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


The Taste Of Bullshit …

I’ve written a ton about brand purpose over the years.

Not as viciously as my beloved Martin Weigel. But close.

It’s not that I am against brand purpose, It’s when it’s used as a marketing tool and ‘updated’ to whatever trend is currently popular that my hate boils over.

It’s why I have always advocated for belief rather than purpose.

Belief is demonstrated by what and how you do things, not what and how you say things.

Or give things away.

Belief drives change. Purpose hopes for it.

Which is probably why so many brands prefer purpose.

The ability to look like you care without always having to demonstrate it.

Take this from Unilever food brand, Knorr …

“Our purpose is to reinvent food for humanity by being healthier for both people and the land. 
 Knorr brings the power of flavour to good food to 
overcome barriers that stop us from eating for good”

Sounds good doesn’t it.

Sounds purposeful.

But for those who are not sure what Knorr make, let me enlighten you …

Yeah, when I think of flavour and good food – not to mention being good for humanity and the land – the first thing I think of is cheddar broccoli rice sides.

But maybe I’m wrong, how do you cook these things that help us ‘eat for good’?

Here’s the instructions …

Microwave directions: In 2-quart microwave-safe bowl, combine 2-1/4 cups water, 1 tbsp. margarine(optional) and contents of package. Microwave uncovered at high about 12 minutes* or until rice is tender, stirring once halfway through. Stir and serve.

Yep, thought so. Utter rubbish.

The reason I am writing this is because I recently saw a post from an ice-cream brand.

Have a look at this …

While those words sounds trite, purpose-for-marketing … food and culture are incredibly entwined and so there is a real chance it may be a badly worded version of what they really believe and do.

Let’s look at their website.

For those too lazy, here is a screenshot of their flavours …

Hmmmmn … doesn’t seem too much about people, places or cultures does it?

There’s a lot about ingredients.

Some even seem interesting. But absolutely no mention of people, places or cultures.

But is that surprising when it’s so obviously an absolute load of purpose-washing?

And what a missed opportunity.

They could truly make that into something that could change something.

Educate, unite, challenge, inform … tell the stories of the people, places and cultures that were the inspiration of those flavours through the flavours.

Ben and Jerry’s meets Tony Chocolonely.

And what makes it worse is their intentions sound honourable. They’re already a B-Corp certified business, choose ingredients that are direct-trade and believe in diversity.

All great and important things except nothing to do with what they claim they do on their packaging.

Many years ago, at Wieden, we were invited to pitch for an ice-cream brand.

We said yes because hey, it’s ice cream.

Anyway, when we got the brief, it read like a purpose fluffer.

My god, it was literally dripping in claims and terminology that not only had nothing to do with their category, but had nothing to do with any of their actions, behaviours or products.

We spoke to them about looking at ice cream another way.

If they had to have a ‘purpose’, make that purpose about what ice cream is supposed to be.

Fun and tasty.

Not deeper meaning. Just that.

And then prove it in the product, not just the experience.

You may think that is overly simplistic, but by then the entire category had gone purpose insane and no one was actually owning what they were and what people actually wanted.

Put it this way, it had gone a looooooong way from the days where BBH had brilliantly changed the way people looked at ice cream and did it in a way that was sexy, powerful and based on a real truth. [A campaign so good that is was spoofed brilliantly by Fosters Lager]

Anyway, for us, the way we could get back to what ice cream was but in a way that proved the fun was down to flavours … so unlike Jeni’s ice creams, we actually went out and talked to all manner of people about their weird tastes. Things they love others think are a bit mental. Things that make them deliriously happy for whatever reason or whatever duration. Because we saw an opportunity for the client to be more like a taste and colour experiment lab than a manufacturer of everyday ice-creams and flavours with an unbelievable purpose attached.

So we worked it all up and I remember it for 2 main reasons.

+ We used a picture of a cat in the presentation with an inverted cross on its forehead … which is still my favourite mad presentation image ever used. And I’ve used a lot.

