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

If You Want It To Be Easy, You Don’t Want It To Be Great …

Not too long ago, Campaign – in the UK – asked me for my point of view on Byron Sharp and the obsession with brand assets etc.

Specifically, they wanted to know if I felt he was hindering creativity as well as making it harder for small business to ever stand a chance of breaking through.

Now I have some issues with Mr Sharp’s character, but if I put that aside to answer the question, I said this:

First of all, I don’t think Mr Sharp wants to kill creativity.

From my perspective, he recognises its value far more than others in his position. If I’m going to talk about who is undermining the power of creativity, I’d say it can be aimed far more at the companies who outsource all their training needs to the same few individuals because it’s easier and cheaper for them to do.

God, that’s started off controversially hasn’t it?

The reality is what Mr Sharp says isn’t wrong, it’s just not the one-size-fits-all approach that so many seem to have interpreted it as.

And that highlights what the real problem is for me: conformity over possibility.

Or said another way, the modern equivalent of ‘no one got fired buying IBM’.

Look, I get it … marketing is expensive, complicated and influenced by a whole host of factors that you can’t control, so if someone say’s “this will stop you making stupid mistakes”, it’s pretty compelling.

But the reality is not making stupid mistakes doesn’t mean you are ensuring success. Worse, blindly following these rules creates a real risk you will commodify yourself … looking, talking and behaving just like everyone else. Let’s be honest, you don’t have to look too hard to see that already happening …

And that’s my problem with terms like ‘brand assets’ … they’re talked about as if you can buy them off the shelf.

Simply choose a single colour, add a logo and some category cues … then sit back and count your billions.

But people are confusing visual distinction with brand value.

Sure, being recognised in some way helps … but it only becomes an ‘asset’ if it has meaning built into it and to do that requires distinctive and deliberate acts, actions and behaviour over time.

Or said another way, you don’t ‘create’ a brand asset, things become a brand asset.

The industry is continually looking for shortcuts.

I get it … I really do … but the irony is the thing that can deliver so much of this, is the thing the industry continually tries to diminish or control.


At its best, creativity rewrites rules and changes the odds in your favour.

Creativity helped Liquid Death get men to want to drink water.
Creativity helped Gentle Monster become the fastest selling and growing eyewear brand across Asia.
Creativity helped Roblox go from niche player to the single most played game by kids and teens across America.
Creativity even helped Metallica use a 30 year old album to attract more fans resulting in them becoming the second most successful American band of all time.

They didn’t achieve this simply because of smart distribution of their brand assets. Nor did they achieve it by placing their logo as a watermark throughout their TV commercial [which has to be the laziest and most misguided attempt to achieve ‘attribution’]. They achieved it by allowing creativity the freedom to push forward in ways that – as a by-product – meant their voice created value in their numerous assets.

I get it’s not easy.

I get it requires real energy and openness.

But little can achieve what creativity can do when you commit to letting it loose.

My problem [and I appreciate this may just be me] is that many seem to have interpreted the words of Sharp [and others] in a way where they see creativity as simply the ‘wrapping paper’ to execute their rules and processes.

But creativity isn’t the wrapping, it’s the fucking present.

A gift that offers value to brands that goes far beyond the fulfilment of singular commercial objectives and goals.

There are countless examples of brands achieving incredible success and growth following different rules so much of the industry feel is the only way to progress.

That’s not meant as a diss to Mr Sharp, he is obviously very good – though I note he and his peers choose to not highlight that many misinterpret and misuse their guidance, which suggests there is an element of complicity and profiteering from the one-size-fits-all blandification that is happening all around us.

But even then, the real blame should be aimed at the industry for fetishising the learnings and viewpoints of the same few people, because however good they may be – and they are good – it means we’re literally choosing to narrow our own potential and future.

Don’t get me wrong, brand assets are definitely a thing. But they don’t make creativity valuable … creativity makes them an asset.

Comments Off on If You Want It To Be Easy, You Don’t Want It To Be Great …

Ooops, ‘They’ Did It Again …

In 2019, WARC made the stupid mistake of inviting Martin and I to talk at their event at Cannes. I was so confident that this would be the only time it would happen, I even asked the audience if I could take a photo to commemorate this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Now, it’s fair to say The Case For Chaos talk went down quite well – hell, I even got a Getty Image of me out of it [number of sales: 0] – but I also think it’s fair to say the reason Covid happened is so Cannes would be cancelled for a few years spot the industry could get over WARC’s shocking mistake.

However, as time goes on, there is more and more evidence that long covid is a thing … where the virus continues to live within people and causes long term negative effects.

I say that because this can be the only explanation as to why WARC have asked us back to present at this years Cannes Festival.

Yep … it’s happening.

June 22 at 3:30pm.

God help us all.

But before you all run off to tell George Bush you’ve discovered a real weapon of mass destruction … there’s good news and bad news.

The good is both Martin and I know we don’t stand a chance of saying anything remotely interesting by ourselves. Because of this fact, we went out and asked/blackmailed/paid if our dear friend – the brilliant Paula Bloodworth – would be a part of this with us.

As anyone who listens to OnStrategy will know, Paula, Martin and I meet up every week on Zoom to put the world to rights. Or bitch. Or ask each other for advice. So we used one of these sessions to beg for her brain and charisma to help make this something people would want to see and would actually get something out of it.

And – because we caught her when she was tired – she said yes!!!

However, it’s because she was tired that we got her to agree what our talk would be called.

Which leads to the bad news.

