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

The Light Goes Out On Henry …
July 1, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Colenso, Comment, Creativity, New Zealand, Planners

Before I start, I need to acknowledge it’s the luckiest cat in the World’s 15th birthday today.

She may use me, mock me and begrudge me – but I love her.

So happy birthday Rosie, I look forward to hearing your complaints when I get home.

OK, so let me begin this post by saying that Henry is alive and well.

I know that subject line makes it sound like he’s died, but it just worked with the photo at the top of this post.

I know … I know …

Anyway, today is a bittersweet day for me … the Colenso planning department and Colenso as a whole … because gorgeous Henry leaves us.

Actually, he’s doing more than that, he’s leaving the industry.

I’m going to ignore that a little over a year from me joining, he’s off. I’m going to forget he has loved Colenso for years and left Adam & Eve in London to come here. I’m going to forget all that and put it down to him supporting Huddersfield Town and being devastated his [ex] boss is a Nottingham Forest fan who saw them beat his team in the play-off final to the Premiership.

Yeah, that’s it … must be.

OK … OK … it’s not, but even with the forced clarity of reality, it’s still hugely important we celebrate that this wonderful strategist is going on a career adventure.

Career adventures are often devalued.

Seen as walking away from the foundations you have built.

But that’s bollocks on so many levels … especially when you’re a planner who can use many of their skills in new ways with new industries.

Sure, it’s sad for us that Henry wants to explore, but the reality is I’m also very happy for him, for two simple reasons …

1. He’s going to test and stretch his talent in new ways, which is awesome.

2. Whatever way you look at it, Henry is brilliant.

In fact, Henry is so brilliant he was a big part I took the job.

When I was chatting to Colenso, I got to meet Henry and we had many chats and I immediately was taken by his brains, character and chops.

Yes he’s obsessed with war facts and puts the ‘hype’ in hypochondriac … but he’s also caring, compassionate, diligent, smart and a real leader.

That last one is particularly important as it is banded about a lot in this industry … but where Henry is concerned, it’s the perfect description.

He cares about others.
He wants the best for others.
He supports others in their quests and goals.
He leads by example in all he does.

That last one is the difference.

Anyone can say they care, but the true test of integrity is how you operate … both in the shadows and in the spotlight.

Henry is so honourable he even paid me back the $8000 I accidentally sent him when I was a fucking idiot …

OK, that bit may show he is prone to stupidity, but you get what I mean.

All this is my way of saying that today we lose a special human, not just a great strategist.

And while – from a personal perspective – I wish he wasn’t going and I’ll miss him like hell … I am proud and excited for him.

I’ve written a lot how I believe the role of a boss is to help your people see, seize and be seen for opportunities they may otherwise not consider a possibility. And while in Henry’s case, I had nothing to do with it, I still feel a thrill that he’s off to explore what he can become.

Of course I’m in no doubt he will be brilliant, but I hope once he realises it, he see’s this next step as simply the beginning of many more – and bigger – steps. Taking him to places far beyond where he is and where he is going.

I hope he understands that.

I’ll make sure he can’t forget it.

So to you Henry …

It’s been a pleasure and honour to have you in my life.

Not just professionally, but personally.

Thank you for everything … you helped this agency and department in ways that will be felt and remembered for a very long time.

But not as long as you’ll be remembered for the person you are.

Go be brilliant but please don’t talk ‘war facts’ till at least week 4.

Truth In Advertising …

Free newspapers.

Yes, they’re free.

Yes, they’re made of paper.

But news?

Most of the time I take them from the letterbox straight to the bin. And then I saw this …

A local, free newspaper that called itself ‘a rag’.

And do you know what I did?

I went and got it and then read it cover to cover.

15 years ago I talked about ‘unplanning’ … which is basically, the power of truth.

[Though in 2006, I also wrote a post about the commercial value of a single banana at Starbucks, so maybe the idea of ‘product loneliness’ had something to do with me picking up a copy of the paper. And you thought my posts were bad now, hahahahaha]

It was my reaction to an industry drowning under the weight of it’s own bullshit terms, techniques and approaches. Well you know what, it’s got worse.

