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


When Forest Were Great And Football Ads Were Poor …

Once upon a time, Nottingham Forest were magic.

So magic, they were Kings of Europe. Twice in a row.

So magic, they had a song about it.

So magic, Adidas used them as proof of their football credentials in ads …

That team was amazing.

I even remember those boots.

But I must admit I don’t remember Adidas being the ‘science of sport’ – even though that is the most German sport tagline ever written – all I remember is that at my school, Adidas stood for All Day I Dream About Sex”.

Even though I probably didn’t even know what sex was back then,.

And while I still find it hard to accept my beloved team wore the football gear of the enemy – though I did try to get NIKE to sponsor them, once even including it as a recommendation in a strategy deck which was met by howling laughter – I accept it is nice to see at least one international brand recognised their incredible achievements.

But for all that, Adidas – and Nottingham Forest – will never beat Nike for this.

Still the best World Cup spot. Ever.

Unlikely ever to be beaten.

And trust me, we tried. Hard.

Which maybe says more about what clients want these days than creative ambition.

Maybe,



Belief Is Shown In The Weirdest Of Ways …

One of the great pleasures of my career has been working with NIKE.

What made it even more memorable is that I got to work with them in China … where the challenge and opportunity to develop sport culture was arguably their number one priority.

What it meant was their best people were there and their most senior global management were constantly there so I got to meet them, work with them, present to them and argue with them on a regular basis.

They were good.

As in proper good.

I still remember the first time I met the most senior of senior management and when back to Wieden and said, “Oh, I totally get why they are who they are”.

And I did.

They were incredible.

Sharp. Focused. Ambitious. Progressive and obsessed with culture, sport and creativity.

Then there was the time I met Rosemary.

She had just come to China from the US and I remember being in a meeting where I saw all the global guys go up to her, when normally you saw people go up to them.

I mentioned this to her when we were having a coffee later that week and she eventually admitted the reason they all knew her was because she had been Phil Kinght’s kids babysitter when he was starting the company and she had actually painted the swoosh on the first shoes they produced.

Amazing.

As was her knowledge of the brand.

The nuance, not the headlines.

Underpinning all of these people was a backbone of belief. A pride of who they are matched with a responsibility for where they were going. They were challenging, demanding and questioning … but you always knew it was to get to great rather than to tear you down.

Frankly I’d not seen anything like that, at that level, before – and being old – I had been exposed to some amazing people within organisations.

I will be eternally grateful to Simon and Steve who both invited me in to meetings and discussions I should never have been in … as well as them not killing me when I turned up in my Birkies.

Now it is fair to say, the brand – for all the success it continues to have – has faced some headwinds. Some are shifts in culture, some are shifts in internal culture.

And while there are many opinions and viewpoints flying about, there are many who say the company they are today is not the same company they once were.

Some of that is good, some … well, probably less so.

Too many amazing people have departed.
Too much focus on sales rather than sport.
Too great an emphasis on optimisation rather than progression.

But the great thing about Nike is they always come back.

Sure, some of the things – and people – that allow that to happen are no longer there, but it will be back because this is not the first time they’ve gone through something like this.

Whatever ‘this’ is.

And recently I saw a clue it was starting, bizarrely from someone at McKinsey of all places.

This:

Cool, isn’t it?

But not because of Adam’s interpretation of why it exists, but because it exists.

Someone did this.

Someone chose to do this.

And while there are a whole host of possible reasons why it happened, to me it’s a sign of a brand that still has people in there – beyond the few left I know/work with – who do what they believe is right rather than what their process now dictates they do.

At its best, Nike was always an infectious culture machine.

Making it. Championing it. Enabling it. Fighting for it.

I’ve not seen that as much as I once did.

Maybe, a txt.file is a sign I will.

I hope so.



You Can’t Stop Sport …
September 20, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Culture, Sport, Talent, Youth

This is a real t-shirt from the 80’s.

Not sure who would commission such a thing, but I can imagine skateboarders loved wearing it as they were breaking the law.

But now, in 2021, we can categorically say the people behind it are wrong.

Because as we saw, skateboarding IS an Olympic sport and it was brilliant to see.

To witness someone win an Olympic medal before they are even a teenager was incredible.

Not just for what they achieved, but how they will have connected to a generation of youth who will not only now see sport in a new light … but will also be able to see the potential of what they can achieve.

We need more of that.

Because in a World where everyone acts like they’ve achieved success, skateboarding doesn’t let you get away with it.

Sure you can buy the clothes.

Sure you can hang out in the right places.

But when you get on that board, it makes you work for everything you get.

No shortcuts. No favours. Just commitment, practice and effort.

Which makes every success worth celebrating.

Which is what we should all be celebrating.

Which may explain why the Olympics was still special, when in some ways, it should have passed us by without so much as a whisper.

Here’s to more sport being legitimised by incredibly talented young athletes who some people have wanted to keep in the shadows.



If You Can’t Beat Them, Turn Them …

I have now had time to get over the Euro finals.

While my Italian/English heritage meant I was going to ‘win’ regardless of the result – and while the result, at least to me, was probably fair – I was gutted for the England team.

