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


Just Show You Give A Damn …

I hear so much about brand experience these days.

How the focus is to ‘remove the friction of purchase for the customer’.

That they genuinely believe this means they’re being valuable to their audiences.

And while that is rather misguided – given it is done to ultimately be in their own interests – if brands genuinely want to do right by their customers, then all they have to do is something their customers find valuable.

I’ve written a ton about this over the years.

From Timpson dry-cleaning suits/dresses for free if you have a job interview to the Co-op ensuring their food delivery staff make time to talk to lonely householders and almost everything in-between … but nothing made an impact on me like the experience I had with Texas Instruments.

Brand experience isn’t something you simply outsource to an ecosystem.

Sure, that can help improve overall efficiency or engagement … but in terms of offering an experience that helps people actually connect to the brand, then the brand has to do something that actually connects to the customer.

Something personal.

Something valuable. [To the customer, not just to themselves]

Something that demonstrates going out of normal practice.

Something like this.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

“But brands can’t do this sort of thing on an ongoing basis”.

And you’re probably right.

This sort of thing costs money.

But there’s two sides to this.

1. As H&M have shown with their free suit hire campaign, the return of acts like this can be significant both in terms of driving affinity and awareness.

2. If everything you do is based on the perceived ‘value exchange’ you’re making between brand and customer [which is always bollocks, because brands always over-estimate how much their actions are worth in the eyes of the people they’re dealing with] then you don’t really care about your audience, you only care up to a set amount of money and/or time.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate there are many aspects brands need to manage to keep their business going. But like companies who claim their staff are their greatest asset before treating them like shit, brands better know that they can’t say they care about their customers when they evaluate them purely by a financial transactional value.

It doesn’t mean you have to go crazy, but it does mean you have to actually give a shit about what they value not just what you want them to value.

Which is why I love the Marvel example so much.

Because they did it.

More than that, they did it and didn’t make a huge song and dance out of it.

No wonder they’re the home of the superhero.



Excuses For Complicity …

Adland – and most companies for that matter – love to talk about their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

And while they tend to be most vocal about it when there is a global news story that highlights the racism and oppression People of Colour experience EVERY SINGLE DAY, I do believe it is something many companies care about.

The problem is, very few seem to be doing anything other than caring about it.

No change.

No new decisions.

No policy shifts.

Recently I saw a poster advertising a conference in Australia about Africa.

This was it …

Notice anything?

Yep … a conference in Australia about Africa without a single Person of Colour being represented. Not one.

A conference in Australia about MINING in Africa without a single Person of Colour being represented.

[Though someone who saw it suggested the conference organisers may try and suggest the blank speaker space could classify as a Person of Colour]

Now I appreciate mining is hardly the most ethical industry, but even then the lack of representation shocked me so I tweeted about it saying this was a perfect demonstration of how much companies still had to learn about D&I.

“Surely no one could disagree” I thought …

Oh yes they could.

Rather than just go, “that’s bollocks”, some people tried to defend it … accusing me of having no context.

My 2 favourite comments were this:

“Let’s not jump to conclusions. I personally feel after a 2-second Google they have their intentions in the right place – well apart from the plundering of natural resources, but that’s a different outrage post. If anything they are guilty of crappy comms and maybe BBDO in Oz (or Africa) might like to say G’day?

“As organisers of Africa Down Under (ADU), Paydirt Media acknowledges the comments on social media and the interpretations which may be drawn by the advertised preliminary line-up for the in-person element of this year’s ADU,” the organisers said in a Twitter thread.

“As the premier forum for Australia-Africa business relations, ADU has always strived to ensure its programme is truly reflective of the diversity of African mining. In 2019, the last event before the pandemic, the programme featured 24 African presenters and 15 female presenters. “Ongoing travel restrictions mean we will be unable to welcome our African-based colleagues in person this year but once the full programme – including virtual participants – is released we are confident balance will return.

“We look forward to announcing participants from the African continent – including Australian-based African diplomats – in the coming weeks.”

And then this one …

Are these specific companies spouting anything about diversity and inclusion though?”

Right there is the typical corporate response to these things.

Protecting the company behind it.

Suggesting you are jumping to conclusions.

Saying that they’re good and this is a misunderstanding.

Yeah … yeah … if I’ve heard it all before, imagine how People of Colour must feel.

Which is why my responses were as follows:

“This is the sort of excuse churned out year after year to justify acts like this. A conference about Africa without a single Person of Colour as a speaker is not about difficulty, it’s about complicity, so maybe you’re looking at it from totally the wrong perspective.”

and for the second comment …

“Ahhhhh, so you’re saying companies that don’t talk about D&I don’t have to care about it which is why it’s fine to have an all white speaker group for a conference on Africa. Is that your point?”

I know people make mistakes … but this is not one of those, this is a deliberate act. There is no excuse for this. They can say they asked hundreds of People of Colour to be a part of the even and they said no – it still won’t wash. Because even if that was true, it would surely suggest there was something wrong with the whole premise of the conference if people from Africa didn’t want to be part of a conference in Africa.

“But maybe there aren’t many People of Colour working in the mining industry based in Australia, Rob?” I hear a prejudiced, white privileged individual ask.

