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


Stop Filtering Out The Weird, Because That’s What Makes Us Human …

I’ve written about this subject before, but one of the biggest issues I think is facing marketing strategy these days is the obsession with corporate logic.

The quest to create frameworks and messaging that ultimates dictates and demands order, consistency and control. Not to help clients build the brand, but to help clients feel safe and comfortable.

And while that may all sound great in theory, the reality is – as the owner of the store with the horn discovered – that it often backfires magnificently.

Because great strategy isn’t logical, its logic born from the ability to make sense of the ridiculousness of reality.

Whether that is amateur artists buying a Mona Lisa painting when they really want the frame or

And the beauty of that is it liberates the possibilities of creativity …

Whether that is an actor who lets the paparazzi see them every night to avoid being photographed by them to the Chinese Government adding a mini ‘scratch card’ on till receipts to get customers to ask for it so it forces the seller to put it through the till and the government can ensure they get their tax through to a beer that is an act of love.

I’ve been talking about the power of devious strategy for years … and while I’m not claiming it is anything extraordinary, when you compare it to what so many think passes for good – I’d choose it any day of the week.

Not just because it leads to better work, but because creative ridiculousness is becoming a far more powerful way to drive commercial effectiveness than corporate-appeasing, logic.



When An Ad For A Door Handle Is Better Than All The Super Bowl Spots Added Together …

A long time ago, I met a prospective client who absolutely loved Wieden.

They were besotted with them.

I was at W+K at the time and asked them what it was that they liked about us – expecting them to talk about NIKE or some other global work.

Instead they said this:

“Any agency that can make me care about a brand of milk is genius”.

The ad they were talking about was this:

Now while that was nice to hear, there were 2 things that led to them that point of view.

1. They worked in a different market and category to milk, so the fact they saw this, reinforced the stretch of great creativity.

2. They looked for the brand of milk in their local supermarket … which reflected the stickability of great creativity.

Of course, what they were really saying was the secret to great creativity … and that is it changes how you look at the world.

I say this because I recently saw a great example of it.

It may not have the charm of If Cats Had Thumbs.

And it certainly doesn’t have the budget.

But it’s up there with making you stop, think and reassess.

Isn’t that great?

A simple statement that has changed what I think of door handles and the importance of door handles.

Or said another way, it’s made me care – possibly for the first time in my life – about something I use every day of my life, without fail.

When you consider the ad is simply a photo of a bloody door handle, you not only realise how brilliant the idea of equating it to a ‘good’ handshake is, you realise how shit so much advertising must be when they’ve got tens of millions to spend and they still can’t make something you remember.



It’s Better Oop North …

Ad blogging was once a rich, vibrant community.

It was amazing how much people looked out for each other.

A lot was driven by Russell Davies … but the effect of it was something pretty special.

I met a lot of people because of that community … some, still even come on here.

Occasionally.

But when you compare it to the toxic, ego-filled bullshit of ad twitter … I can’t help but feel the blogging community was a much more valuable and positive resource for adland.

Especially if you were a junior.

While there are many positives of social media, learning the strategy discipline through 280 letter tweets is not really going to drive the craft forward.

Nowadays there seems to be only 2 people still blogging.

Martin and me.

Or said another way …

Nowadays, only Martin writes a blog that has real value and depth for the industry and discipline.

One of the people I am saddest at having stopped blogging is Andrew Hovells. Better known as Northern Planner.

I’ve written about him a lot in the past.

From how much I respect him to how much I liked trolling him by sending him to see Queen in concert, when he absolutely hates the band.

But I revisited his blog recently and there’s just so, so much amazing stuff on there.

Stuff for people curious about planning.
Stuff for people just starting planning.
Stuff for people having a career in planning.
Stuff for people leading work and teams in planning.
Stuff for every level and need in planning.

And while there are many other resources for this sort information on the internet, Northern Planner’s is especially good for 3 reasons:

1. It comes from someone who could have worked at pretty much any of the best agencies in London, but didn’t and instead chose to stay ‘oop North’ and bring the planning discipline to a part of England that [i] didn’t have it and [ii] needed a lot of convincing to see it’s value. Not only did he achieve that – and validate the discipline for more people in the region to become a part of it – his work gave the supposed London ‘superstars’ a run for their money.

