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


Nothing is As Sharp As Simple …

I used to think it took a lot of hard work to be simple.

A lot of thinking.

Evaluating.

Sharpening.

Changing.

But maybe I was wrong because I literally cannot imagine how much time it took to create this:

It’s a masterclass in nonsensical.

A blueprint for showing a company who doesn’t know what they actually do.

A celebration of the buzzword bingo bullshit that permeates so many organisations.

Basically, imposters talking to imposters with words they’ve so bastardised the meaning of, that you’d be hard pressed to recognise their original definition if you were left alone with them in a bar overnight with only a dictionary for company.

The verbal equivalent of Mickey Rourke.

Or Lara Flynn Boyle.

Hence now …

Innovation means ‘we’ve made something average a little bit better’.

Revolution means ‘we’ve never done this before though others have’.

Experience means ‘we offer our customers boring and average’.

Transformation means ‘we’ve caught up to everyone else’.

[hence ‘digital transformation’ is simply code for, ‘not being left so far behind’ as opposed – as many in the industry also like to position it – as reinventing the whole category]

And while adland is the cause of a lot of this bullshit, the consultancies – or worse, the wannabe-consultancies – are taking it to a whole new level. Continually creating nonsensical language and definitions in an attempt to feel intellectually superior to those around them. Believing this sort of language acts as a sort-of ‘code’ that helps identify other delusionists, wannabe’s and/or victims … so they can revel and reward themselves with their Emperors New Clothes bullshit.

Until they can’t.

What is particularly amusing is these companies still celebrate the old adage of ‘quality over quantity’ … even though they show up with a level of excessive vulgarity that would put Donald Trump to shame.

Talking in plain English – or plain any language – is not a bad thing.

If anything, it is the most powerful.

Not just because it is easier to communicate and relate to.

Nor because it shows you can identify the core problem that needs addressing.

But because it captures something my old man used to say to all his young lawyers:

“If you want to show how intelligent you are, you’re not that intelligent”.



A Reminder About Humans To Everyone Dealing With Humans …

No matter how well planned you think you are.

How detailed you’ve been.

How many case studies you’ve watched.

How many focus groups you’ve sat in.

How logical your argument is.

People will always do what works for them, not works for you.

So think about that next time you try and claim your comms plan/user journey is a true reflection of how all people engage with brands and make purchase decisions.

For the record …

I get the role and value of comms plans/user journeys.

I have no issue with them. In fact they can make a real difference to the work.

Where I get pissy is when they’re presented as ‘fact’ rather than a guide. Acting like they represent how ALL people behave – while ignoring factors like personal situation and circumstance as well as competitive activity.

Of course this attitude of ‘unquestionable, unbendable, superior intelligence and logic’ is prevalent in many planners … probably driven more by clients wanting certainty and consistency than personal ego … however by refusing to acknowledge we’re dealing more in frameworks than blueprints, we’re not just undermining our discipline and inadvertently placing barriers on new approaches and experiments, but ultimately selling generalised convenience rather than personal intimacy which means it’s set up to be average from the outset.

Madness.

As I said to a client recently about insights …

They’re not perfect.

They’re not infallible.

They’re not all encompassing.

But when done right, they increase the odds of good things happening because they reveal the ridiculous truth behind people’s beliefs and behaviours … and I swear if we all adopted this attitude towards what we do, we may just end up making things that are more interesting and more effective as well.

We won’t. But I just like to think we might.



Value What You Do …

A few months ago – before moving to NZ – I did a presentation on behalf of my Metal Masters for some record company bigwigs.

It was going to be quite a contentious presentation so I asked my wife to read it to make sure I was on the right side of the ‘asshole’ line.

Maybe it’s because she’s had to put up with me for 17 years, but she said I wasn’t “too bad” with my kicking, but she did say one thing about one slide she had noticed.

It was this one.

She said to me:

“Don’t call it a slide, call it a page. People value books more than presentations”.

She was – as usual – right.

And while it made me wonder how the hell I had managed to convince someone so smart to marry me, it also made me wonder why I had made such a rookie mistake.

If you don’t value you what you do, why should someone else?

And while you may think using the word ‘slide’ for ‘page’ is very small … it’s what it signifies and conveys.

Rather than communicate something personal, it comes across as something ‘production line’.

An ability to easily ‘write it off’ from their memory.

When the point I was making was very important.

Once upon a time I worked with a creative who insisted all his creative work was covered in trace paper. When I first saw him do it, I thought, ‘what a pretentious tosser’.

But then I saw the reaction from the clients when he showed it to them.

It was treated a bit more nicely. A bit more preciously.

It wasn’t for theatre, it was because he wanted his work to be valued like he valued it and he found a way to create an environment that made that happen without having to say it.

Like calling a slide a page.

Details matter.

Not just for craft, but for your own reputation.



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.



Being Positive Means Nothing If You’re Denying The Truth …

Toxicity.

It’s a great word to describe a terrible thing.

It perfectly captures the strategy so many companies, people, governments have adopted to get ahead regardless of the cost.

But what a cost it is.

As the stories of Corporate Gaslighting highlight, it is destructive, debilitating and harmful and its rightfully being called out more and more.

However one of the byproducts of this rightful shift has been the increasing number of companies and agencies who will only accept ‘the positive’.

I’m not talking about them wanting to offer optimism in a challenging world, I mean they are actively dismissing or ignoring anything that they deem as bringing negativity into the conversation.

Questions about decisions.
Realities about their audiences.
Considerations about the categories.

