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


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.



Finally, I Give You A Way To Shut Me Up …

When you’re my age, you get to look at your career and see the different phases that it passes through.

I remember one year at Wieden, we seemed to make more beautiful, highly-crafted physical books on culture than we did ads.

Now I’m a huge fan of these – and still do them – but that year I think we made about 10, which was frankly ridiculous.

Then there was the year I got told I’d spoken at more conferences than anyone at Wieden.

It wasn’t said as a diss, more a fact – though I do remember Luhr looking at me with the face of someone who couldn’t work out why anyone would want me to talk at their event.

He wasn’t wrong.

Then there was the year I seemed to be in every bloody Asian marketing book or article and then of course, The Kennedys.

It happens. It’s rarely an intentional thing, but the nature of the business means it can be like that … and while I’ll always prefer to be involved in creating stuff, it does let you feel things are evolving and that’s a good feeling.

Well this year is another one of those years.

Part of this is because of the situation the World is in and part of it is because of the situation I have found myself in.

However, whereas previous years have seemingly had singular focuses, this year has had two.

Icons of culture and podcasts.

Both have been pretty awesome.

Musicians … Fashion superstars … Gaming Royalty … Billionaires.

Frankly people who should know a lot better than to ever want me to work with them … and yet, for reasons I don’t understand but am utterly grateful for, they have.

It’s certainly very different to the work I’ve done in the past, but it not only is introducing me to a whole new world of creative expression – from developing new concert experiences to video game design to stuff that is genuinely almost impossible for me to describe as it’s just plain beautifully bonkers – it’s letting me work with people who are recognised as being the best in their field so to be in this position … and to have Colenso to look forward to in addition … feels like winning the lottery.

I know this all sounds like humble bragging – but that’s not the intent.

To be honest, it’s more about me writing it down so I never forget this feeling.

This moment.

Because as tough as it is for people all around the World, I am very, very fortunate so many good things have come my way.

But that’s not what this post is about, it’s about the other thing I’ve been doing a lot of.

Podcasts.

I’ve done a ton this year.

[Here and here and here for example]

Why people want to hear from me – especially when I write so much bollocks about my life on here – is another thing I don’t get … but it’s been fun.

Recently the lovely/stupid people at Colenso had chat with me for their Love This podcast …

We cover all manner of subjects … from running a planning gang to developing creativity in a pandemic to how to be a fucking idiot … so if you’re bored, an insomniac or are jealous of Colenso’s brilliance and are looking forward to the pain they’ll experience with me in the building, you can listen to it at one of these places.

Apple.
Spotify.
Soundcloud.



Frienemies …

A long time ago, I was sat in Wieden+Kennedy Portland, watching the Women’s World Cup with the NIKE team.

It was fun – we were all enjoying the match – when LTA [a legend at Wieden] said to me and the person I was sat next to, who I didn’t know …

“I’m surprised you’re sat next to each other”.

When I asked why, he said …

“Because of the teams you support”.

And that was the moment I discovered my sofa mate, Patrick, was a fucking Derby County supporter.

Worse still.

He was actually from Derby.

We both had the look of utter disgust on our faces.

Derby.

For fucks sake.

Anyway, despite his absolute shortcomings in football team, we got on and managed to show our maturity by rising above it.

I never saw Patrick again.

I was based in Shanghai and then he left Wieden.

That said, we stayed in touch via social media – especially when Forest were playing Derby – so a few weeks ago, when Patrick suggested we catch up and talk about what we think will happen in the league now COVID-19 is messing with everything, I was thrilled.

And while it had been a long time since I’d seen him and I continued to like him as a person, the fact is when you talk to a Derby County fan – even one based in the US – there are certain protocols to observe, which this photo from our zoom chat captures perfectly …

My favourite bit was how he responded to someone who asked how a conversation with a Forest and Derby fan had gone down ..,

MORTAL enemies!

But, given the testing time we’re in I’m willing to put that aside, for now.

That being said, Rob wasn’t even TRYING to make friends …

Another example of Forest getting one over the sheep.

Great chatting with you Patrick – while I doubt you’ll ever want to do it again, I hope we do.