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


Deliberately Ignorant …

Once upon a time, a creative friend of mine rang me up.

He had been offered a job in China and wanted to hear my perspective on being there.

During the conversation, he asked if the pollution was bad.

When I asked why he was asking, he said he was pretty susceptible to asthma and while on his visit to the agency there, he had felt a bit ill, despite the weather being good.

He had asked some of his prospective workmates if they felt the weather was ever bad for breathing and they all said no and he wanted to know my take on it.

I laughed.

Not just because it’s pretty well documented the air there is not great, especially for an asthmatic – despite the government being the biggest investor in green technology in the World – but because it reminded me of something my Dad had told me while watching the Tom Cruise movie, A Few Good Men.

I know this is going off on a tangent, but hang in there.

You see, at the scene where Jack Nicholson spouts his immortal “You Can’t Handle The Truth” line, my Dad burst out laughing.

When I asked why, he said this:

“There are occasions where people will openly deny truth. Not because they hold a different opinion, but because to accept it means they would have to accept their complicity in a situation truth has revealed. Sometimes, the simple act of acknowledgement means people are forced to face and question the motives and values they conveniently chose to hide away”

His point was literally what my friend had experienced.

The prospective colleagues he asked about weather conditions knew full-well there is pollution in the air. However, their mind had almost forced them to forget it. Not because they were liars or bad people, but because if they admitted the truth, then they would be forced to ask themselves why they were there when they knew it was likely to be doing them harm.

We experience this every day.

Deliberate ignorance.

From people hired to purchases made.

Not because people are bad, but because we don’t want face the questionable decisions we’ve chosen to make to benefit our personal circumstances over health, values or friendship.

Which is why my mate decided not to go to China.

The moral of the story.

Remember people sometimes don’t tell you what they think, they tell you what protects them from you knowing what they think.



Who Is Fooling Who?

Being old, I’ve done more than my fair share of judging awards.

I enjoy it.

Yes it’s a major investment in terms of time, but when you come across an absolutely devastatingly good submission, it’s worth every second.

However it is also fair to say that over the years, there have been some real painful experiences. Either in terms of average papers being seemingly entered into every category in a bid to increase the odds of winning something or papers that have such a strong scent of scam, even Ray Charles can see how suspect they are. [Sorry Mr Charles]

I always laugh when I come across those. Specially at the agencies submitting them … because while they obviously think they are geniuses – or the judges are idiots – the reality is they’re wrong on both counts.

But here’s the thing, people can slag off awards all they like, but they matter.

For Colenso for example, they’re important.

We’re a small agency on the other side of the planet and being able to show our creativity and effectiveness is vitally important to keep demonstrating our validity to attract global clients.

But – and it’s a big but – it only works if its real.

And that only works if all the winners around it are also real.

Now I appreciate that different clients have different needs and budgets.

I appreciate different markets have different cultural traits, behaviours and media.

I absolutely appreciate some entries use a language that is not their native tongue.

And I think that is all brilliant – though I also think none-native English speakers are at an immediate disadvantage and the award organisers should be looking at ways to change that.

However, if you need to write 8456738585463 words to explain your problem or your idea or your insight or your results … you’re not helping yourself.

Nor are you if you are using the pandemic as your strategies main adversary – often followed up with the words, ‘how do we grow in an era of the new normal?’.

Of course I am not doubting the pandemic has caused havoc among categories of business all over the world. It’s definitely happened to me too. But if we don’t explain what the challenge is – how it has affected behaviour or values or distribution or competition or anything other than it ‘made things more difficult’ … then it’s as lazy as the time I judged the Effies in the US when Trump came to power and the opening line of 85% of all submissions was:

How do we bring a nation divided together?

[My fave was when a whisky brand used that as their creative challenge. HAHAHAHA]

I take the judging seriously because I want the awards to be valued.

I want the awards to be valued because I want the industry to be valued.

And I want the industry to be valued because I want clients to win, creativity to win and the people coming up behind me to have a chance of taking us all to better and more interesting places that we’re at right now.

And I believe they can if we don’t fuck up the chance for them.

I get awards are nice to have.

I get they can drive business and payrises.

