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


Connect Don’t Communicate …

As many of you know, I’m quite the emotional guy.

[OK, I get it … that’s an understatement. Let’s leave it there]

But while this can sometimes result in me having an ‘Elton John’ moment [™ Elton John] I have always been a huge believer in the value and importance of empathy.

Part of this is because my Mum always told me to be interested in what others are interested in, but as I got more and more into my planning career, I realised that if you can truly understand the feelings and emotions someone is experiencing, it enables you to make work that others will also feel and resonate with.

A perfect example was this work we did ages ago for Nike in China.

It had already been decided the idea for the global 2012 Olympics Campaign was going to be Greatness. The problem was that when we spoke to kids all over China, they didn’t feel they were ever able to refer to themselves as great.

They felt that was a term saved for the chosen few. The people who the government deemed as having done things that raised the entire nations profile and success.

Of course they didn’t articulate it like this … we got there by spending time with them and slowly pulling away the layers of codes and confusion so we could understand what they wanted to say rather than what was being said.

Or said another way, we wanted to understand rather than get answers.

Now I am not denying it took a while … and I also accept being an Olympic campaign, we had the time and the money to do things right. But the thing is this rigour was worth it … because not only did it turn into an incredible campaign … not only did it become China’s most successful ever campaign … it helped changed attitudes towards what greatness is and allowed millions of kids to feel they could feel valued and valuable.

This is the work.

The reason I say this is because for the past few months, I’ve been working with The University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project in exploring new ways to use creativity to engage and deeply resonate with audiences.

Thanks to the work of Sir Richard Faull, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland and Nuala Gregory, a fellow of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries – also at The University of Auckland – we have explored and experimented with a whole host of different creative formats to identify which one can create the best conditions for connection.

The findings have been astounding.

While the vast majority of communication spend goes towards television, digital and outdoor advertising … none of these had the same impact on audiences as the power of the poem.

In fact, when poems were used as the content for television, digital and outdoor, the increase in engagement went up on average 13.3%.

THIRTEEN!

OK, I know that may not sound a lot on first impression, but when you consider last year, companies spent SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIVE BILLION DOLLARS GLOBALLY on advertising … if this can improve connection to potential audiences by 13%, then it has huge commercial opportunity.

[And by that, I mean for brands, creativity and the University of Auckland]

Now I suppose on one level, none of this should be a surprise.

Rap is a kind of poetry.

A way to communicate that’s felt as well as heard.

But while we have started to explore this, our focus has been on poetry and the results, as I detailed above, have been fascinating.

Sir Richard believes this may be heavily influenced by the challenges the World has faced over the past few years. Where the feeling of isolation of helplessness has created an yearning for any sort of emotional connection. And while TV may have their manifestos, they often come over as contrived … whereas poems have a fragility to them that enables them to better resonate and connect to audiences.

For example … of the literally thousands of poems tested, this was one that achieved one of the highest scores, despite being from an anonymous author.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders
But through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

While it is deliberately ambiguous, it appeared to connect to audiences as they saw it as capturing the struggles they felt in life. Where there is still an expectation for progress and yet the conditions people find themselves having to deal with are increasingly harsh and difficult.

Other poems that resonated – and follow a similar theme to the previous example, except it is by contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong – include this:

And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way

As well as a piece from his work entitled ‘Life’, which has a much darker theme:

Loneliness is my hiding place
Breast feeding my self
What more can I say?
I have swallowed the bitter pill

We are still working on the research but have set up an instagram that lists the poems that have tested particularly well.

I would love it if you could visit the page and let me know how the poems affect you. If they do.

Now I appreciate this leaves me open to all sorts of ridicule.

And I assure you that I am not trying to suggest poems are the future of effective advertising.

This is simply a project to see if there are techniques that allow us to better connect emotionally to audiences without necessarily needing to spend months in the field meeting endless people.

While I am part of this work, it is ultimately the property of Auckland University.

Fortunately, they have said I can promote the work because they would love to have more respondents take part. So if you are interested in discovering more – and helping see where this creative adventure could lead, can I ask you to sign up here.

