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


The Bank That Doesn’t Do Itself Credit …

Another day … another rant.

Whereas yesterday I went off at a brand I love/d, today is different.

It’s a bank.

Not just any bank … but a bank who once made me fly from Singapore to Sydney because they insisted they could check my passport ‘by sight’ before they released our funds for us to buy our house.

I should point out they weren’t our mortgage lender … they just wanted to make life very difficult for us and when I rang their ‘helpline’, I was told:

“No one is going to help you here”

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about ANZ Australia.

A bank only second to my nemesis – HSBC – for terrible behaviour, which for anyone who knows the hell that HSBC put us through when we lived in China, will know this means ANZ Australia aren’t too crash hot in my opinion.

So what have they done this time? This …

Why the hell are they writing like they’re doing their customers a massive favour saying they’ll keep paying them interest – “even if you make a withdrawal or can’t make a deposit that month” – when your base rate is 0.01%.

ZERO POINT ZERO ONE PERCENT.

To put that in context, if you had AU$10,000,000 … you’d make $1,000 over a year.

Banks charge you for holding your money.

They charge you for using your money.

They close branches to give worse customer service.

They ask you to deal with your own financial issues via the internet.

They find any reason and way to be able to increase their fees.

Many got bailed out – or helped – by our tax dollars.

And then they offer you an interest rate that is so below the current rate of inflation that their ‘financial advice’ equates to literally having less money than you started with and they act like you should be grateful to them for it.

What the fuck?

Either they don’t care or they’re totally delusional.

No wonder people are open to things like crypto … because however much of a risk it is, at least there’s a chance – however small – you may get something out of it, which 0.01% is not going to offer.

Seriously ANZ Australia … stop taking your customers for fools.

As the old adage states, ‘action speaks louder then words’ and your actions continually reinforce you’re about the money not the service. And you know what, I think everyone would have a better opinion of you if you just owned up to that.

We need you and you will charge us for that privilege.

I get it. And – ironically – I’d think more of you for doing that than this ‘helpful and considerate’ tone you’re trying to present. Or even more bizarrely, maybe believe.

I get no one wants to admit they’re an asshole, but regardless what your ‘brand tracking’ and focus groups say, most people think you’re a great dump of calculator catastrophe.

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Fashionista Rob …

I appreciate the title of this post sounds dodgy.

Not to mention that photo. Let’s face it, me and fashion are hardly bedfellows.

But that photo [which is real, by the way] is to celebrate that next week I’m in China to attend the WWD World Fashion Summit.

I know … I know … it all sounds like I’m making something up so I don’t have to write any blogposts next week, but it isn’t.

I am an invited guest at one of the fashion industries most important conferences.

Of course it’s not because of how I dress, but for the work I do for one of my clients … the godfather of global street culture and the founder of the most successful, progressive and innovative luxury [contemporary and street culture] retailers on the planet: SKP and SKP-S.

I wish I could talk more specifically about the work I’ve done for him over the past 3+ years … because it has been some of the most creatively rewarding, commercially informing and artistically collaborative times of my career.

Put simply, he is one of the most audacious people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

Even François-Henri Pinault – the CEO of Kering – calls him one of fashions greatest pioneers.

And he is …

Hell, when I met him, one of the first things he said to me was:

“I want people to get used to living on another planet, because one day – based on how we keep treating this one – they’re going to have to do just that”.

Sure, it’s the words only a billionaire can say, but who wouldn’t be captivated by that?

But he’s not crazy …

In fact, the more time I spend with him, the more I recognise his genius.

I could write a 1000 blog posts about what I’ve learned from him …

What real entrepreneurship is.

What true conviction in your beliefs means.

What category disruption and innovation really looks like.

What you do to ensure luxury embraces the influence of street culture.

But that’s maybe for another day. What I will say is that despite being one of the most important and influential figures in fashion, he also loves his anonymity – preferring to make statements through the work he does … from pretty much every up-and-coming street culture brand you can point a stick at … to helping build the next-gen of fashion icons like Fenty and Gentle Monster through to building the most brilliantly bonkers [and most profitable luxury store on the planet] SKP and SKP-S.

[To give you an idea of how bonkers, their new offering in China, features a tapestry of gardens – designed by the architects of The High Line, in NYC – that is ¾ of a mile wide. And the reason they were able to do that is because all the infrastructure has been placed beneath ground, so it’s invisible to the naked eye until you are in the place. And if you think that’s bonkers, every location is wildly different in look and theme … but connected by a unifying story that’s more Marvel than BusinessWeek.]

But if that wasn’t enough, I get to go back to China.

The last time I was there, was Jan 3rd 2020 … just before COVID closed the World.

I think everyone knows what China means to me. It is the most special place in my life.

Yes, I know there’s a bunch of fucked up stuff that happens there, but there’s a bunch of fucked up stuff that happens everywhere … and in my 7+ years of living in Shanghai, I can honestly say I was blessed with generosity, friendship and acceptance.

It’s why I am proud Otis was born there.

It’s why I will challenge any prejudice or ignorance spoken about there.