But if we keep allowing bullshit a chance to shine – and let’s face it, we have time and time again – then all we’re doing is fucking ourselves over.

I’m fine with failure.

In fact I’m very, very comfortable with it.

Especially when it’s because someone has tried to do something audacious for all the right reasons … because even if it doesn’t come off, it’s opened the door to other things we may never have imagined. There’s even real commercial value to that.

But when agencies create, hijack or exploit problems to just serve their own means – then fuck them. Maybe – just maybe – if they did it at a scale that could make a real difference, you’d be prone to encourage it. But when it’s done to achieve just what is needed to let the creators win an award … then frankly, the organisers and judges have a moral obligation to call it out.

Asia gets a bad wrap for this. And over the years that has been deserved, but I can tell you no market is immune. Hell, I’ve even seen some in NZ recently – or one in particular – and what made it worse was it wasn’t even any good.

But as rubbish as that example was, at least it didn’t stoop to the levels we have seen previously.

Let’s remember it’s only 4 years ago an agency WON MAJOR AWARDS for an app they said could help save refugees on boats by tracking them in the sea … only for them to then claim – when later called out – that the app was in beta testing hence the information being sent back to users was not real.

Amazingly ignoring the fact they didn’t say that in any of their entry submissions and if they had, they wouldn’t have been eligible for the awards they entered in the first place.

Creativity can do amazing things.

Advertising can do amazing things.

But we fuck it up when we put the superficial on the podium.

Of course, this is not just an agency problem. Clients are also part of this. Because if they let agencies do what they are great at rather than treating them as a subservient production partner … maybe we’d not just see more interesting work, but even more interesting and valuable brands.



When Your Whole Childhood Is A Lie, But Still Better Than A Lot Of Adult Marketing Truth …

When I was young, I was introduced to a whole host of iconic TV characters.

Six Million Dollar Man.

Wonder Woman.

Buck Rogers.

Superman.

The Incredible Hulk.

Of course there were more, lots more – from cartoons to local kids TV – but the one’s from America just seemed to be more amazing.

Part of this was probably the production value of the shows, but it was also the imagination they triggered and celebrated in me.

It was so much more than just entertainment, it challenged, encouraged and introduced me to a whole new way to look and see the possibilities of the World.

These characters continue to hold a lot of sentimentality with me, because despite being over 40 years ago, they were – in many ways – characters that defined my generation.

They were OUR shows, even when they were a remake of something that went before.

I say this because when I look at Otis, the characters from his shows are so different.

For a start, so many of them are born through Youtube.

Plus there’s also a huge amount from games, like Roblox or Minecraft.

But the relationships are similar to the ones I had with the Incredible Hulk etc.

And that’s because they’re his characters.

They are badges of his generation.

He connects to people who share the same love and knowledge.

Which is a good reminder that in a world where we are continually going on about new possibilities, new opportunities and new technologies … the forces that make so many of them successful and valuable are the same things as they’ve always been.

Emotion.

Of course we should know this.

Of course this should be obvious.

But I don’t know if we do.

I read so much these days that seems to be focused on efficiencies, effectiveness, experience or eco-systems … and while they’re all important and have a role to play … they aren’t the reason people connect so deeply, they’re just tools to help make it happen.

In our quest to be seen as innovative, we’re re-making the wheel over and over again except it’s not as simple. Or as effective. Or as powerful.

Because we’re so desperate to look like we’ve done something new, we walk away from the things that can make something valuable.

Beyond price.
Beyond status.
Beyond superficial.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten the value of emotion.

We talk about it. We describe it. We even attempt to show it.

But instead, we have reduced it to a set of ‘research group approved’ actions and behaviours.

A set of research group approved actions and behaviours that are more focused on telling people what we want them to think about rather than to feel.

A set of research group approved actions and behaviours that are designed to minimise the potential of alienating someone rather than making it mean everything to them.

How fucking depressing.

More than that, how fucking laughable.

Because the holy grail for all these brands is to encourage loyalty beyond reason.

Where people choose you over countless competitors.

Where they will queue for hours to stand a chance to have a moment in your company.

Where people will willingly wear a t-shirt with your name emblazoned on it.

Where people will do this over and over again, regardless of time, money or location.