So while calling a local newspaper a ‘rag’ is hardly a strategy … it makes more sense than so many of the strategy submissions I judged around the World over the last few years.

Oh my god the claims.

An item of food that reignited a culture.

A sales promotion that brought families together.

An alcohol company that inspires artistic diversity.

No … those examples are not a joke, they were real submissions … so with that in mind, a local, free newspaper that made a bloke pick up a copy, read it cover-to-cover then blog about it because they labelled themselves ‘a rag’, should be considered a Grand Prix winner.

Or in submission speak:

How a small plucky local, free newspaper become the most influential entertainment channel for international tourists.

Transformation. Disruption. Purpose. Blah, blah, fucking blah.

OK, I think I need to go and have a lie down … and lucky for you, it is going to last 4 days as I’m off to Melbourne so there’s no post till Wednesday.

You’re welcome.

Build A Cliche, Not A Life …

I recently had to go to a DIY centre.

On a Sunday.

For anyone who knows me, this is literally my idea of hell.

Fortunately I asked Jill to go inside instead of me to avoid having to kill myself.

I know that sounds like a shitty thing to do, but she LOVES DIY – and is amazing at it – so it was really a gift.

Anyway …

While I was waiting in the carpark, I saw their sign. This was it …

I don’t know about you. but when I looked at it, I didn’t notice the 15% off price guarantee, I noticed they had designed it to look like it had been done by hand.

Oh I get it, DIY store = DIY sign.

But …

Apart from this falling into the ‘cheeky Chappy’ tone that Uncommon destroyed with their [still] best work for B&Q, I can’t help thinking that if anywhere should have perfect signage and store interiors, it’s a DIY retailer.

Sure, there’s something ‘human’ about the imperfection of creation, but faking it doesn’t make me connect to the brand more, it makes me look at them and wonder what the fuck they were thinking.

Yes, it’s a minute thing.

Yes, Mitre 10 are pretty good.

But – as I am seeing a lot in NZ right now – this obsession with reinforcing stereotypes isn’t actually removing barriers for people to feel they can step in and step up with the ambitions or aspirations they have for their life … it’s keeping them, and treating them, like nothing ever changes.

NZ is an amazing place and has so many things the rest of the world could/should learn from … and we genuinely are grateful for the wonderful opportunity the people here have given us to live here – but for a nation that needs ambition and entrepreneurship to maintain a positive future, it’s amazing how little of that spirit is championed or celebrated by society, government and brands.

And while many will claim it’s because of the humble spirit of this great nation, it’s probably – and terrifyingly – because of this.

My Annual Review …

So 12 months today, I started at Colenso.

Twelve months!!!

A lot has happened over this time.

Highs … lows … weird … funny … successes … lockdowns.

You name it, we’ve had it.

Overall I’ve enjoyed myself.

There’s been some surprises – from how many agencies are in a country of only 5 million people to how bizarrely bitchy the whole industry is, which genuinely makes me laugh out loud – but it’s been good.

Now this is the point where I could go on and talk about some of the things I’ve helped do and some of the things I’m going to do. From the big global business wins we’ve had to the culture book we’re putting out … but instead, I thought it would be far more interesting if I asked my lovely team mates what their first year with me was like.

Was the 7 month wait, worth it … or do they just wish NZ immigration had been more diligent in keeping me away from the border as if I was some sort of human covid pandemic?

Well I got good news and bad news.

If I’m being honest, I expected I’d just cop a load of abuse.



“Terrible clothes”.

Chaos magnet.

But actually, I got things like this:

Shot. of. adrenaline.

Invigorating, motivating, entertaining.

I say ‘things like this’, but …

1. That’s exactly what it said.

2. That’s all I got.

Now the last time I looked, my team was a lot more than 2 people and me which means this …

Most of them couldn’t even be arsed to insult me.

Not even a “old fuck”.

Which as annual reviews goes is the equivalent of ‘get your coat and get the fuck out’

However, on the positive:

1. That’s the sort of undermining I can get behind.

2. They’re stuck with me, so I get my revenge.

So as first anniversaries go, I consider that a win:win.

Except for those 3 corporate toadies with their crawler compliments.

They’re properly doomed.

Connect Don’t Communicate …

As many of you know, I’m quite the emotional guy.

