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


In The Rush To Succeed, You Can Go Right Past What You’re Actually Looking To Achieve …

I’ve written a lot about craft.

The value of it.

Creatively, culturally and commercially.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate speed can have a competitive advantage – but it’s also important to remember so can craft.

In all honesty, you can easily tell those who think ‘good enough is good enough’ and those who are focused on doing things wonderfully.

They may look similar.

They may perform in similar ways.

But there’s something that separates them.

Maybe it’s the quality of materials or the attention to detail when your look closely or maybe it just feels differently … something that feels like someone sweated everything all the time.

But what is interesting is why.

Because it’s not just so they can charge someone more for what they’ve done … but, as Steve Job’s referenced in his paint behind the fence story … so they can feel they’re valuing their own talent and standards.



The Rise Of Keep The Problem Alive …

So I know I said last week was the last of the Rules By Rubin … but then I did also say there may be some more in the future.

Well consider this the future.

Shit isn’t it?

Don’t worry, it’s just for today and tomorrow then we go back to normal.

So just as shit. Sorry.

Anyway this is about the state of the creative industry.

Whereas once, it was filled with companies all wanting to create wonderful things to put into the world – regardless of their individual discipline or expertise – the emergence of consultancies has led to the industry now falling into 2 groups

Those who can’t help finding ways to put creativity out into the world in interesting ways and those who seemingly do all they can to never put anything out whatsoever.

While I sort-of understand the theory why agencies would like the idea of being like a consultancy, what I’ve found especially bizarre is that in doing that, they’re seemingly happy to dismiss making any actual creativity at all.

At first I was really confused how they thought they’d stay in business.

I mean, there are as many competitors as there are in adland.

Their entire model is designed around making actual creative work.

The lack of C-Suite engagement is more individual than entire industry.

Then I thought maybe I was completely wrong.

That they did want to make work.

After all, why else would their excellent strategists continually write 100 page decks filled with charts, ecosystems, frameworks and playbooks to every single client meeting?

Surely that is a sign of a company actually wanting to make something.

But then on closer inspection, I saw a lot of those decks had no creativity mentioned in them whatsoever.

And the conversation around audience was simplistic, generalist and utterly contrived.

In essence, they talked a hell of a lot but actually said very little.

“What the hell was going on?” I would ask myself.

And then on a cold night one Wednesday, I worked it out.

Those planners aren’t writing strategic decks, they’re creating remuneration landfill.

Thank fuck for the others.

The ones who know who they are.

The ones who push rather than pander.

The ones who create opportunities not wait for them.

The ones who run to the edge rather than run on the spot.

The ones who finish interesting things to start making more interesting things.



Don’t Want Something So Much That You Do Something You Don’t Want …

When I was at cynic, I wasn’t allowed to talk money with clients.

The main reason for this is that while I like money, I like doing weird and wonderful things more … so I used to agree to terrible terms just because I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on doing something we were really excited by.

Now I get we like to think there’s some sort of logic to this approach, but as George kindly told me – while punching me in the head – what I was doing was undermining our position.

For a start, your relationship with the client is impacted. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you, but it means they don’t value you as much as they should. They see you as a ‘cheap problem solver’ rather than a valuable problem solver.

Then there’s the fact all your additional time and passion will never be rewarded to the level it deserves. The worst part is this is your own fault as you already set the precedent for how much you are worth by lowering your fee to such a great degree.

And then there’s the dilution of the projects importance.

In essence, when something is made much cheaper, the effect is its value goes the same way. Going from something significant to just another thing being done. From having a strong focus within the company management to being delegated to people who don’t really have the same decision making power.

Before you know it, clients start questioning other things you’re doing.

Asking why certain things need to be done. Challenging the time or expense on the elements that show the real craft.

Leaving the end result a lesser version of what it should have been.

Now this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens a lot.

And while I get we are in a highly competitive time, where everyone is looking to save cash – the ease in which we undermine our own value is both astonishing and debilitating.

George’s brilliance was his ability to have us walk away.