It’s why I am so happy that I get continue to work with clients who are based there.

Of course, I know a lot will have changed in the intervening 3 years.

We used to say that the speed of China was so fast, that it was like a new generation was born every six months. And while it’s not anywhere like that now, it’s still more dynamic than most countries … which is why it makes perfect sense to hold one of the most important global fashion conferences there.

For all the ‘superficiality’ people say about fashion, I can honestly say that the more I’ve spent deep in the industry, the more inspiring I’ve found it.

The craft.
The imagination.
The focus on society, art and design.
The openness to different influences and ideas.
The desire to continually explore, imagine and challenge.

Or said another way … the stubborn commitment to allowing creativity to thrive, wherever it may take you.

Like with Metallica, this client has invited me to places I never even knew existed, let alone ever imagined I could be.

Magical people … imaginative ideas … insane possibilities …

But what’s made it even more amazing is they have asked me collaborate with these people and ideas … to find new ways to allow creativity to flourish – be it architecture, robots or writing stories that unite different worlds in different ways.

I appreciate it sounds like I’m bragging.

I guess I am.

But the reality is it’s more shock and gratitude.

I do think I am good at what I do, but to have all this – especially at my stage of career – does feel like I’ve won some sort of creative lottery.

And in some ways I have.

But the prize is not simply the work – or the cash – but the reminder …

Because the ad industry often sees creativity only through the lens of ads.

Oh sure, we’ll talk about craft and design, but it tends to always be in the context of communication.

Hell, we bang on about ‘big ideas’ when all we’re really talk about is big ‘advertising’ ideas.

There’s nothing wrong with that … advertising is creative and important.

But creativity is more than ads.

It has the power to shape and influence.

To create new meaning to old things and ignite deep emotions in the new.

It values culture and imagination far more than media channels and eco-systems … which results in the work being far more than ‘packaging’ for selling stuff, but creating the things that are worth buying.

I love the industry I work in. It has given me a life richer than I could ever have imagined. But somewhere along the line, it seems we love everything but the thing we’re supposed to love. Distracted by terminologies and techniques that – ironically – makes more things the same than different.

But fashion isn’t like that.

My client isn’t like that.

Which is why – you will understand – I’m so happy I won’t be here to write any posts for another week.

For once, your gain … is also mine.

So until the week after next, have fun. I know I will be.

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It’s Never A Good Idea To Advertise How Disconnected You Are …

Obviously I have a soft spot for Google.

From cynic to Colenso, they’ve been a constant in my professional as well as personal life.

They are intimately involved in so much of what I do every single day and I appreciate the possibilities they have enabled me to embrace because of them existing.

I know … that sounds unbelievably gushing doesn’t it.

That doesn’t mean there’s not stuff that drives me nuts …

From the way some of their products work [Google Slides, I’m looking at you] through to the passive behaviour they are increasingly showing in the face of challenges that their smarts/money/tech could fundamentally change for the benefit of millions – if not billions – of people. However even with all that, it pales into comparison to this:

What. The. Hell?

Not only is it an absolutely terrible attempt to make a terrible pun, I still don’t know what ‘the new way to cloud’ is. Or means. Or why I should give a second of attention to it.

For a company so full of smart people, how can this happen?

Seriously, this sort of work does the absolute opposite of what Google want.

It makes people question how smart the company is.
It makes people ask if Google know how to talk to people.
It makes people wonder if Google know how to make tech that understands our needs.
It makes people ask if this is the sort of organisation we should trust to shape our future.

Sure, it’s just a random billboard … but for a brand that once represented humanities hope for ensuring technology enabled and empowered a better, brighter, more equal future for all, this work feels more like a politician pretending to smile while they’re busy oppressing us.

I know this isn’t the case, but bloody hell, it’s rubbish.

Which leads me to this.

I don’t know who is behind it. I don’t know if it’s an agency or an internal group. But I have to believe this was made because senior people mandated it or influenced it. Either directly, or indirectly. Which serves as a really good reminder about the dangers of corporate structures.

As Martin, Paula and I said in our Cannes talk, toxic positivity is ruining brands and people.

The idea that ‘team’ is now interpreted as blind complicity and conformity is insane.

But it’s happening. We all see it or have experienced it.

Worse, there’s an underlying attitude that the only way to get ahead is manage up. What I mean is that rather than do the right thing for your audience, you do the right thing by your boss. Doesn’t matter if it makes no sense. Doesn’t matter if it actively confuses the people it is actually designed to communicate to. As long as it hits the ‘cues’ your boss likes, you’re good.

As I wrote recently, toxic positivity is leading to the systematic destruction of knowledge and experience. Great ideas and people are literally being moved out of organisations to be replaced by conformists and pleasers.

Yes, company culture is important.

It has an incredible power to achieve great things.

But here’s the thing too many companies just don’t seem to get.

If you’re mandating it, you don’t have it.

Because real company culture is born from the people within the company. Yes, the people at the top shape and influence it – often through beliefs and a way to look at the world – but the moment you try to dictate or define it, you lose it.