[OK, I get it … that’s an understatement. Let’s leave it there]

But while this can sometimes result in me having an ‘Elton John’ moment [™ Elton John] I have always been a huge believer in the value and importance of empathy.

Part of this is because my Mum always told me to be interested in what others are interested in, but as I got more and more into my planning career, I realised that if you can truly understand the feelings and emotions someone is experiencing, it enables you to make work that others will also feel and resonate with.

A perfect example was this work we did ages ago for Nike in China.

It had already been decided the idea for the global 2012 Olympics Campaign was going to be Greatness. The problem was that when we spoke to kids all over China, they didn’t feel they were ever able to refer to themselves as great.

They felt that was a term saved for the chosen few. The people who the government deemed as having done things that raised the entire nations profile and success.

Of course they didn’t articulate it like this … we got there by spending time with them and slowly pulling away the layers of codes and confusion so we could understand what they wanted to say rather than what was being said.

Or said another way, we wanted to understand rather than get answers.

Now I am not denying it took a while … and I also accept being an Olympic campaign, we had the time and the money to do things right. But the thing is this rigour was worth it … because not only did it turn into an incredible campaign … not only did it become China’s most successful ever campaign … it helped changed attitudes towards what greatness is and allowed millions of kids to feel they could feel valued and valuable.

This is the work.

The reason I say this is because for the past few months, I’ve been working with The University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project in exploring new ways to use creativity to engage and deeply resonate with audiences.

Thanks to the work of Sir Richard Faull, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland and Nuala Gregory, a fellow of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries – also at The University of Auckland – we have explored and experimented with a whole host of different creative formats to identify which one can create the best conditions for connection.

The findings have been astounding.

While the vast majority of communication spend goes towards television, digital and outdoor advertising … none of these had the same impact on audiences as the power of the poem.

In fact, when poems were used as the content for television, digital and outdoor, the increase in engagement went up on average 13.3%.


OK, I know that may not sound a lot on first impression, but when you consider last year, companies spent SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIVE BILLION DOLLARS GLOBALLY on advertising … if this can improve connection to potential audiences by 13%, then it has huge commercial opportunity.

[And by that, I mean for brands, creativity and the University of Auckland]

Now I suppose on one level, none of this should be a surprise.

Rap is a kind of poetry.

A way to communicate that’s felt as well as heard.

But while we have started to explore this, our focus has been on poetry and the results, as I detailed above, have been fascinating.

Sir Richard believes this may be heavily influenced by the challenges the World has faced over the past few years. Where the feeling of isolation of helplessness has created an yearning for any sort of emotional connection. And while TV may have their manifestos, they often come over as contrived … whereas poems have a fragility to them that enables them to better resonate and connect to audiences.

For example … of the literally thousands of poems tested, this was one that achieved one of the highest scores, despite being from an anonymous author.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders
But through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

While it is deliberately ambiguous, it appeared to connect to audiences as they saw it as capturing the struggles they felt in life. Where there is still an expectation for progress and yet the conditions people find themselves having to deal with are increasingly harsh and difficult.

Other poems that resonated – and follow a similar theme to the previous example, except it is by contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong – include this:

And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way

As well as a piece from his work entitled ‘Life’, which has a much darker theme:

Loneliness is my hiding place
Breast feeding my self
What more can I say?
I have swallowed the bitter pill

We are still working on the research but have set up an instagram that lists the poems that have tested particularly well.

I would love it if you could visit the page and let me know how the poems affect you. If they do.

Now I appreciate this leaves me open to all sorts of ridicule.

And I assure you that I am not trying to suggest poems are the future of effective advertising.

This is simply a project to see if there are techniques that allow us to better connect emotionally to audiences without necessarily needing to spend months in the field meeting endless people.

While I am part of this work, it is ultimately the property of Auckland University.

Fortunately, they have said I can promote the work because they would love to have more respondents take part. So if you are interested in discovering more – and helping see where this creative adventure could lead, can I ask you to sign up here.

That said, I would recommend you do it today … because studies have found April 1st is the optimal day to get people to sign up to ‘research’ that is actually just some 80’s song lyrics from Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses and Queen.

Have a great day. I know I will.