Ironically, the disgusting behaviour of the fans after the match – fired up by the equally disgusting behaviour of the British government – kind-of made me happy they lost.

It’s at these moments teams – or brands – can fall away and so what happens next becomes unbelievably important.

It reminded me of 2008 when Chinese hurdler – and gold medal contender – Liu Xiang, broke China’s hearts by injuring himself during the race.

Remember, this was the year the Olympics was held in Beijing and in many ways, it was the governments ‘coming out’ party to the rest of the World. A chance to showcase the nations abilities, talent, skills and sophistication. A declaration a new superpower was here.

While that might have been news to the rest of the World, for the people of China, they had known this for a long time which is why when Liu Xiang faltered through injury, people – like in the UK – started to turn on him.

While he did not face the disgusting and disgraceful racist abuse certain members of the England team have encountered, he did face claims that by pulling out mid-race, he had not tried hard enough, had embarrassed China and sold the people false hope.

Because Liu Xiang was a NIKE athlete, overnight W+K Shanghai created an ad that aimed to reframe the loss for the people across China.

To shift emotions from anger to pride, love, support.

The next morning, this ad ran in most of the papers …

It is still widely acknowledged as one of the pivotal pieces of communication.

Not just by the industry.

Not just by NIKE.

Not even by Liu Xiang.

But by people across China who woke up to that ad the next morning.

Turning anger to sympathy.

Turning abuse to respect.

Turning sport into culture.

I say all this because on the day England finished runners-up in the Euro’s, the English FA released – what I consider – the modern version of our Liu Xiang ad.

I hope it works for England and their players.

But mainly the players.

Because they did bring something home …

Every one of them.

Pride. Unity. Hope.

Until those racist fucks robbed it off them … off the rest of us.

And while the media may like to suggest those responsible are a small minority of hooligans, the reality is it’s not a small minority and hooligans are not some cartoon villain.

In fact the problem is these pricks live amongst all of us. They are invisible because they look, live and work like so many of us. They’re fathers. Sons. Brothers. Uncles.

They’re also racist scum.

Exemplified by their hate towards the 3 England players who missed their penalties.

These 3 brilliant and inspiring men are young.

Hell, Bukayo Saka is 19.

NINETEEN.

At that age I couldn’t even ask out a woman who worked on the till at Asda, West Bridgford … so anyone who gives him shit when he’s playing for the England national football team, in the final of the Euro’s, at the most intense and pressured moment of the entire tournament, with billions watching can just fuck off.

Winning FIFA 2014 on Playstation doesn’t make you a winner, it makes you a fantasist.

And to them I am glad football didn’t come home.

I just wish football could take them far away from it.



Comfort Kills Character …

There’s a well-known phrase that says. ‘it’s easier to get to the top than to stay there’.

I couldn’t agree with it more.

That’s not to say getting to the top is easy, but staying there requires a very different mentality.

However, while it should mean you’re always pushing forward … looking for ways to push and provoke possibilities … understanding where culture is heading rather than where you wish it was … defining the future rather than just following it … a lot of companies do it in a very different way.

Abusing their scale.
Buying market share.
Pricing competitors out.
Focused on size not change.

But what makes this ‘optimise the position’ approach even more fascinating is that a lot of these organisations who are like this, were not like that in the beginning.

In fact, they were the polar opposite.

Founded on changing something in their industry they felt was wrong.

They wanted to create change by offering a real alternative.

Something that drove them and defined them.

Where over time, they became distinctive and definitive.

And then … the more comfortable they became, the less they could see what they were turning into.

Silencing the alternate voices that used to fuel their drive.

Replacing the misfits with the people who look just like them.

Seeing a point of view as alienating rather than a beacon for those they once served.

Looking at cost rather than value.

Optimisation over innovation.

But this isn’t just in terms of operational behaviour.

It also affects the people within the operation.

Playing politics more than performance.

Protecting their position rather than growing those around them.

Following the process rather than focusing on what they want to do … create … change.

It’s a question I love to bring up with clients.

Especially when we’re talking about brand and positioning work.

The good ones are open to the uncomfortableness of the conversation.

I’m not saying they like it.

I once asked it to the founder of a rather well-known, global sports brand and he DEFINITELY didn’t like it … but based on the hard, honest, passionate and open debate it stirred – let alone the shifts it later encouraged – it was definitely worth it.

As for those organisations who are too far gone?

Well, they tend to shut down that conversation very, very quickly.

Then try to position you as bad for daring to ask it.

That everything is perfect with them and you should respect them and embrace them.

Of course, asking that question is the ultimate sign of respect.

You’re putting yourself on the line because you do like them. You do want them to do well.

You have recognised something may be misbalanced and you want to help them get that back.

Which may explain why the vast majority of companies I’ve asked this question have been open to it.

That doesn’t mean it has always led to different actions or behaviours, but it has been something they’re willing to debate. And while some may consider this approach ‘career suicide’, the great irony is it has had a huge and positive impact on the majority of my client relationships … because they know I’ll always give them the truth and I know they will always give it the time.

So while I still believe it is harder to stay at the top than to get there … if it means you’ve turned into the beast you were created to slay, then ‘the top’ is really rock bottom.