That said, I would recommend you do it today … because studies have found April 1st is the optimal day to get people to sign up to ‘research’ that is actually just some 80’s song lyrics from Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses and Queen.

Have a great day. I know I will.



Wanted. Liars With Straight Faces …

The industry likes to talk a lot about purpose.
The supposedly unwavering commitment to its higher purpose, even if it only turns up in marketing.

It likes to talk about agility.

The ability for a company to change focus to maximise opportunities even, if often it’s done to hide a lack of strategy.

And let’s not forget pivoting.

The ability to shift from one area of expertise to another, even if the reality is its because you need to survive rather than you are forward thinking.

Now of course, there are some companies who have purpose, agility and an ability to pivot without using it as an excuse to hide their shortcomings. Companies who have embodied and expressed all these traits, often before it became another marketing or business buzzword.

Or – in the case of pivoting – there are some companies who openly admit why they did it. That if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist any longer. Netflix for example.

But there’s some organisations who see the writing on the wall, but ‘pivot’ to such an extent that they literally show themselves for the lying, cheating, manipulative organization they have always been.

The best example of this I’ve possibly ever seen is cancer champion – Philip Morris.

You see the tobacco company has decided that their core cash cow doesn’t have the same profitable future as it once did so have decided – to loud fanfare – to pivot.

“What to?” I hear you ask?

Hold on to your hats, because it’s a Health and Wellness company.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

No, that’s not a joke … well, it is, but they don’t mean it to be.

Yep, Phillip Morris – owners of brands including Marlboro are supposedly pivoting to a health and wellness company.

It’s the equivalent of the Trump Organisation becoming an international aid charity.

Or kids TV show, Playschool pivoting to a rival of Pornhub.

How can they say this with a straight face?

They’re even lobbying for a ban on cigarettes within 10 years.

This is worse than poacher turned keeper.

This is an attempt for death to turn doctor … conveniently ignoring all the shameful acts they undertook – and still undertake – to keep their tobacco business killing its customers.

Look I get they have to continue making money.

I get a lot of ‘health and wellness’ companies are as questionable as a cigarette company.

But come on …

Apart from their bullshit being utterly transparent and sickening … what about all the scientists and doctors they paid off, bullied and sued to keep their kill sticks in market.

Do they think they’re just going to nod and think, “hey, we won?”

Will there be a follow up to the Michael Mann movie, The Insider … where Russell Crowe spends 2 hours saying, “I was wrong, Philip Morris are lovely guys really and I forgive them for trying to crush and threaten my life.”

And that’s before we get to the scientists and doctors who work for Philip Morris who must be wondering how a company committed to tobacco can just expect them to change their focus to fixing the illnesses they helped cause in the first place.

But do you know what the sickest part of it all is?

The markets won’t care.

They won’t cast doubt or suspicion.

As long as they make money they will support them.

They’ll call them a poster child for ‘purpose’ and ‘wellbeing’.

It will see the CEO, Jacek Olczak, celebrated and revered by the business press.

It will see him earn millions from bonuses, consultancy and speaker engagements.

We’ll watch holding company CEO’s jostle for position.

We’ll see even more agencies pitching for their business.

We’ll read fawning editorial about their shift in industry magazines.

We’ll hear strategists talk about them as proof of the power of pivoting.

And it will make me hate even more people for the willingness to support hypocrisy for profit.

Philip Morris. You can say you are a health and wellness company, but we all know the only health and wellness you have ever cared about is your own bank balance.



Convenient Stupidity …

Marketing is always trying to find a way to be ‘relevant’ to its customers.

Of course, the real reason for this is because many of them don’t care about their customers beyond what they’re spending their money on.

It’s for this reason we so much bandwagon jumping – where brands suddenly claim to care about issues they’ve never shown any interest in and, in some cases, directly contributed to the issue society is fighting against – because they need to keep that money rolling in.

It’s why we have so much ‘purpose’ being spouted in marketing decks all around the World and why so many brands appear schizophrenic as they switch their attention to whatever social issue they think will ‘optimise’ their return on illusion. I mean, purpose. Ahem.

Putting aside the fact that if a brand really was committed to their purpose, they wouldn’t be changing it in the blink of an eye … there are at least some brands who put in some effort … who actually invest some money into what they believe. However, there’s others who just look for the easiest way to lie.