And while I don’t know the answer to that, I do know if that’s the case, why are there so many bloody white people working in the African mining industry based in Australia?

It’s all bollocks.

And what is worse is the justification some people try and give this shit – with special focus on the organisers and their desperate attempt to look like they have tried really, really hard to make it more inclusive. Despite NOT ONE Person of Colour being included as a headline speaker.

As I wrote a while back about female leadership, change doesn’t even require white people/men to give up their seat … they could just make room for someone else to join them, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

We all are complicit..

We can all do more.

We all need to do more.

Hell, when white supermodels can use their privilege to create space for People of Colour to win [not just be seen, but win] the least we can do is exactly the same.

So to the people who will claim what I’m doing is promoting ‘woke cancel culture’, I would respond with this:

1. Yes I am.
2. Being referred to as woke is not bad as it means you have compassion for others.
3. You are the problem and you’d better be prepared for me to push back with the same energy you have adopted over years to maintain your privilege and power.

Anyone who defends this sort of shit is insane.

There is no excuse for it.

Ever.

Even having 5 People of Colour on that huge poster of faces would be too few, so to take the side of the organisers for NOT HAVING A SINGLE PERSON OF COLOUR is an act of prejudice.

You may not relate to being called that.

You may not accept being called that.

But your actions reveal it … because nothing says privilege than thinking your experience is everyone’s experience.



The Pointless Reveals The Most Important Things …

This is a plant in our office.

I have no idea who owns it.

I must admit I don’t even really like it.

But that sticker …

Oh I like that.

I like it a lot.

Sure, to some it may be stupid.

Or even disrespectful.

But to me, it shows a company where the people within it have a mischievously creative spirit. The sort who spot creative opportunities to do something people will notice, or relate to or just feel for a whole host of reasons.

In just a single word, they found a way to make anyone who sees that little sticker not just see a plant, but a hard-to-please, always demanding, never content, forever dissatisfied pain-in-the-ass plant diva.

In short, they gave a plant a personality.

In one word.

Yes I know I have a ‘history’ with dodgy stickers – and I also loved the time someone at Wieden Shanghai put the sticker ‘freedom’ next to the ground floor button in the lift [which was promptly taken down, probably by the same person who still goes mental when they discover another of my Wieden leaving stickers hidden somewhere in the building despite me having left years ago, hahahaha] … but I particularly love this one.

I love someone thought it was worth doing.

I don’t care they may have given it no thought whatsoever – in fact that makes me like it more – because it’s those little, pointless things that reveals the most important thing you could ever want to know about an agency.

Are you entering a place that has a culture of creativity or a business that sells efficiency processes under the label of creativity?



The Wall Is Your Friend …

Many years ago, we were working on a NIKE project about inspiration for China.

China and sport had a weird relationship because it was either seen as a distraction to academic success or a ruthless and relentless act to achieve a pre-determined goal.

I still remember spending hours looking for any photo where we saw a parent or a teacher or a coach encouraging a kid doing a sport … but it was hard. Not because adults didn’t care about the kids in their charge, but because there was this attitude that encouragement encouraged laziness.

Tough love indeed.

But when we talked to kids who loved sport for no other reason than loving sport, the thing we found fascinating was how one of their great inspirations was a wall … or a court … or a park somewhere near where they lived.

This would be where they could kick, throw, hit, head or play against hour after hour … day after day.

This was where they could play without judgement or expectation … but with plenty of competition.

Because walls don’t get tired.

They don’t show sympathy.

They’re always ready to play.

We all have a wall.

They may look like others.

But there is one that is yours and yours alone.

For me, it was the wall of a Church opposite Erika’s sweet shop at the Top Shop.

It was up the road from my childhood home.

I would go up there every night over summer.

Sometimes by myself. Sometimes with friends.

And that would be the arena and the competition for all manner of games.

From playing footie with empty cans … playing cricket by throwing tennis balls as hard against the wall as we can to just practicing our skills of tennis or keepie-uppie. And then on a Friday evening – after school – a bunch of the kids from where I lived would gather by the field next to the church and play a massive game that drew all the girls from school to watch us.

That wall was a major part of my childhood. Of my love of sport. It helped me connect to where I lived, to the people who lived there and just what I wanted to do.

Sport was deeply entrenched in the place I grew up.

Not in terms of a formal team – though we had that and we also had Nottingham Forest doing well at the time – I mean as an outlet for kids to do shit.

Now I’m not sure if that is still the case.

We live in gentrified times.

Where noise is challenged with authority.

Where parks are placed on the outskirts of towns, not the centre,

Where sport is becoming more about the quest for fame rather than enjoyment.

It’s one of the biggest thrills of living in New Zealand.

It’s still an outdoor culture.

Otis has done more running around and visited more parks here than he ever did in the UK. Which has helped him meet more friends than he could ever have hoped to in his time here.

Given the year he had in lockdown, the impact on him has been huge.

And that’s why we should encourage sport to be played as much on the streets as in the parks and schools. Because sport adds to communities in ways that makes communities.

Let the wall be culture’s best inspiration and competitor.



Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.