Because while all the other invited speakers are giving talks about the role strategy in terms of it’s future, it’s role in driving business and effectiveness, the emerging roles, trends and opportunities for the discipline, our talk is called:

Strategy is constipated. Imagination is the laxative.

And while we haven’t written a word of it yet, I’m not joking.

I’m so sorry …

For Paula.
For Martin.
For the discipline.
For all the attendees.

But hey, at least I’ll get another photo op out of it, even if it ends up looking like this:

Comments Off on Ooops, ‘They’ Did It Again …

Zdravo …

So tomorrow I am off to Croatia to do my Jerry Maguire talk.

That means there will be no posts from me until the 26th.

You lucky, lucky people.

I’ve never been to Croatia, so I’m looking forward to it.

Or I should until I checked the website of the festival and saw the names who will be in attendance and felt massive imposter syndrome … only cranked up to 11 when I saw I was a key note speaker.

Oh jeez.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I’ll be presenting slides like this:

I know … I know … it sounds like the sort of inner-monologue you’d hear on an episode of Peep Show.

Worse, it sounds like the inner monologue of Mark AND Jez.

I’m doomed … but not a much as the audience in Croatia. Boom Tish.

Have a lovely time without me, see you – very jet-lagged – on the 26th.

[Unless I discover Zdravo doesn’t mean ‘hello’ in Croatian and I’m arrested for indecency]

Comments Off on Zdravo …

The Lost Art Of The Written Word …

One of the most important skills of a strategist is the ability to communicate.

Not just in terms of the spoken word.

Or presenting to others.

But writing.

Actual words.

That should be obvious, but for all the ‘guru courses’ out there, none – as far as I have seen – have focused on the importance of writing.







And yet writing is the most powerful way to help others not just understand your thinking/framing/explaining … but feel it.

A way for them to understand how issues affect people.

The concerns. The tensions. The reasons behind the actions they take.

Wieden+Kennedy always valued the art of writing because Dan was a writer. It was a measure of your ability as a strategist. The skill of writing just enough, never too much. Truth without any hyperbole. Tensions not obstacles. A story not a set of points. A point of view not a range of general observations.

Some were exceptional at this. People like Weigel, Bloodworth and Lindblade to name but three … but everyone knew that while so much of the creative process came from conversations, the written word set the foundations.

Which is why – despite this not having anything to do with advertising, planning or brief writing – I am still in awe of the power of this piece of writing from The Economist that, in just 6 sentences, ignited the process that resulted in the destruction of a Prime Minister’s reign.

It is also the best ad for The Economist in years.

It’s why one of the best ways a planner can develop is read.

Not simply to expand your knowledge, but to discover how to help others expand theirs.

Comments Off on The Lost Art Of The Written Word …

Some Strategy Leaves The Worst Taste In Your Mouth …

Somewhere along the line, the strategy discipline went from judging what we did by what it achieved, to what process was followed.

I get it, process matters – but as I pointed out a while back, the vast majority of strategic models out there say and do the same thing, just with additional layers of complexity and/or ego huff-puffery.

But as much as purposefully making things sound like it’s rocket science is tragic, it’s the one’s that are patronisingly simplistic that are almost even more offensive.

Recently I saw one that left one of the worst tastes in my mouth.

It’s called, ‘the beef burger’ strategy.

Here it is …

Terrible eh.

I mean, proper horrific.

But that’s only the aperitif, because each one of those shapes is ‘an ingredient’ and the creator of this has written out a recipe of how it ‘all goes together’.

I should point out, I have purposefully removed the name of the person who developed this.

I don’t know them.

I don’t know the background to them.

I don’t know if they’ve come to their senses and disowned this.

Plus I accept their reason to do it was to try to help and that is worthy.

However …

Look at that.

Look at it.

And what’s worse, I can imagine LOADS of people liked it.

Probably said “it makes sense of the complex in ways that are ‘digestible'”.

Well it does if you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. The overly simplistic definition that lets people immediately think they’re experts when they’re literally going to miss the point of each and every ‘layer’.

And what’s worse is there’s a lot of this stuff out there. Portraying accessible expertise when it’s really just Emperor’s New Clothes.

Strategy is in danger of forgetting what it’s supposed to do, which is see the future.

A future of commercially valuable opportunities.

Stuff that’s not been made yet, but can be.

And yet these days, it’s treated like some superficial, ineffective glue.

A superficial, ineffective glue used to lightly hold some creative bullshit ‘wrapper’ on whatever blinkered thinking a company has convinced themselves is Einstein standard of brilliance.

And everyone loses because of it. Everyone.

Especially strategy.

Because instead of helping companies take giant leaps, it’s just shuffling it’s feet and it’s stuff like the ‘beef burger strategy process’ that is bringing it down.

Playing to the lowest common denominator rather than the highest.

Letting certain organisation claim they’re developing their teams skills when they’re really destroying their potential.

Allowing ‘guru’s’ who have built their own brand more than they’ve ever built anyone else’s, churn out Morph-strength, strategy landfill.

Strategy is more than a bunch of bland and ambiguous terminology.

More than a condiment in a sea of condiments.

Strategy is imagination.

A way of looking forwards to see opportunity, possibility and value.

It’s not some shitty, unsatisfying burger made by instructions, regardless of context or hunger … and anyone who thinks that or eats that, deserves all the indigestion they’ll get.

Crikey, that’s some post isn’t it … and I’m not even in a bad mood.

Comments Off on Some Strategy Leaves The Worst Taste In Your Mouth …