What. The. Hell???

I mean, there’s greenwashing, but this isn’t greensplashing.

I particularly love how they claim to have ‘overlooked the possibility’ the naming could mislead the people.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Nothing shows how little regard they have for their customers than using that excuse.

I mean, doing such a terribly shit thing is horrific … but using an excuse like that to ‘justify their actions’ shows how they literally don’t care.

They’re laughing at us.

They think we’re stupid.

So let’s prove them right by never buying one of their products and say we overlooked the possibility they wanted us to actually buy their shit.



Happiness Isn’t Perfect …

I recently read an amazing interview with the actor Ethan Hawke.

There’s many reasons he’s a fascinating person, but one of the main ones is that despite being hyped up to be as big as Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, he didn’t get there.

However this is not because he failed or came off the rails … it was because he made an active choice not to go down that path.

There are many reasons for this.

One is because his Mum pushed him “towards a British understanding of acting as a craft and away from American ideas of celebrity” and the other is seeing what happened to his friend, River Phoenix.

And while many would deviate from their resolution the moment they saw the benefits available to them, Hawke has been steadfast in his resolve.

One of the ways this manifested itself was him never moving to LA.

Having lived there, I get it.

On face value, it’s a spectacular town.

A stunningly beautiful place where dreams can literally come true.

And there’s a bunch of truth in that. Kinda.

Because while it makes you feel more welcome than almost any place in the World, it comes at a price. And once it feels it has gotten its value out of you … or had all its fun with you … or simply got all the benefits out from you, then it will spit you out, forget you were there and move on to the next in the blink of an eye.

For me, you go to Las Vegas to gamble with your money to make it big.

But in LA – at least to a certain degree – you go there to gamble with your life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

What’s more, it’s all there in plain sight. The issue is people – especially those chasing the Hollywood dream – like to ignore it because, let’s be honest, people like feeling special or lucky or smart enough to not let that shit happen to you.

And that’s why the way Ethan Hawke sums up LA is – as much as I enjoyed my life there – pretty damn perfect.

People think getting what you want will make you happy, but a sense of self, purpose and love don’t come from the outside. You can’t get distracted by this culture that celebrates things that sometimes aren’t what they seem”.

So why am I saying all this.

Well, contrary to how I’ve made it sound, it has nothing to do with my respect for Ethan Hawke. Or my cynicism to Los Angeles. It’s because recently, someone sent me this and said it reminded them of me.

I have to say, when I read it, I felt a bit overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed because it really did capture how I think about things.

Overwhelmed because it meant someone got me, rather than believed I was just a nosy prick.

OK … so there’s a selfish element to why I’m like this.

You see, if my colleagues or team mates have issues or worries, then it means they’re not able to perform as brilliantly as they usually do. Which means the work they do won’t be as brilliant as I want, need and expect from them. So wanting to give them an environment where they can feel safe to be open and vulnerable while also actively wanting to help, listen and change situations for them, has as much to do with my needs as there’s.

I know, what a selfish prick eh?!

But it’s not all for self-serving reasons.

Because ultimately I am a big believer people should be able to express how they feel.

That we all have good and bad days and you should never feel bad for how you are.

I was incredibly fortunate to be brought up in a house that followed this belief and I will continually advocate it.

Even when people think I am being a nosy prick.

But it does have benefits beyond just personal, emotional wellbeing.

It means you can connect better to others.

It means you can be open and honest rather than political and wary.

It means you can disagree in ways that never become personal or destructive.

It creates something special.

A bond where deep trust is formed.

It doesn’t happen every time.

It doesn’t always happen in the same way.

But if you’re lucky, you will meet some people on your professional journey who this approach will end up having a profound affect on both of you.

Not just in terms of how well you click. Or work together. But a deep understanding and acceptance of who you are without criticism or ridicule.

They will make you better and be someone you want to be better for.

United by a deep respect and belief in what each other brings to the table while still allowing you to argue, debate and challenge without it ever being personal or destructive.

When that happens, what you can create together – either in collaboration or just through each others support – is amazing.

You feel a real honour to know them, work with them and understand them.