But here’s the thing …

Even when a company gives you something to believe in, they know the real key is to give every employee the power to feel they can be themselves. That they trust them to want to make things better, rather than break things apart.

Which is why they encourage debate.

They value different opinions and ideas.

Because as long as it’s not in a self-serving, divisive manner … it’s almost the ultimate demonstration you want to help make things better.

There are a lot of companies who get this.

There’s sadly far more who don’t.

And everyone loses because of it. Because if companies stopped thinking of company culture in-terms of efficiency and optimisation – and more about standards and quality control – we would all get to better places faster.

Or at the very least, less ads that say everything by saying absolutely nothing.

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When You’re Desperate To Look Like You Know The Words But You Have No Idea What They Mean …

McKinsey.

Oh McKinsey.

I’ve written a bunch about them in the past.

Hell, they were the reason one of my tweets went viral.

Scared the shit out of me.

I mean going viral, not the tweet.

And while I appreciate McKinsey have some very smart people working there and there are stories of their bullish confidence that are mildly amusing … let’s not forget they would recommend killing their grandmother if it made them an extra dollar.

Note I said ‘recommend’ … because like a Mafia boss, McKinsey never get their hands dirty, they make others do that. Then they can blame them when it goes wrong … similar to financial institutions who pay out millions to make problems go away rather than face the music in a court of law.

Which is why I found this interview they ran with Jony Ive so interesting.

OK, so Jony Ive is an interesting person so it was never going to run the risk of being bad … but what was fascinating was the headline they ran with it.

Creativity.

Unpredictability.

A great idea cannot be predicted.

Jesus Christ, that must have been like Kryptonite to the ‘everything is a process’ Kings.

I also love how they call it ‘provocations to ponder’.

Why is it a provocation?

Why is it something to ponder?

That’s literally the creative process … except, I suppose, for companies like McKinsey, who would regard that perspective as a celebration of the subjective and the inconsistent, which means it’s seen more as an act of wilful danger than the liberation of possibility.

But because it’s Jony Ive … McKinsey have turned a blind eye. After all, Jony is a global design icon. The driving force behind so many Apple products. Steve Jobs trusted sidekick. Being seen to walk in his circles can only be a good thing, despite the fact he represents the total opposite of what McKinsey do and value.

Oh hang on … someone’s going to say, “creativity is in everything”.

And they’re right of course and – despite what I said a few paragraphs ago – it’s fair to say McKinsey do embrace some elements of creativity.

However the creativity Ive is talking about is not the creativity McKinsey value.

Or practice.

For them, it’s approached functionally and economically, whereas for Ive, it’s about enabling change. An ability to see, think or feel differently. And while they may share similarities, it’s in the same way mathematicians and musician are similar.

Both do things based on numbers … except one uses it to shine a light on problems or solutions, whereas the other is the byproduct of the light.

Both have their value.
Both are about moving forward.
But how they do it are totally different.

Chalk and fucking cheese.

Which is why if I’m going to end this post with anything, it’s this:

Don’t let anyone try to tell you the light doesn’t matter.

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What Marketing, Advertising, Strategists And Brand Managers Need To Learn From Hostage Negotiators …

Back in 2021 – on April 1 no less, even though it was not a joke – I wrote how I had spoken to a hostage negotiator.

Among the many things he said to me, one that stood out most was this:

“If you have clients that think words – and how you say them – don’t matter, bring them to me. After all, my job is marketing too”.

Of course, the idea hostage negotiating is similar to marketing is absurd … but what I guess they were trying to say is that by understanding the needs, triggers and context of your ‘audience’, you increase the odds of being successful.

Please note the words ‘increasing the odds’.

I say that because the way our industry talks about ‘certainty’ is disturbing.

That doesn’t mean we’re a stupid risk.

Nor does it mean we can’t be more successful than anyone hoped.

But if you’re working with someone ‘guaranteeing’ the outcome, then they’re either downgrading the metrics and criteria for what they classify as success. Messing with the numbers to suit their own needs. Or just bullshiting.

And there’s a lot of bullshitting out there …

Because so much of what we do is only notionally focused on the needs of the audience.

The reality is the vast amount of attention is directed on the wants of our clients.

On one level, I get it. Our job is to help our clients be more successful than they dared imagine. But often we’re not given the chance to do that, because context and criteria has been set. Using data that is has been focused only on the point of purchase … as if there is absolutely no interest whatsoever in who they are, how they feel, the tensions they face and the situations they deal with.

Said another way … how they live, not just how they buy.

And that’s why the comment from the hostage negotiator was really what they thought marketing should be, rather what it often ends up being.

Which is why the real opportunity for us is to learn from them, not the other way around.

Because they’re proof the more you understand your audience – rather than just what you want your audience to do – the more you can make a difference, rather than just make a sale.

To prove that, I encourage you to watch this.

It’s long. But – as is the case with anything you emotionally engage with – it’s worth it.

Especially when you see how much it means to the negotiators. Let alone the hostages.

Which challenges you to think when was the last time you worked with someone who cared so much about who they served, rather than what they could sell them.

Who knows, it might just change your life or career. Or even save it.

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