+ When the client wanted us to justify our idea, we simply showed this …

It may not be the deepest reason you’ve ever read.

It may not even be the most exciting.

But it was definitely more believable than all the shit they were saying.

And with the flavour combinations we had and how it all came together with the creative work – which had some weird ice cream flavour meme generator at the heart of it … generating all manner of taste sensation madness out into the internet … it was something that not only would help them differentiate from the competition, but have a place and role in culture.

They hated it.

Instead they went with some bollocks about ice cream being ‘a gesture of love for those who are not rich’.

No, I’m not joking.

Which may also explain why they … Haagan Daaz and Jeni’s talk a lot about their purpose in society but are – with the possible exception of Jeni’s – increasingly irrelevant ice creams brands whereas that old, dumb favourite, Ben And Jerry’s, still has some sort of position in culture, because despite selling out to the death star Unilever, they try to do shit rather than just say it.

Emphasis increasingly on try.

But even with that, the reality is – as is the real test of any brand that claims to have purpose – they show what they believe through every aspect of what they do, even when it’s inconvenient, rather than market what they claim their purpose is, only when it suits them.

Enjoy your day. Be careful you don’t eat any bullshit.

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Two’s Company, Three’s A Wonderful Nightmare …

For someone this old, working in adland this long … it’s amazing how few friends I have in the industry.

Oh I know tonnes of people – you can’t help it when you keep moving countries every couple of years – and I love soooooo many of them, but in terms of actual mates, it’s not a massive amount.

However despite this, there are two people who have that moniker.

They may wish they didn’t.

They may wish I wasn’t about to advertise that fact.

But the brilliant Paula Bloodworth and Martin Weigel are most definitely two of them.

Obviously they need no introduction.

They’re 2 of the best and most respected planners in the World and have a body of work entire global agency networks would kill to have. But the thing many people don’t realise is that underneath it all, they’re just amazing humans who are also insanely talented.

Obviously we all met at Wieden and worked together on various projects across the network. But it’s more than that. I met a lot of amazing people at Wieden but I just clicked on a different level with those two.

That doesn’t mean we always agreed with each other.

In fact, the opposite is probably a better reflection of how we were … but there was something between us that meant we not only trusted and respected each others judgement, we felt we ended up in better places for the debates.

And we did.

And we still do.

Because even though only Martin is still at Wieden, we still talk a lot.

In fact we have a video call every week.

London. Amsterdam. Auckland.

And all we do is chat, laugh, debate, disagree and wonder.

And occasionally bitch, hahaha.

But what they may not realise is how they make me feel.

You see I have no problem asking them for their point of view and they have no problem giving it to me.

Except it’s not some wannabe intellectual wank-fest [which is good, because I’d always lose] it’s thoughtful, compassionate and – dare I say it – loving advice.

In short, they look out for me.

They tell me when they think I am wrong.

They tell me when they think I am right.

But most of all, they tell me things to think about to encourage the outcome that I hope for.

When I was made redundant, they were the first people I spoke to.
When I am moving to another country, they’re the first people I chat to.
When I want someone to bounce stuff off, they’re the first people I reach out to.

In an industry obsessed with pathetic intellectual swordsmanship, these two wonderful, beautiful, talented bastards swap weapons for compassion.

They make me a better person and colleague – albeit to Colenso, clients and Metallica.

And they ask for nothing in return.

Which reinforces they’re brilliant people but maybe not as smart as everyone thinks they are.

They’ll probably hate me being so gushing in this post given they both like to hide their public emotions in a black hole … but it’s true.

I love them.

I love their partners.

I love their multitude of animals.

But most of all, I love they’re in my life.

How’s that for a Monday post then eh?!

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Valued Rather Than Value …

I’ve written a bunch about clients who have gone out of their way to make me feel valued.

Like the signed Wayne Rooney shirt I was given to give to a cab driver I met in Atlanta.

Or the green M&M’s so I could live out my Van Halen fantasies when they asked me to do a talk with little notice.

