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.



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.



Happy Birthday Dad …

Today would be my Dad’s 82nd birthday.

That means he’s been gone 22 years.

In a few years, I will have lived longer without him in my life than in it.

Yes, I know that he is still in my life, but I just find that fact so hard to deal with.

I live in fear that one day, I will only think of him when a significant date occurs.

That he will become a figure of my past, rather than my present.

Of course I don’t believe that will really happen, but to be coming up to the point where I will have spent more of my life without him in it, is really tough to take.

What’s worse is he died just as my life was getting started.

The only thing he knew – mainly because he and Mum pushed me to continue with my plans, despite his stroke – was that I moved to Australia.

While both my parents missed me so much, they were adamant I had to go.

I had planned it for a long time.

They saw it as an opportunity and an adventure for me.

And they also – and rightfully – knew that if I didn’t go, I’d never go.

Of course there was nothing wrong with where I was.

I loved – and continue to love – Nottingham. But both my parents knew the possibilities for me outside of my home city were probably bigger than were in it, and they just wanted me to have a chance of exploring what it could – regardless what turned out.

That’s unconditional love.

A level of support and encouragement that – now I am a father – takes my breath away.

Oh the things I wish I could talk to my Dad about.

The adventures – good and stupid – I’d love to discuss with him.

I think he would be proud. He might raise his eyebrows at a few things, but I think he would be happy with the choices and decisions I’ve made.

He would love to meet Jill.

He would be delighted to meet Otis.

He would be thrilled to know my friendship with Paul is still rock solid.

He may even be happy to meet Rosie – the most well travelled cat in the universe – despite never really liking cats.

And when I was to tell him that journey to Australia led to me living in countless other countries – including Shanghai – he would be so happy.

He always found China fascinating.

Part of it was because back then, China was still an unknown quantity.

A huge place that was kind-of invisible to the World.

For me to have lived there … had for his grandson to be born there … would be a topic of conversation for years.

And I would love it.

Watching his eyes twinkle with curiosity.

Watching his brow wrinkle as he processed my responses.

Watching his smile as he held Otis and said, “Ni Hao” as if a local.

Oh Dad, I wish you were here.

What I’d give for one more conversation, one more hug.

What happened that night in Hong Kong is still etched in my heart … but I want more.

I’m greedy, but you were gone too soon.

For you, for Mum and for me.

Happy 82nd birthday Dad, I know none of us believed in God, but I do hope one day we can have that conversation.

Love you.

Give Mum a big kiss from me too.

Rx

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What Happiness Looks Like …

Tomorrow I’m on holiday.

For over a week.

I am also turning 50.

Both of these pieces of news are no doubt going to fill you with happiness.

[Though there is a post tomorrow, so don’t get too excited]

Well, that is good, because this post is about just that.

Happiness.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me is Otis.

I loved the idea of kids – and at 18, I actually tried to adopt, hahaha – but after that, the idea was put on the back burner because frankly, I always thought I was too young.

I swear part of that is because Paul, my best mate, also didn’t have kids … so I was in some form of arrested development.

Anyway, one day Jill – who had been very patient – pointed out I wasn’t getting any younger so we decided to go for it.

Of course we then discovered the only we would pull this off is if we had IVF.

ARGH!

But then we got 2 pieces of luck.

First was being able to have the treatment in Australia. This was important because the process in Shanghai was so unbelievably weird, complicated and confusing, that we’re not sure we would have ever stood a chance there.

Secondly, the treatment worked first time. We are under no illusion how fortunate we were … though there was some sort of cosmic comedy karma in the fact we discovered Jill was pregnant on April 1.

Now I don’t regret being late to the Dad party.

The reality is I didn’t feel ready before.

OK, so I don’t know if men ever feel ready, but that’s probably less to do with being a Dad and more to do with the fear of the responsibilities associated with being a Dad.

And even though we are 5 years down the road, I still feel that.

