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.



Stop Thinking Different Means Disaster …

For an industry that loves to talk about doing new things – chasing new things – it doesn’t half hate trying new things.

The moment someone dares suggest something different, more often than not, they are shouted down by people saying it’s wrong … it won’t work … it’s foolish.

Even before anything different has been tried.

Now I appreciate we live in a world where clients want effectiveness and so the margin for error is getting ever smaller, but no one who is suggesting something new has the objective of being less effective, literally the opposite.

But if we can’t explore then we can’t move forward and instead of blowing things up, it may be interesting if we started building things up.

I say all this because I recently read a quote from the Chairman of Crystal Palace football club.

This year they have adopted a totally new philosophy.

Not because the old one had failed – quite the opposite, in many ways it had exceeded expectation – but because context had changed [their long-term manager retired] and they thought this was the time to try something new.

And while some have immediately come out to say what they’re doing is utterly reckless to the stability of the club, their chairman – Steve Parish – countered it with this lovely perspective on the situation they have chosen to enter …

I love that. I love how he dismisses the validity of any criticism and simply focuses on the fact.

No one knows if Crystal Palace’s new approach is better or worse than what has gone before – at least not yet, and maybe not for a significant period of time – the only thing people do know is the approach is different.

Different.

Not better. Not worse.

A simple change to the usual approach.

A change that will reveal, in time, how effective it was. And even then, it is still only an indicator as there are so many external influences that may affect it.

But for a moment, imagine if it works.

Imagine if Crystal Palace do better than they ever have.

That they consistently elevate their standing and success?

It could happen. It stands as much chance as the opposite right now … and yet people are so quick to jump on the ‘disaster’ bandwagon.

Adland is exactly the same.

We like the idea of different but not the reality.

We choose to hide behind certainty and history, even if we didn’t have anything to do with the work we use to assert our argument. We grasp at learnings from other industries despite their context being vastly different. Or we state the fucking obvious but pretend it is an act of genius.

Maybe if stopped having the need to loudly proclaim something is right or wrong and just embrace the fact someone is doing somthing different, we may be more positive about change as an industry.

And maybe … just maybe … if more people focused on building things up rather than tearing them down, we may end up creating possibilities that encourages clients to embrace different rather than see it as an act of commercial defiance.



Fail Yourself Forwards …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden was giving a presentation to a bunch of executives from one of Wieden’s big, global clients.

Dan was talking about the power of failing and asked if anyone in the audience had ever been fired from their job.

Nothing.

Not one person raised their hands.

Dan surveyed the scene for a moment before leaning into the microphone and saying:

“Cowards!”

There was a nervous ripple in the audience before some people laughed … but Dan wasn’t saying it to be nasty – or to be funny – he was saying it because he truly believes in the mantra of ‘fail harder’ and the positive impact it can have for both creativity and commerce.

Fail harder is not about seeing how bad you can do something.

Fail harder is about …

+ the quest to push yourself.

+ the desire to challenge limits.

+ the goal to provoke change through complete openness.

And while many people get the concept of it … even agree with it … not everyone can bring themselves to participate in it.

Now that’s totally fine until you start criticising or judge others who are doing it.

Especially if the only reason you’re criticising or judging them is because they’re doing something you didn’t do.

Then that’s a dick move. An insecure, dick move.

I say this because lately there seems to be a lot of people doing exactly that … especially on twitter and especially in the planning/marketing groups.

Judging … dismissing and insulting people who are trying different stuff.

Not because they think it’s wrong.
Not because they think it isn’t valid.
Not even because they don’t think it’s clever.

But because they’re cowards.

Sure, some will have valid reasons for it.

Family.
Mortgage.
Others relying on them.

But what is disappointing is – like the people in that conference – many of these people throwing shade are seasoned, senior individuals.

People who have the experience to push boundaries.
People who have the smarts to challenge the status quo.
People who have the knowledge to be more than capable.
People who have the voice to champion change.

And while it is absolutely their prerogative to not do it, sending our snide comments or subtweets about those who are, is pretty pathetic.

Ridiculing the way someone talks about their colleagues.
Questioning the ability to be taken seriously by clients.
Looking down on what they’re trying to do and what they’ve done.

Hell, some of these people have actually started their own company, so you’d expect them to be a cheerleader for the new … but instead it seems they see them as a more interesting competitive threat, so keep throwing out their barbs.

Oh they probably think they’re being so clever.

That the people can’t see what they’re doing.

But it’s so transparent you could grow plants in it.

However here is where it all goes wrong …

Because not only are many of these people pioneering a great business out of what they’re doing … everyone can see these insults are simply a way to distract thems from the fact they didn’t do what someone else has had the courage to try. That someone is trying to create their own story rather than simply follow someone else’s.

Personally, I think that is an incredible thing to do.

And thank fuck we have people willing to do that.

Not just because the old way isn’t working that well, but because the definition of ‘Fail Harder’ is the realisation that even if you fail in your attempt to do something audacious, you’re already further ahead than those who simply have followed the path of ‘achieving safely’.

There’s a few people I know who are victims of this.

They say it doesn’t bother them, but it obviously does.

Of course it does … it’s shit … especially when coming from people in the industry who are supposed to be ‘senior voices’.

So fuck those guys [and it is nearly always men]

Make them cry tears of regret, because regardless what happens next, you’ve already gone further them most of them could reach.