I have to be honest, we had many arguments about this over the years … but in the main, he was right.

His point was ‘why would someone value us if we’re not valuing us?’.

It’s a pretty compelling argument.

This doesn’t mean we weren’t open to negotiation, but George’s position was ‘never forget we have something they want because we’ve shown them something they need’.

Another pretty compelling argument.

And while this approach helped us not only win all manner of great creative projects – but helped us be a profitable, sustainable company – I still found it hard to deal with.

Hell, on the occasion we didn’t win a project because somebody said they could do it for cheaper, I was a bloody nightmare. George used to say it was because I am an only child – which may be right – because I hated not getting what I really, really wanted.

And even then, George was the voice of reason.

“Why are you upset about losing a project with a client who wants to go down to a price point rather than up to a standard?”

ARGHHHHH!

What makes it worse is he meant it.

He, more than any of us, knew our value and wasn’t going to let us let go of something we had worked so hard to earn.

He’s right of course.

It’s the reason the best work comes from people who share the same goal.

To aim high, not cheap.

Sure, money comes into it … but the focus is always the quality of the output not just the price.

It’s why Cynic was so exciting.
It’s why Wieden+Kennedy are so special.
It’s why Metallica’s management are so influential.
It’s why all the work I’m doing right now is so fascinating.

George taught me so much.

While I appreciate I’m in a much more privileged position than many, nowadays I am totally comfortable with walking away from a project if I feel the vision, ambition and value for a project is not shared.

And what’s weird is that while that approach has resulted in me walking away from a lot of potentially interesting projects that were worth a lot of money to me – especially over the last 6 months – it has brought me a range of fascinating clients and projects [and cash] that most agencies would kill to have a chance to work on.

I’ve written about knowing the value of your value in the past.

I’ve talked about how that lets you play procurement at their own game.

And while it feels scary to stick to your standards when someone is threatening to take away something you really want, it also makes you feel alive.

Butterflies of excitement. A taste of power and control. Nervousness of being in the game.

And while it might not always come off and while you may be able to justify why it would be easier to just take whatever they want to give you … it’s a beautiful feeling to feel you matter. That your work matters. That the way you look at the world matters. That what you want to create matters. That you won’t allow yourself to do something simply because you’re the cheapest. Or allow a bad process to force a diluted version of what you were hired to do. Or let yourself be evaluated by someone who doesn’t care about what you’re creating, just that it’s done. That you matter enough to not allow others to negatively judge you for terrible conditions they put you in.

It can take time to come to terms with this.

It took me almost 20 years to really get it.

And while some may call you a pretentious or stubborn or commercially ignorant, the reality is dismissing the value of your value simply to make things commercially viable for everyone else is simply the most stupid thing you can do.

Because to paraphrase something Harrison Ford once said, when you devalue the value of something you’ve spent your whole life working at, you’re not just being irresponsible, you’re not valuing the value of the time, experience and expertise it has taken to get you to that point.

George knew this.

George helped me benefit from this.

George eventually got me to understand this.

And I’ll always be grateful for that gift.

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I’ve removed comments. Not just because I’m scared of the mountain of abuse the ex-cynic alumni who comment on here may/will give me. But because I’m even more frightened they may bathe George in even more praise and that would be too much for me to deal with.

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Why Do So Many European Confectionary Ads Leave Such A Bad Taste In Your Mouth?

We have had some amazing ads for confectionary over the years.

Trio. And the follow up.

Rolo.

Boost.

Maltesers.

Then, of course, the pinnacle … Cadbury Gorilla.

However one of the things I still haven’t quite understood is how we have also had some of the absolute worst.

I mean, for years, it was Ferrero Roche’s Ambassadors Table that was top of the shitness charts. An ad so bad, that it became great for its utter kitschiness.

And while no one ever really believed they were the chocolate favoured by diplomats, royalty and Ambassadors … it was a strategy that worked for many – from After Eights to Viennetta.

However there’s another ad that I’ve just seen that puts Ferrero firmly in second place.

They’re not saying they’re sophisticated.