Sure, maybe we could have had a brother or sister for him if we’d done it sooner. Sure, there’s a part of me that would have loved to do that. But apart from the fact I worry I may not get to see him grow old given my age, I can live with the fact I am soon to be 50 and I have a 5 year old bundle of beautiful mischief.

And what a bundle of beautiful mischief he is.

Kind. Compassionate. Emotional. Creative. Curious. Imaginative. Cheeky. Full of energy.

He is a loving son who wants to see the best in everything.

Part of me worries a bit about that.

I’ve already seen how some kids try to take advantage of that generosity, but in the end – all we can do is prepare him for how to deal with things that are sadly going to happen in his life and he is generally handling those tougher situations pretty well.

The main thing for me is for him to be able to enjoy his childhood.

I get that’s an incredibly privileged way to live … but I also think that’s something every parent would want for their children.

The fact is life passes so fast, we want to try and ensure he is given the chance to enjoy the present.

Be silly.

Try different things.

Resist placing pressure on him to do things he doesn’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love him to like playing football as much as he likes doing acting, but he knows to support Nottingham Forest, so I’m OK with it.

Which leads back to the point of this post.

Happiness.

When we lived in LA, we bought Otis a trampoline for his birthday

As you can see, he was very happy to get one.

In fact, he was so happy, he would want to do it all the time. Including at night, where he would go into the garage with a torch [where the trampoline was kept] and just bounce up and down.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

When we left America, I wanted to sell the trampoline and get another when we worked out where we were going to live. But Jill had other ideas. And as usual, she was right.

Because while the weather in London is not the same as the weather in LA, that trampoline was a guarantee of happiness for Otis.

Not just because it was a treasured possession from another place, but because he still loves to bounce on it.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

Which is a very long winded way to get to the point of this post.

As the weather is nicer, Otis likes nothing more than bouncing on his trampoline while being sprayed with water.

Yes, I know this sounds like the sort of torture the US government subjected inmates at Guantanemo Bay to, but he adores it.

Recently we captured a photo while he was doing it that, for me, sums up what happiness is.

As a feeling.

As a look.

As a parent.

As my son.

Which is why I hope this is one thing that never changes as he gets older.

Not just because I doubt it can be topped – regardless what he does – but because, for me, it is the definition of perfect.

Stay happy Otis.

You make your old man giggle with pride and delight.




Be A Champion Like Clough …

So a while back I was invited to do a talk for Isolated – the TedTalkesque site that raises money for charity.

I could have revisited a presentation I’d written I the past, but I thought I would take the opportunity to write the presentation I’ve always wanted to write …about why Brian Clough was so amazing.

Now I could have written a thousand slides, but as Isolated in linked to creativity, I decided to make it slightly relevant to that subject by framing the presentation about ‘why the creative industry needs more of Clough’s attitude towards success’.

Whether I pulled it off is anyone’s guess and frankly – I don’t really care – because I got to write about Cloughy, but if you fancy checking out a long, rambley, over-sentimental and biased talk about Clough and Nottigham Forest, then head over to Isolated and hear me bore you half to death.

Now I appreciate the idea of hearing my voice could be too much for you to deal with, and if that’s the case, I have an alternative plan …

1 Donate money to Isolated … because it’s for a good cause.
2 Look at the deck below.

Now I admit you won’t get much out of it just seeing the deck without my accompanying narrative because it’s my usual random ‘picture’ rubbish … plus the gifs don’t work.

And where there is some writing, the lack of context means it may come across as some sort of z-grade psychobabble [even though it is all from interpreting Clough’s beliefs and philosophy over his near 20 years running Nottingham Forest] … however if you can put that all aside and want to look at some amazing pics of some amazing Forest players over the years, then it may be the best presentation you’ll ever see.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Hopefully.

Anyway, it’s Friday so just humour me and even if you don’t agree with what I say [which would be hard because there’s no chance you’ll be able to work out what I’m trying to say, because even I’m not entirely sure] know my goal wasn’t to get your agreement, but just to write a presentation about Nottingham Forest and the incredible Brian Clough.