Or the years supply of Coke Zero because they knew I really, really love it.

Or the amazing custom built guitar with unique detailing to say goodbye when I left China.

Or – most recently – that photograph at the top of this post.

Of Rick Rubin with the Beastie Boys outside Radio City in NYC by Josh Cheuse.

From 1985.

Autographed by all.

Which was a gift from the management team of musical gods.

Like, what the hell?!

Yes, I know this means I have a lot of clients that are obviously bonkers, but the most valuable thing they did with all this was teach me the difference between valued and value.

Because with all these clients, I was a pain in the arse to them.

I demanded a lot from them.

We would ‘debate’ over stuff.

And yet, rather than complain about me, they let me know they appreciated it.

Because they knew the reason for it was because I wanted them to win better.

And I did. And do.

Because win better is not about simply ‘fulfilling the requirements of the client brief at a price that represents value for money’ … it’s about pushing for change, standards and possibility.

Because when you do that, you open the door to work that can take you to totally new places with totally new possibilities.

Now I’m not saying it’s easy.

Nor am I saying I’m the only one who does it.

Weigel is the master of it.
Wieden was built on it.
And Colenso haven’t won agency of the decade twice in a row by accident.

But what is common to all is dealing in truth rather than pandering to ego.

Playing up to standards rather than down to compromise.

Having the hard conversations rather than the convenient ones.

And with this means sometimes having to deal with gut-wrenching fails.

But here’s the thing, I’ve learned …

Great clients want great. Great thinking. Great ideas. Great results.

But it’s more than just wanting it …

They actively encourage it and help it through their systems.

They are transparent and honest while being open and ambitious.

They rely as much on their experience and taste as they do their research processes.

So even if things don’t quite end up where you all hoped, they understand, appreciate and protect what you did together and keep internal minds focused on what it achieved rather than just what it didn’t.

And they do this by not just looking at the numbers, but the audience.

And when I say that, I don’t mean they define their ‘customers’ in some faceless, colour-coded, generic set of terms.

They know and invest in understanding the sub-culture of their category and brand.

Not just what they buy.

Or how they use product.

But what the hell is going on in their life.

Because it’s not just about ‘shifting product’, it’s also creating change.

Something that opens up the future rather than just continually trades from the middle.

My old Nike client, Simon Pestridge – who I’m so happy is my client again – said something to me once I’ve held on to.

“Middle management want to be told they’re right, senior management want to know how to be better”

Because he is so good, he didn’t realise how he behaves is not representative of all senior management. But in my experience, it is of the truly great.

And that’s why they don’t look at value simply in terms of ‘economic return x input cost’, they look at it in terms of ‘are you making us better’.

The industry seems to have forgotten that.

Too many appear to have chosen pandering as a business model.

Too many bosses demands compliance rather than curiousity.

And that’s what we need to change …

Because challenging the client doesn’t mean you are an asshole.

It means you give a fuck.

Play to be valued.

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Keep Them Mean To Keep Them Subservient …

As it is the first of August, I thought I’d change the tone of the posts from the rather heavy ones of July to something a bit more ‘light’.

Which is why today I’m writing about cats.

As you know, I love those feline sods.

Specifically my feline sod … Rosie.

The things I’ve done for her.

Taken her around the World.

Got an import licence in China so we could get her her favourite treats.

Built custom ‘penthouse cat houses’ for her, so she could enjoy the outdoors in safety.

Got a company to make a bloody stuffed toy version of her for us.

In fact, it’s so realistic a client once thought she was stuck on a wardrobe during a zoom call.

And what do I get in return?

Complaints.

Demands.

Distain.

And a distinct lack of love or emotion.

Oh I know she loves me really.

Not as much as we love her, obvs … but there is affection there. Deep down.

However I recently saw something that not only summed her up, but summed all cats up which perfectly explains why some people hate them, and why some – like me – are at their mercy, will and command.

If humans treated humans this way, it would be considered an abusive relationship.

