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


It’s Not What You Do, It’s How You Do It That Reveals Who You Really Are …

In the UK there was an adult comic called Viz.

It was filthy, hilarious and – for a long time – very successful.

And while they had many ‘star’ characters … from Sid the Sexist to errrrm, The Fat Slags … my favourite part of the magazine were the publishing company details.

Tucked at the bottom of a page, in extra small font, were a list of the people behind the magazine. Most people wouldn’t even see it, let alone read it … but if you did, you found magic in that small print.

Mischief. Personality. Information.

Nothing told you how much this was a labour of love for the people behind the magazine than their dedication to instilling their personality into every nook and cranny they could find … whether people would see it or not.

Brilliant stuff.

I say this because I saw a label a friend had put on a product they were selling at their shop.

Ai Ming was a planner in my team at Wieden+Kennedy.

She was very good … but decided one day, it was time for a change and so she went back to Singapore to open a Cheese Shop.

I know … sounds a bit random … but wait, it get’s better.

You see Ai Ming had an idea.

A way to combine her love of cheese and travel and be paid for it.

So she started The Cheese Ark … a cheese shop in Singapore, dedicated to selling cheeses from small, independent makers across Europe.

Oh but that’s nowhere near the end of the story …

So when she left Wieden – and before she returned to Singapore – Ai Ming went to work on a small farm in Italy for a few months. [I think]

While there, she discovered how amazing cheese tasted when it was made by people who loved and nurtured their product.

To her, it was a whole new world of taste and made every other cheese she had tried, feel unworthy of being labelled as such.

But she also learned something else …

You see she discovered many of these small, independent cheese makers were in danger of going under, because they didn’t have a way to compete with the big boys.

Said another way … this incredible tasting cheese could become obsolete.

So rather be sad, she decided to do something about it.

Enter The Cheese Ark … a shop that only sells cheese that originates from these small independent farms. A shop that is one of the only places in the World where you can get your hands on this incredible produce. A shop that charges enormous amounts of money to own a piece of their incredible cheese … not simply so you can have your taste buds tingled in ways you could never imagine … not simply because it allows you to show off to your friends about your good taste and status … not simply because it pays for Ai Ming’s travel, shop, employees and profit … but because by buying so much from each of these small farms across Europe, she can ensure that these small, independent cheese farms not only survive, but thrive.

Hence it’s called ‘The Cheese Ark’ … because its literally saving the lives of cheese.

How fucking incredible is that?

But Ai Ming is not just a creative business thinker, she’s full of personality and passion … which leads me to the point of this post.

You see I recently saw something that reminded me of those Viz publishing details I loved.

Something that communicated more than just the necessary details.

It was this …

How good is that?

I bloody love it.

A notice on a packet of cheese that’s more interesting, engaging, compelling and charming than 99% of ads – or any marketing material – out there.

Sure, not many people will see it.

Most may actively choose to ignore it.

But for those who do, they’re not just rewarded with the thrill of discovering something as enjoyable as the product inside it, they know they’re dealing with someone who really cares about what they do.

And they do. Because what Ai Ming has created is the Noah’s Ark of Cheese.

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Why We Need To Remember You Can Be Relevant As Hell And Still Be Boring As Fuck …

In April, I have been asked to speak at a conference in Croatia.

Croatia! What a country … I cannot bloody wait.

I know … I know … I can hear you all from here, screaming ‘another holiday freebie’. And while I accept this is a terrible misjudgement on their part, does the fact I have to take 3 planes over 24 hours to get there from NZ make you feel any differently?

No … didn’t think so. Doesn’t for me to be honest.

Now this conference is apparently a big deal with some very big names appearing so when they asked what I would be talking about, I thought it best to honour the occasion while representing my abilities, which is why I told them this:

There are many ways I could describe this talk. I could say it’s an investigation into why so many brands fail to connect to audiences despite having more data, research and marketing investment than at any point in history. Or I could take a more controversial path with ‘What if the tools and processes of modern marketing are wrong?’ And while both of those questions will feature within this talk, the real narrative is if you want to be culturally, commercially and creatively powerful … please stop being so bloody boring.

And to double down on that premise, here is slide 2 from the upcoming preso …

While I fully appreciate this seems like I’m not taking things seriously, I am.

Very seriously.

Because the industry seems to only have 2 settings: serious or stupid.

Or said another way, purpose filled or sponsored comedy.

And while they can both work in the right context – and with real talent creating it – it’s all got so expected that it wins by relentless repetition, rather that intrigue and interest.

At least with agencies like Mischief – who I adore – they are painfully aware of who they are, what they do and how they do it.

They’re less ad agency of brand communications, and more meme agency of the internet. And they do it so, so well.

But even they run the risk of their approach ending up being expected. A bit like brands who ‘hijack culture’ … which has now got so common, you have to ask if it is hijacking anything.

Thank god in Mischief’s case they have the brilliant and irrepressible Greg Hahn at their helm – someone who not only is phenomenally creative, but also can read and play with the pulse of culture – so just when things get expected, he takes people somewhere new and interesting.

Or said another way, he kills boring before boring takes hold.

But the reality is what Mischief do is not new.

There are many brands – even industries – who have been doing this sort of thing for decades.

Fashion. Gaming. Hell, even certain TV shows have been doing it.

[Albeit, to different degrees]

And they do it in ways that builds their brands role and position in culture more than just gaining a moment of space for it to be seen and discussed in culture. [That sounds like a diss, it’s not meant to … it’s just my bad writing because Mischief already have achieved more than companies who have been around a century]

The real issue is that in our desperate need to be validated by business, we’ve forgotten what business we’re in.

Because to use creativity just for short-term sales goals robs creativity of it’s true commercial value and power for brands, products, tools and services.

To be intriguing … enticing … interesting and inviting.

Because as the title of this post, stolen from my beloved Martin Weigel so perfectly states …

“You can be relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck.”

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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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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.

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The Fine Line Between Evil And Genius Media Planning …

A few weeks ago I saw something on twitter that has deeply conflicted me.

It was this …

That’s right, they’re lawn bowl mats … sponsored by Co-op Funerals.

Now I don’t know much about bowls.

I know they attract a much broader age of ‘player’ these days, but I’m still pretty sure the majority still are of the more elderly variety.

And given I’m 52, we’re talking proper old.

I could be wrong.

But given someone thought it was a good idea for Co-op funerals to sponsor the mat, it seems I may not be. And this is what has had me conflicted for weeks.

On one hand, it’s just fucking genius isn’t it.

Old people.
Funerals.
Chance to make arrangements before someone else has to.

But it’s also just a bit evil, isn’t it?

Old people.
Out enjoying themselves.
Message to remind them of their impending demise.

If I allowed comments, this is the sort of post where I know they would come into their own. But I don’t … which means I’ll be getting extra emails of commentary and abuse from the same people who used to do that on here.

And I don’t mind admitting I’m quite excited about that, And quite interested in what they’ll say.

Because I have the sneaky suspicion they may think it’s clever.

And that old people may find it both slightly amusing and kinda useful.

And that by doing something like this, it becomes a social media campaign by fact of it being infinitely shareable.

Or … they may say no one will give a shit because all it will be to them is a free mat so they can rest their knee as they try to destroy that prick from up the road who always seems to win.

But to whoever did this, I admire both your smarts and your mischief … because I haven’t seen something so perfect since [I think] Naked got their client – cheap meat in a can maker – Fray Bentos to sponsor some local Darts Players.

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