I’m very fortunate I’ve had a few people in my life, but one of them is the brilliant Paula Bloodworth … who I first had the privilege of working with at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai.

And that’s why receiving that quote from her was so, so special to me.

I hope you all have a Paula in your life.

Someone you deeply connect with and yet disagree with all at the same time.

Because not only does it make your work better, it makes you a better person.



Driving With The Brakes On …

When I first started working in London – just as I was starting out in this industry – I commuted about 5 hours a day.

A DAY!

To be fair, that was of my own making because the company thought I lived in London because I’d given them my aunts address when I applied and got hird.

When they eventually found out I lived with my parents in Nottingham, they were livid.

And they had every right to be.

But as they were giving me the first of my long history of written warnings, I asked the question: “would you have hired me if you knew I lived in Nottingham?” … and didn’t hear a word back.

And while I knew I deserved it, what pissed me off was that I generally was always the first person in and last out. Driving up and down the M1 in my shitty Ford Fiesta with one wing mirror and a radio that couldn’t drown out the sound of my engine. But the fact was, I was a bloody idiot and as much as they probably wouldn’t have hired me if I’d be honest with them from the start, I was fortunate not to be kicked out of an industry I still love.

Well. Most of the time.

And while I was young and having a car felt amazing … even then I knew 5 hours a day – 25 hours a week on a good week – was too much.

Winter was the worst.

Bad weather meant it could take almost double the time to get there and back and many a time I slept on a friends couch or a motorway service station, in my car under a mountain of coats and blankets I kept in the boot ‘just in case’.

My parents were not happy about it, but I think because my Dad’s brother-in-law was travelling 8 hours per day [he was head of traffic control at Gatwick airport] it somehow made them feel a bit better about it.

What’s interesting is that after that job, I vowed never to be more than 30 minutes from work.

And I wasn’t.

Until, of course, I came back to London.

Even though I was in a much better position personally and professionally than I was the last time I worked – and eventually lived there – no one drives into Central London anymore. And while I genuinely enjoyed catching the tube or the bus – helped by the fact that the stations I got on at meant I generally always got a seat – it still was a 80+ minute journey each way, each day.

Given our house was only 7 miles from work, that made my old 2+ hour journey over 120 miles, look positively effective.

And this was life for me.

Out the house before the family woke up.

Back at home as the family – or at least Otis – was going to bed.

And while we made it work and weekends were sacrosanct, the fact I was spending a minimum of 13+ hours a week going to and from work was – and is – ridiculous.

So when COVID started and we all started working from home, I was – for the first time in my life – able to have breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day with my family and I can honestly say I found it pretty confronting.

You see I loved it.

Absolutely loved it.

It was – and still is – one of the most wonderful times of my life.

And while I enjoy working, I started to question what the hell I was doing spending so much time away from them just to get to and from work.

Then R/GA did the nicest thing they could do for me.

They made me redundant.

And while there are things I could say about how they did it and why they did it, the fact is, I’ll always be grateful to them for the opportunity they gave me to come back to England, develop the team I got to work with and then – at the end – hand me my redundancy so I could rediscover and reclaim my priorities, passion and creativity.

Right now, I feel more fulfilled and excited than I have in a long time.

I’m spending more time with my family than ever before while working on a range of global projects that are some of the most creative I’ve ever been involved with.

Mad, mental stuff – from ads to products to art installations – which involve some of the most talented creative people in their field … from an icon of dance/electronic music to the most notorious developers in the gaming category and a bunch in-between.

Then, of course, I have the brilliant excitement of NZ and Colenso to look forward to, too.

It’s all simply amazing.

While I appreciate I am in an exceptionally lucky and privileged position, I can’t help thinking about this quote:

“The problem with life is we sacrifice what we really want to do with what is available right now.”

We all do it.

We might have different reasons causing it, but we all do it.

And while there are many considerations, situations and expectations that push us down these paths, I hope if anything comes out of the craziness of 2020, it’s that we think why we’re doing it rather than just blindly following it.

Because it’s only when we question our choices can we start seeing where we’re going.

And then we have a little more control. Or choice. Or even peace. We all deserve that.