They’re not claiming to be for special occasions.

They’re saying they are ‘so much fun’.

SO. MUCH. FUN.

Now don’t get me wrong, they’re a nice tasting bite, but fun?

They’ve never played video games with me.

They’ve never watched movies with me.

They’ve never even suggested you can use them as chess pieces.

What the hell is fun about it?

To answer this, let’s have a look at the ad they’re running shall we.

Did you watch it?

Did you survive watching it?

If it’s any consolation, that is still better than the one they ran last Christmas.

So, based on that monstrosity, they think they’re ‘so much fun’ because when you open up a pack, everyone comes out because they want to shove one of the caramel, chocolatey-hazelnut, nougat things right down their throat.

Which highlights 4 issues I have with this premise.

1. The client and the agency have no idea what fun actually is.
2. Even if it was ‘so much fun’, wouldn’t all confectionary be able to say that?
3. Where I come from, sharing something you like is cause for a fight, not fun.

So to dear old Toffifee … may I humbly suggest you sort yourself out.

Your ads are pants.

Your ingredients aren’t that unique.

The spelling of your name is absolutely horrific.

And most of all, your product is fair, but not fun.

Sort that out, and you can make Ferrero ads the most stupid again.

You’re welcome.



The Collab. A Better Twist Than The Sixth Sense Ending …

Recently we’ve been seeing a lot of collabs between brands and artists.

I don’t mean bullshit influencer social content, but proper collaboration in terms of product creation … albeit that it often ends up being just ‘logo swapping’.

Of course that is still marketing, but it’s a bit more effort than a celebrity just fronting a TV or print campaign.

Or is it?

You see, while the people at the brand all think they’re going to become cool and rich by associating with someone influential with millions of fans, the reality is somewhat difference.

Maybe once upon a time that was always the case … and when it’s done right it can absolutely still be the case … but for a lot of the bullshit collabs we’re seeing being pimped out by certain brands [you all know the ones, especially the tech bros desperately trying to look like they’re part of youth culture even though all they are is a fucking ‘productivity tool”], they don’t understand the artist and their fans have a very different view of the ‘partnership’.

To them, the association is not an act of endorsement.

Nor does it make the brand partner cool.

And it absolutely won’t define their loyalty.

The reality is the association is nothing more than a ‘get rich quick’ scheme for the artist and their fans love them for it.

Unlike previous generations, they don’t see it as an act of selling out.

In fact it couldn’t be more opposite because they see it as an act of awesome.

Taking millions off a brand for a moment in their day.

Something that will be forgotten as soon as it’s done.

A novelty for the fans to buy but not to keep buying.

Basically, playing the corporations at their own game but they end up the real winner.

That’s success right there.

Not that most brands understand that.

Most of them still think they’re playing the artist. That money means they can get whatever they want out of them. Why wouldn’t they, brands have been using, abusing and stealing from artists for decades.

But it’s very different now.

Years ago, I was working with a very famous brand who did a collab with a very cool, up and coming rapper.

The brand were beside themselves because they thought this association was going to change their fortune forever.

On set, the artist was a bit of a nightmare – not saying or doing anything the brand wanted them to do – in fact they even used their social channels to tell their fans they weren’t doing this because they loved the brand, but because they were getting big money.

Unsurprisingly, the brand team were not very happy about that, but they reasoned that the association would still be worth it for them in terms of awareness and sales.

And maybe it was … but the real winner was the artist because their fans thought what they’d done was even more cool.

Talking shit about the very people who had hired them and still getting paid millions upon millions for a few hours work.

That’s power.

That’s influence

That’s a life goal we should all have.

So while collabs can be cool when done for the right reasons and the right ways, many brands need to understand that while – at best – they may have a boost to their short-term profits, the cool doesn’t actually rub off on them. In fact, if anything, their desperate desire to look cool to millions has just made them the laughing stock to the very millions they wanted to appeal too.

Because while they think they’re hustling the artist, the artist and their fans are hustling them.

Welcome to the new definition of power.