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


The Difference Between Brand And Band Strategy …

I was recently interviewed by a music company about the work I do for artists.

They – quite rightly – wanted to know what I did and how it was different to what I normally did.

And I explained the difference was made clear pretty much in my very first meeting.

Because I was told this …

Now I can’t be sure they used those exact words, but that was the general premise.

And that was what was amazing.

Because when working with brands, they want you to use creativity to engage audiences, but with bands – at least the ones I’ve been exposed to – it’s the opposite.

I don’t mean they want to alienate people – though they understand the importance of sacrifice better than almost any brand marketer I’ve ever met – it’s just they are the creativity … they are the product … and so the last thing they want is some fucker placing a layer of ‘marketing’ on top of their artistic expression which can be twisted, diluted or fucked with so what they want to say and what it means to them, has no consideration whatsoever.

Now I admit I’m very fortunate the artists I’m working for are of a scale where they have the power to not just consider this issue but do something about it.

Many don’t.

However by the same token, when you’re of that scale, the potential for things to get messed up in some way is much greater.

Which is why they ensured I knew my role was not to market them, but to protect their truth.

Do and explore things that amplify who they are not just flog more product.

And because what they create is an expression who they are … they can express their truth without falling into endless streams of cliched brand consultant speak.

+ So no buzz words.
+ No ambiguous terms.
+ Just stories, experiences and considerations that have defined all they do.

And that’s why they don’t really care if you like their music. Sure, it helps, but they don’t want fawning fandom, they want people who understand what they value, believe and give a fuck about so everything associated with what they do expresses it.

Or said another way, they want people who can ‘speak their tongue’.

Now I am the first to admit there have been some mistakes.

Some things you go, “why did you do that?”

But in the main, I’ve not seen much of it and even when I have called stuff out, they have [generally] appreciated it, because – as I was also told on my first day – I’m being paid to give them truth not comfort.

I’ve always said people should not aspire to be a planner, but get away with the things a planner can get away with. And I’ve got away with a lot as a planner. Done all manner of weird and wonderful.

While I’d like to think that’s what helped me get this gig … the reality is I got it because of an introduction from someone I know.

And while in theory any strategist could do what I’m doing, how I do strategy and how I have been asked to view what it’s role is, has highlighted that’s not the case.

Not because of capability, but what the industry currently wants and expects.

And this is manifested in increasingly not being given the time, support or standards to do things right.

Where speed is more important than substance.

Process more valuable than output.

I wrote about this and more, here.

But it’s more than that, it’s also what clients think strategy is for …

Packaging rather than changing.

Wanting quick wins rather than long term value.

Targeting needs, not a point of view in the world.

Chasing convenience not authenticity.

If anything, doing this work has made me even more grateful to the bosses, agencies and clients I’ve worked with over my career.

Because when I look back, the truly great ones were basically like a band.

Born of belief. Defined by a point of view. Wanting to attract not chase anything popular.

And that’s a big part of why they have been able to remain at the forefront of their individual discipline, category and/or sub-culture.

Because they never saw strategy as a tool for marketing, but to amplify their truth.

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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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It’s All A Matter Of Taste …

OK, so today is a slightly un-topical post.

About Christmas.

Yes, I know that happened 2 months ago, but when has that ever stopped me?

You see I recently saw that Walkers – the royalty of Crisps – launched this.

What the hell?

Like, what the absolute hell?

I once did a project for Walkers about new flavour variations and we talked about topicality but I never – in any way – considered mince pie flavour.

I think we did say Christmas Dinner flavour.

Or maybe even Turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce flavour.

But mince pie?

No, no, no, no, no.

I particularly like how they say on the packet, ‘Limited Edition Flavour’.

No fucking shit, Sherlock.

And yet I admire the genius of it.

Let’s be honest, when something is as illogical as that, you’re going to try them aren’t you.

And when it’s linked to a particular event, it’s likely to pull in the people who don’t normally eat crisps.

Sure, it might make some crisp fanatics never try a new flavour again or make the occasional crisp scoffer, never eat another one again … but it’s still a smart strategy.

Which reinforces my view the most effective strategy these days is the ridiculous.

Ridiculous achieves what logic can’t.

Because rather than play to the norms of category behaviour are, they just ignore them.

In fact, they go off on a tangent even a protractor couldn’t measure.

Not in its entirety, but in an area that’s a necessity.

And while that sounds counter-intuitive, what it does is find a way around the in-built firewalls we have in our heads to avoid all this logical nonsense and messes with us.

Igniting our intrigue.

Demanding consideration.

Tempting us by simply being unlike anything we had ever considered.

And yet it’s not annoying.

In fact it’s pretty refreshing.

Because in a world increasingly sensible – it celebrates the bonkers … reframing how you look or feel or think about something you thought you knew all there was to be known.

In essence, it lets brands show that while they take what they do seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Which must be a huge relief for all the people who work in the company, let alone society, given all the pompous, self-righteous, pseudo-Yoda bollocks we are bombarded with day after day after day.

We did a similar thing with a campaign for DB Export Beer …

A campaign that WARC said was the most effective campaign on earth.

Further allowing us to prove the commercial effectiveness of creative ridiculousness.



Details Details Details …

I know lots of people are questioning Apple’s innovation … but apart from the fact the rumour is they’re going to be launching all manner of exciting new things – from Apple glasses to Apple cars – the reality is many organisations evolve into something different over time.

Part of this could be because of technology.

Part of this could be because of a new interest.

Part of this could be because they’ve just lost their hunger.

But whether it’s brands like SONY going from innovation to perfection or Queen going from rock stars to entertainers, evolution doesn’t necessarily have to mean a bad thing.

I say this because we recently bought a new Apple desktop.

Please note I said BOUGHT … no freebies here. [Damnit]

Anyway, when it came we were struck by a couple of things.

First of all, the packaging was even more beautiful.

Let’s be honest, in terms of iPhone etc, while nice … their packaging has become far more simplistic, but for the desktop, it was a celebration of cardboard engineering.

Everything was beautiful and precise … you felt the effort and time that went into it, ensuring from the moment you opened the box, you felt you were getting something truly special.

A celebration of purchase, so to speak.

The second moment was the cables.

Jill wanted a yellow desktop and while everything was as simple and elegant as ever, the cable just captured the classic Steve Jobs ‘paint behind the fence‘ philosophy.

Look at it …

Having a yellow outer makes sense, but the fact they made sure that extended to the inside of the cable is something that just smacks of attention to detail.

No one will see it once it has been plugged in.

It probably wouldn’t even be noticed if they hadn’t done it.

But by making the effort, it not only stood out … they reminded us that what we have just bought isn’t simply a computer, it’s something that has been crafted by people who care about what they do.

It helps justifies the cost.

It reassures the quality.

It defines the brand and brushes aside the competition.

For all the modern approaches of marketing spouted left, right and centre … it’s amazing how simple things done extraordinarily well supersede all the approaches, techniques and buzzwords.

And while this is all possible because the company behind it is united by an idea, an identity and a set of values that defines who they are in definitive terms, anyone who says the little things don’t matter doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.



Leaves A Terrible Taste In Your Mouth …

Today we’re [finally] moving into our house and so to celebrate, I thought I’d end the week with a smile.

Unless you are a Colgate brand manager.

Or packaging designer.

You see I recently realised that their packaging looks awfully similar to Canesten – the thrush treatment.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Mind you, if you brushed your teeth with Canestan, I’m pretty sure it would still leave less of a horrible taste in your mouth than the Colgate ad I’ll be writing about next week.

Yes, that really is my attempt to try and make you come back.

Have a great weekend.