But cats powers of manipulation has managed to reframe that as ‘personality’.

Seriously, if you want to know the art of strategy, forget the Weigel’s, Bloodworth’s, Ritson’s and Collin’s and just study cats.

They’re bastards. But they’re brilliant bastards … as demonstrated by this photo that, for me, is the best encapsulation of cattidude you will ever see.

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Some Weeks Last A Lifetime …

So I was supposed to be back today, but the gods had other plans.

I got covid.

After avoiding it for 2 years.

After moving to the other side of the planet in the middle of the pandemic.

They decided now was the optimum time to give it to me.

And maybe they were right.

Because this trip has – so far – been filled with nothing but miracles and love.

I got to see the wonderful Martin and Mercedes get married in Portugal, surrounded by old friends who I’d not seen in an age.

Including the brilliant Clare Pickens who I love enormously.

Not to mention Nusara and her husband … who I discovered actually exists.

Now it’s fare to say all weddings are special, but this was magnificent.

There’s many reasons for that – from the people, the venue, the moment – but it was something more than that. As I said on the speech I was asked to give at the last minute, we needed this. All of us. Not just Martin and Mercedes … but every person who was – and continues to be – affected by the devastation of COVID. Which means every person in the World because whether it has been small or big challenges, we’ve all had to deal with them.

And from there, I then got to see my beloved Nottingham Forest pull off the miracle.

From bottom of the league with the worst start in 108 years to playing at Wembley after 30 years and getting promoted to the Premiership after 23 years away.

And to be able to do that with my beloved Paul – who I’d not seen for almost 2 years – by my side, was just even more special.

I don’t mind telling you I cried when I saw him.

When he got out his car and gave me one of his massive hugs hello, I clung on and cried. God I’ve missed him.

Don’t get me wrong, I love NZ, but it is the first place I’ve ever lived that genuinely feels ‘far from everything’ … so with that and all that has gone on in the past 2 years – not to mention the fact this is the longest I’ve not seen him in my entire life – I realised how much I’ve missed and needed him around in my life.

So to have that and then watch our beloved Forest get back into the promise land together was – well, just unbelievably special.

Now if you remember the post I wrote when I was setting off on this adventure, you will note I have not mentioned seeing Paula and her baby yet and that’s because of the COVID gods. But they’re still being nice to me …

Because not only has COVID not been too bad for me – especially compared to what some people have suffered – it meant I had to move my flights as NZ travel rules meant they wouldn’t let me catch my plane. And even this set back has a silver lining.

Because of the demand on airlines – and the time it takes for RAT tests to show a negative reading – the earliest flight I could get was next Tuesday. So not only will I have the time to see her before I go, but I also get to see Paul again when we go to the Queen concert we booked back in 2019 that they had to cancel because of COVID.

Seeing Queen with my best friend and his wonderful wife Shelly is like the ultimate gift to end this incredible visit to Europe.

But there’s more …

You see the Queen concert is on the day the UK celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

I mean the royal one, not the musical one.

The reason this is significant is way back in 1977, my Mum and Dad brought me to London to watch the crowds celebrate her Silver Jubilee. I remember it well, despite being so long ago. So to be back in London – albeit by pure coincidence – on a day where England yet again is celebrating a landmark moment in the Queen’s reign takes me back to that day with my parents and that is a feeling I will really treasure.

What this all means is not only has this trip been more wonderful than I ever imagined, it’s ended up giving me more miracles and love than I ever expected. Miracles and love that I needed more than I ever imagined.

So while I can’t wait to get back to my family – and my team – I can honestly say this has been a couple of weeks that are one of the most important and memorable weeks of my life and for that, I thank everyone who made it possible … from Martin and Mercedes, Paul, Nottingham Forest, Colenso, Q-Prime, NIKE, Paula, Queen, Lee Hill and Virgin Atlantic and my brilliant supportive wife and son right through to, bizarrely, covid.

I don’t know how you did it Mum and Dad, but thank you.

So till next week.

R