlfriends’ of high-level business people or government ministers.

Basically the belief was that because their lovers were one of the few people who were allowed – or could afford to – leave China with ease, they’d buy LV products on their travels and then give them to their lovers as presents on their return.

Was it true?

Not entirely, but there was definitely a ‘second wives’ economy that existed and likely still does.

There was a street near where we lived where every shop was allegedly funded by a generous ‘benefactor’. And you could believe it, because we never saw a customer enter a single store and yet the owners – always young and attractive – were driving the latest Bentley’s. Ferrari’s or Maserati’s.

It was a different world.

And while China has been the centre of the luxury universe for decades, I still remember the Government banning all luxury outdoor advertising in Beijing every now and then to both show their power to the luxury brands who make billions from them as well as reminding the people who live there ‘they were still a communist land’.

Sometimes.

What is interesting is that when Russia and China opened up, Louis Vuitton were one of the quickest brands to see what this could mean for them and their category.

They recognised very early the importance – and confidence – luxury brands could play in culture and so they upped the branding on their products dramatically.

And that’s why these ads, from Ogilvy, are so interesting to me. Because at a time where the cult of luxury was on the rise, these ads attempted to separate LV from the competition by trying to position them with greater significance and purpose.

Presenting LV almost as something you ‘earned the right’ to have rather than something anyone could just buy.

Treating the LV iconography as a badge of honour, not simply wealth.

Reinforcing status as much about how you live, rather than simply what you have.

Maybe this was a reaction to the way Putin was starting to shape Russia to his will.

If you look closely at the bag next to Mikhail, you will see a magazine with the headline ‘Litvinenko’s murder: They wanted to give up the suspect for $7000.’

That headline was on the magazine, New Times, a liberal Russian publication that regularly criticised the Kremlin.

That headline was a reference to Alexander V Litvinenko – the former KGB spy who died in November 2006 after being poisoned in the UK. The former KGB spy who had accused Putin of orchestrating his murder.

While Ogilvy and LV dismissed the significance of that magazine headline, I think it’s pretty safe to say that’s bullshit.

There is no way that is a coincidence.

I get why they said it, but the symbolism of Mikhail … with that magazine poking out his bag … driving past the Berlin Wall … was a pretty blatant message of how far Putin’s Kremlin had taken Russia back to the ‘bad old days’ since Gorbachev had left.

It may have been a condition for Mikhail to feature in the ad.

Only he, Ogilvy and LV execs would know.

But I do admire their stance.

Let’s be honest, there’s absolutely no way that would ever happen now.

Which is as much of a statement on how safe advertising and brands have become as it is of the dangers of Putin and his actions.

Comments Off on When Advertising Said More Than Simply ‘Buy Me, Please’ …