For all the money, research and ‘marketing guru tactics’ so many brands adopt these days … they still don’t come anywhere close to the impact bands, gaming characters and old 1970’s TV shows have on people.

And there’s one simple reason for it.

You don’t make people care talking about them, you do it by being for them.

Not in terms of ‘removing friction to purchase’.

Or telling them you really, really care about them.

Or saying you’re committed to their progress and success.

Or you want them to get the best value deal they can get.

But by recognising who they are, not who you want them to be.

And then talking to them that reflects that.

The good, bad, weird, strange, complex, scary, hopeful, uncomfortable.

It’s not hard.

And yet it seems to be the hardest thing in the World.

Which is mad, given a man painted green and a shitty rubbery mask was able to do it and 40+ years later, can still ignite more feelings of love and loyalty from me than 98.99999% of all brands with their research and marketing guru processes.



Entitled To Nothing …

Once upon a time, I was invited to a meeting that frankly, I should not have been invited to.

Admittedly I was told I was only there so I could witness the behaviour of the most senior people in the company and I absolutely was not allowed to say a word … but it still was an absolutely ridiculous decision by the company.

Anyway, so I go in and I sit quietly at the back.

After about an hour, a new member of the board started speaking.

To be honest, I was quite taken aback at the tone they were using.

It wasn’t confident, it was down right arrogant … a unique ability to sound condescending, belittling and entitled all at the same time.

It was at this point, the CEO and founder of the company stepped in with words that shut things down in an absolute second.

He looked right at the individual flexing their metaphorical muscles and said:

“You haven’t earned the right to be arrogant and when you have, you will know that’s not the way to behave”.

It was brilliant and embarrassing in equal measure and I had to do all I could not to break out into wild applause.

I say this because a couple of weeks ago, I kind of had another experience like this.

A complete stranger on LinkedIn reached out to me to ask if I worked with Metallica.

When I told them I did, they said – and I quote – “How do I talk to them about my new business idea?

To which I replied:

“You have to find an old lamp & rub it. If a genie comes out, ask them to sort it for you.”

Unsurprisingly they called me a prick, but apart from the fact I am not the bands gatekeeper – I’m much more the bands cat litter tray – why does he think I would respond positively to his unsolicited email?

I’m not asking for subserviency.

I’m not asking for fawning.

But a little politeness would be nice.

Not that it would have changed anything, but I may have actually had a desire to hear what they were thinking and then see if there is someone else they should be talking to.

But no … they went right in as if I owed them something because they were brilliant and that entitled them to my desire to help unconditionally.

If that attitude wouldn’t work on Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank … it sure as shit won’t work via an unsolicited email on LinkedIn to a petty bastard from Nottingham.

I know if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but what some people don’t seem to grasp is asking is very different to demanding.

Seriously, if this is what ‘professionalism’ is on LinkedIn, then I may be the most professional person on that platform and as you all know, that is possibly the scariest proposition of all time.

Talking of professionalism, I’m taking tomorrow and Monday off … and while you may think that is the antithesis of professionalism, I can assure you everyone else’s productivity will be up.



More Than The MD, But The Boss …

This is Angela.

Her official title is the Managing Director of Colenso.

But actually she’s the boss.

Not just because of how she is sitting, but because of how she operates.

Leading without dictating.

Encouraging without patronising.

Liberating without restricting.

The great, great thing about Angela is that for all the experience and success she’s gained, she is open and hungry to let the energy, ambition and values of youth to keep shaping and changing where we are going.

Angela’s strength is she wants everyone to win.

She opens the door to opportunities for talent to run in and do their thing rather than closing it behind her so she can have all the power.

But then female leadership has always seen winning differently to a lot of men.

Progress for all rather than power for one.

And before certain men start spouting their sexist shit at me like they did when I wrote about how more female leadership will give the industry a real chance to grow, I appreciate not all male leaders are like this.

But a hell of a lot are.

And – if you look at Corporate Gaslighting and/or read Zoe Scaman’s brilliant, brave but totally unsurprising Mad Men and Furious Women – many of them are doing stuff … and are being allowed to get away with stuff, often by companies that talk about their commitment to their staffs wellbeing and mental health … that is a fuckload worse.