[He also turned down coming to cynic, which still devastates me, because he would have made such a difference to us. But it also shows how smart he is. Unfortunately]

2. He doesn’t give you a process to follow, he gives you a way to look at the discipline and the roles within it. Meaning you’re developing your own planning style and voice … not regurgitating someone else’s.

3. All of it is free. Every last bit of it.

Given the amount of amateurs ‘flogging’ their questionable, superficial and inauthentic courses that don’t have the right to even be in the same universe – let alone industry – as Andrew’s generous, considered and carefully explained lessons and insights … I know who I recommend people spend their time learning from.

I really miss Northern and his blog.

But the planning community should be missing it even more.



Musicians Not Marketers …

Recently I saw this photo of Motorhead.

I fucking love it.

Not because I’m a die-hard Motorhead fan [though I’ve always loved Lemmy] but because it captures a time when music and art were interesting and dangerous partners-in-crime, not focus-group designed ‘brand assets’.

Please do not think this is a rant against people like Ed Sheeran or Dua Lipa.

I both respect and appreciate what they do.

They’re very talented and they’re very musical.

However the way they use music is very different to bands of the past.

Back then, artists like Motorhead used music as a form of expression, whereas modern singers/acts use it more like a product.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means they’re more marketer than musician.

After all, Ed Sheeran admits to using focus groups.

And Dua Lipa’s team acknowledge they closely follow trends.

For them, music is a ‘brand asset’ designed to help achieve specific business goals and targets.

I’m not knocking it, there’s a lot of money doing that … but what people – and marketers – seem to forget is there’s a whole career to be had choosing the alternative.

Where you focus on the idea not the assets.

Where you lead audiences, rather than chase them.

Where you mean everything to someone not something to everyone.

It’s why I found a recent comment by Lady Gaga interesting.

I love her. I think she’s amazing.

But recently she said “don’t call me a singer, I’m an artist”.

And while that might sound like a pretentious diva who also see’s music as a brand asset in a range of their products – it’s not.

It means she see’s what she does as art, which is far more interesting in terms of the possibilities of creativity … because it not about doing things right for others, it’s about doing things that feel right for her.

We need more artists in the World, not marketers.



Twisted Logic Is More Interesting Than Corporate Logic …

When I was living in Shanghai, I met a young guy who said to me,

“I think the Chinese government are rock n’ roll”.

Given I couldn’t imagine anyone less rock n’ roll, I asked why they said that. To which they replied:

“You told me rock n’ roll was about doing whatever you want to do, regardless what other people think. That’s the Chinese government”.

Mind. Blown.

Never in a million years would I consider the Communist Party rock n’ roll … and now that’s all I can think. I say this because recently I had another of these moments.

It was when I read this:

How amazing is that?!

Now whenever I talk to my friends named Tim, I keep imagining them as a moth.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

If you don’t leave space for conversations and understanding, you will miss out on these little gems of opinion. These things that can make you look at subject in a completely different way. That can take you to different place with even bigger possibilities than you could imagine.

And yet we – as an industry – aren’t leaving space for this.

We actually think getting into the real world is a hindrance.

Too messy. Too much time. Too many opinions.

So we actually advocate building creativity and brands from a weird sort of recipe book.

Where equal parts questionable data, brand assets and self-serving logic come together to make something that looks like a cake but generally tastes bloody awful.

Because we’d rather follow what everyone else does than create something everyone else wants.

Valuing attribution more than change.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I get the importance of all these things.

I agree and value their role in brand building and creativity.

But as I wrote a while back, it’s utterly bonkers that as an industry, we value the condiments of the meal more than the steak.

Recently, someone called me irresponsible for demanding my team spend time meeting, talking, listening and understanding people from all walks of life.

They literally used that word: Irresponsible!

Now I don’t mind admitting there’s many things I could be accused of being irresponsible for, but valuing the role culture has in liberating creativity and possibility isn’t one of them.

No wonder society is so bored of what we do.

No wonder brands have had to reframe bribery as loyalty.

Or membership.

Because while we think we have all the answers, culture has the interesting.