No … no … no … no … no!!!

It’s the ultimate sign of privilege. Not to mention arrogance. An ability to simply close eyes and ears to the realities millions face every single day, just so they can continue living in their own Disneyland of the mind.

Actually Disneyland isn’t right, because their stories involve struggles and challenges … so we’re talking about organisations who make Disney look negative.

Jesus Christ!!!

And yet in the same breath, they will wax lyrical about wanting to have ‘deeper connections with their customers’ as well as ‘living their brand purpose’.

Of course it’s complete bollocks.

Deeper understanding equates to ‘how can we sell more stuff to them’.

And brand purpose is …. well, you know my view.

Can brand purpose have value?

Absolutely.

But brand purpose isn’t something you can ‘invent’ on a whim.

Nor is it a marketing tool to drive sales.

And it absolutely isn’t about saving the world.

It can be.

For some.

But it probably isn’t for most.

Which is why pharmaceutical companies saying stuff life, ‘We exist to rid the world of pain’ … makes me laugh so much I get a headache.

The reality is pain makes these companies oodles of money. The last thing they will ever want to do is rid the world of it.

And you know what … I’m cool with that.

Pain happens and they help it stop.

Cool.

But to say they want to get rid of it all?

Forever?

Are they forgetting how pain can actually be useful to people.

How it can help us understand our limits?

Can guide us to better decisions?

Without pain, can you imagine the trouble we would be in?

Which all explains why I – and shitloads of the planet – don’t believe a word they say when they, and countless other companies in countless other categories, go on about ‘their purpose’, especially when it’s obviously the total opposite of what funds their business?

And yet this delusional positivity of purpose is everywhere.

And what’s worse is we’re seeing more and more companies and agencies actively celebrate it, encourage it and demand it.

I cannot tell you how many planners I’ve spoken to about not being allowed to bring truth to their meetings and conversations.

I talked a lot about this – and the reasons behind it – in my rant at WARC, but it still blows my mind that companies and agencies expect planners to adopt this approach when it’s literally the opposite of what our jobs are about.

Planners are not blind cheerleaders.

We liberate through filter-free truth.

That means we’re supposed to question, challenge, have a hint of cynicism, push buttons.

Not to be dicks, but to help you be better.

It you want a planner to just accept whatever alternative reality you live in, go hire a bunch of Alexa’s.

You can say as much as you like that …

“We don’t really have competition”.

Or

“We don’t like negative insights”

Or

“We don’t want to talk about negative comments about us”

… but that doesn’t mean we should just accept it.

I don’t get why some people have this belief questioning is wrong.

At its most basic level, questioning is about wanting to understand more and surely that’s a good thing.

And even if we challenge what we’re hearing … it’s not to cause upset, it’s to get to truth.

Real truth, not corporate.

The truth that helps create great work. Not just in terms of creativity and cultural resonance … but commercial value.

If you don’t want to hear that, then frankly, you don’t want to grow. Or evolve. Or do something that can genuinely mean something.

Anyway, the reason for this post is because I was recently talking to a couple of creative mates of mine and they introduced me to the most perfect expression for this new attitude of only wanting and accepting ‘the positive’.

It’s this …

Oh my god, how good is that!!!

I cannot tell you how much I love it.

Not just the expression of Toxic Positivity, but the definition.

“The belief no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.”

Both are utterly, undeniably, absolutely bloody perfect.

Because both are utterly, undeniably, absolutely bloody true.

When I heard it, it immediately helped explain why I found so many things in LA, so annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, there were amazing people there. And the country is amazing in many ways.

I absolutely feel a deep sense of gratitude for the experience my family and I got to have there.

However quite a lot of people I met had this ability to blatantly ignore reality in favour of repetitively repeating some superficial and delusional positivity while trying to look like they weren’t annoyed when I asked what the hell they were talking about.

Even the mere suggestion that everything was not quite as perfect as they are trying to claim was met with an icy smile.

I think I’ve written about it before, but America taught me the difference between truth and honesty.

For me, truth is often uncomfortable.

It doesn’t mean it’s done to be harmful, but it does force situations to be seen, explored, discussed and dealt with.

But honesty – at least the version of it I experienced in the US – was different.

Honesty there, was truth with so many layers of sugar-coating on it, you didn’t taste any bitterness or sharpness.

What it meant was everything was designed to be easy to swallow … to give the impression of openness without being open.

Silicon Valley are particularly good at this approach.

White people – dealing with issues regarding race – are exceptionally good at this approach.

An ability to ignore reality by communicating an alternative version of it.

One that bursts with positivity and happiness. And if they could add a Unicorn to it, they would.

But it seems Toxic Positivity is becoming more and more prevalent.

And while the picture above shows Zuckerberg, it’s not specifically about him.

It’s about any organisation who deals with the raw realities of life with a thin, pained smile while they slowly and calmly explain to you everything is great and everything their company does is great and to even suggest otherwise – even if it comes from a desire to help make things better – is an act of intolerable aggression.

As much as toxic negativity is a dangerous act, so is toxic positivity.

It denies the truth for the people who need it the most.

And while I get why some companies would rather not deal with that, actively shutting it down to spout some inane and delusional ‘happy clappy’ message is equally as destructive, debilitating and harmful as it’s more negative cousin.

The reality is truth and transparency makes things better.

Nothing shows greater respect than giving someone objective truth for the single reason you want them to succeed more powerfully.

I appreciate it might not always be easy, but it’s always worth it.