The Best Things Makes You Earn The Right To Enjoy It Rather Than Just Giving You It …

Television gets a bad wrap these days.

Out of date.

Out of touch.

No longer good.

But the reality is, we’re kind-of in a golden age of television.

There’s an immense amount of shows out there that are amazing … from documentaries like Netflix’s Schumacher to series like Succession through to mainstream TV channel shows like 24 Hours In Police Custody … even though the first time I watched the show, it was about a drug cartel who had been operating in the village we had just moved to in England.

What made it more amusing is that one of the criminals was called Robert, another was called Campbell and they drove a blue Audi … so when Rob Campbell – ie: me – arrived in Hundson with his family in a Blue Audi, the neighbours looked at me suspiciously.

Or should I say ‘more suspiciously’ than normal.

Now of course there have been a bunch of amazing shows over the years … amazing for their writing, acting and craft. Some went under the radar like Glenn Close’s Damages … some had instant critical acclaim, like The West Wing, The Newsroom and Mad Men.

But some … well, there’s a few that gain instant cult following but over time, get more and more recognised for what they did and how they did it.

The show, The Wire is one of those.

First broadcast in 2002, it’s a show that started small and then just grew in terms of the stories, context and issues it swallowed into its storylines.

It never felt fake, even if you came from a place that was a million lifetimes away from Baltimore, where the stories were based. There’s many reasons for it.

The writing is amazing.
The casting is perfect.
The acting is simply superb.
The craft and attention to detail is insane.
And they wholeheartedly embrace the ugly, inconvenient truths about racism, wealth and systemic racism that most shows – even today – do all they can to ignore or dilute.

And then there’s one more thing.

It has no musical score.

None.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have music. It does. But it is an integral part of what is going on at that moment in that scene rather than some incidental, indirect orchestration designed to inform the viewer how they should feel.

Similar to the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan – all you hear is what you would hear if you were actually in the place they are.

Nothing fake.
Nothing contrived.
All 100% raw and real.

What this does is create a very different experience watching the show.

There’s this conflict between feeling more directly into what you’re seeing while also giving you a sense of uncomfortableness. A nervous edge.

Things are not wrapped up in tidy bows.

Episodes don’t follow classic Hollywood tropes.

Details that can appear to mean nothing suddenly reveal their relevance weeks later.

And it’s for this reason I love the way Charlie Brooker – writer of Black Mirror and ex-TV reviewer for the Guardian – talks about the show in terms of ‘rewarding your attention’. It’s such a perfect articulation.

The Wire demanded you paid attention.

Demanded it.

Not in an academic explanation sort of way, but in terms of committing to it.

Watching everything going on.

Not just in the foreground, but the details all around the environment.

The streets.
The language being used.
The slight nods and movement.
The music being played by others.
The characters in the background..

Details someone from those streets needs to know to survive those streets …which is why viewers who paid real attention, were rewarded with something much bigger than what was just said on the screen.

It was a show that left you feeling you have gone through something.

Not watched, but truly experienced.

Experiences that stick with you. Change you. Question, consider, work-out, hypothosise and – to some degree – feel scared and pressured by.

While there is a lot of shit on the screen these days, TV isn’t dead.

In fact, in some ways, it’s never been more alive.

It’s just the best shows don’t want to give it to you on a plate, it challenges you to see if you’re worthy of watching it … of getting it.

And in our spoon-fed, superficial world, thank fuck for that.

In other news …

It’s a national holiday here on Monday so there’ll be no post on that day. Not because I like you, but because you’re not worth the effort to write one. Hahaha. Have a great weekend.



We All Need Someone …

It’s easy to think some people can have whatever they want.

That they have the money to buy whatever they choose.

Or the business empire to create whatever they desire.

And while it’s no doubt easier to have things when you’ve got things … the reality is everyone – rich or poor – needs someone at some point in their life.

My Dad always said if you know people, you’re rich … and while mortgages can’t be paid in Linkedin contacts, I do understand what he meant.

When I look at my career, I realise so many of the opportunities I have enjoyed have come because of people I worked with or met along the way.

That doesn’t mean I had things handed to me on a plate – or no more than any other white, male has had that as an advantage – it just means because of the breadth of people I know, I’ve been able to do things that others may never have had the chance to experience.

While I think I’m pretty good at what I do, I am under no illusion I’m special – and yet I’ve been able to do so much that were beyond my expectations, whether that’s living around the World or working with Metallica – which highlights how much of life is down to luck.

In my case, while I didn’t go to a private school or a fancy university [or any university for that matter] I was born a white male … which means I was already hugely advantaged with ‘luck’ where life was concerned.

While this could easily become a rant about how fucking unfair this is – especially if you’re a Person of Colour or a female or gay or someone who does not identify themselves by male/female identity – I’m going to be writing about that next week, so I’ll end this week with the point this post was originally meant to have.

Recently I came across a letter from the writer John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe.

While it reinforces my point about the value of knowing people, the reason I’m writing about it is because it’s just beautifully written and shows a side of celebrity rarely seen.

Somewhere along the line, we seem to think all celebs know each other. Hanging out in each other’s pools and houses. Well, while it may be true now [it’s not] it certainly wasn’t true then – as this lovely letter to start your weekend by, clearly shows.

Have a great one.