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

Create Up To A Standard, Not Down To A Price-Point.

So Kevin Chesters recently posted some work from the far distant past.

It was work that I adored at the time and even now, I feel is one of the best pieces of communication ever made.


But it’s not NIKE. Or Apple. Or anything approaching ‘cultural cool’ … it’s for a supermarket.

Oh, but wait … there’s more.

Because it’s not a brand ad – though it does a ton for the brand – it’s a retail ad.

But instead of starbursts and shelf wobblers … it’s a masterclass in craft and smarts. Where the majestic charm and wry humour not only treats the audience with intelligence, but communicates price in a way you see value both in the product and the company selling it.

Regardless of the item.

Regardless of the audience ‘segment’.

Regardless of whether it’s selling food or their loyalty scheme.

It’s incredible and what’s more … it’s from the early 2000’s.

I think.

But despite being almost 20 years old, it’s still one of the best examples of a brand that knows who they are, knows who their audience is and knows the relationship they would like to have with their audience.

More than that, they know the problem they’re solving.

Not just in a general sense … but in terms of the potential barrier for each item.

In a world of wish-standard Nike knockoffs, this is an example of advertising not just communicating, but undeniably contributing to the growth, value and reputation of the company it represents.

When it wants to be – and when it’s allowed to be – this industry can be outstanding.

While we can’t control the standards other parties may demand, we can control what ours are.

Of course, in these ‘procurement-led times’ you could say ‘you get what you pay for’.

And I get that.

But watching the value and standards of what we do fall down a drain doesn’t seem a particularly good business approach.

Which is why I find myself repeating what an old boss of mine used to say to me.

“What happens next is up to us”.

He’s never been more right.

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It’s Not What You Do, It’s How You Do It That Reveals Who You Really Are …

In the UK there was an adult comic called Viz.

It was filthy, hilarious and – for a long time – very successful.

And while they had many ‘star’ characters … from Sid the Sexist to errrrm, The Fat Slags … my favourite part of the magazine were the publishing company details.

Tucked at the bottom of a page, in extra small font, were a list of the people behind the magazine. Most people wouldn’t even see it, let alone read it … but if you did, you found magic in that small print.

Mischief. Personality. Information.

Nothing told you how much this was a labour of love for the people behind the magazine than their dedication to instilling their personality into every nook and cranny they could find … whether people would see it or not.

Brilliant stuff.

I say this because I saw a label a friend had put on a product they were selling at their shop.

Ai Ming was a planner in my team at Wieden+Kennedy.

She was very good … but decided one day, it was time for a change and so she went back to Singapore to open a Cheese Shop.

I know … sounds a bit random … but wait, it get’s better.

You see Ai Ming had an idea.

A way to combine her love of cheese and travel and be paid for it.

So she started The Cheese Ark … a cheese shop in Singapore, dedicated to selling cheeses from small, independent makers across Europe.

Oh but that’s nowhere near the end of the story …

So when she left Wieden – and before she returned to Singapore – Ai Ming went to work on a small farm in Italy for a few months. [I think]

While there, she discovered how amazing cheese tasted when it was made by people who loved and nurtured their product.

To her, it was a whole new world of taste and made every other cheese she had tried, feel unworthy of being labelled as such.

But she also learned something else …

You see she discovered many of these small, independent cheese makers were in danger of going under, because they didn’t have a way to compete with the big boys.

Said another way … this incredible tasting cheese could become obsolete.

So rather be sad, she decided to do something about it.

Enter The Cheese Ark … a shop that only sells cheese that originates from these small independent farms. A shop that is one of the only places in the World where you can get your hands on this incredible produce. A shop that charges enormous amounts of money to own a piece of their incredible cheese … not simply so you can have your taste buds tingled in ways you could never imagine … not simply because it allows you to show off to your friends about your good taste and status … not simply because it pays for Ai Ming’s travel, shop, employees and profit … but because by buying so much from each of these small farms across Europe, she can ensure that these small, independent cheese farms not only survive, but thrive.

Hence it’s called ‘The Cheese Ark’ … because its literally saving the lives of cheese.

How fucking incredible is that?

But Ai Ming is not just a creative business thinker, she’s full of personality and passion … which leads me to the point of this post.

You see I recently saw something that reminded me of those Viz publishing details I loved.

Something that communicated more than just the necessary details.

It was this …

How good is that?

I bloody love it.

A notice on a packet of cheese that’s more interesting, engaging, compelling and charming than 99% of ads – or any marketing material – out there.

Sure, not many people will see it.

Most may actively choose to ignore it.

But for those who do, they’re not just rewarded with the thrill of discovering something as enjoyable as the product inside it, they know they’re dealing with someone who really cares about what they do.

And they do. Because what Ai Ming has created is the Noah’s Ark of Cheese.

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Nothing Says Who You Are Like What You Do …

A lot of luxury brands, invite a lot of mocking.

It might be what they make.
It might be the prices they charge.
It might be the way they look at the world.
But whatever your opinion, at least they commit.

Walk into a proper high-end luxury brand and you see high-end standards and experience.


[The Netflix series ‘7 Day’s’ perfectly demonstrates this, as I wrote about here]

Innovation. Craft. Details. Service. Packaging. Training.

You might not like it.
You might not value it.
But you can’t say they’re not committed to it.

Now compare that to companies that like to position themselves as ‘premium’.

Sure, some live up to it … but my god, most don’t.

The only premium-ness is often only in their pricing and ego.

Big talking to the public, short-changing everywhere else around them.

Now I get you have to look after the pennies in business, but when you claim to be premium – it should mean you recognize the value of premium standards and service in those around you and with you. And if you don’t – or you don’t think the people you are dealing with offer that – then why the fuck are you dealing with them?

I’ve written about this before, but once-upon-a-time I was asked to work on a freelance project for a high-end German brand.

I submitted my estimate to which I was met with the following reply:

“Your fee is higher than other partners we use, please lower it”.

That was it. Not even an indication of the costs they were comparing me too.

Now while I value what I do, the costs weren’t excessive.

Infact they were a fraction of the cost of one of their lowest priced products.

But more than that, I’d agreed my fees with the CMO before I submitted them to procurement, so I thought., ‘fuck this’ and wrote the following response.

“Your products are higher priced than other brands I could choose, please lower it”.

I know … it was cheeky, but I just thought they were incredibly arrogant in their attitude, especially in the way they wanted to undermine my experience.

And guess what, almost immediately they replied with,

“We accept your rate and look forward to working with you” … which is the exact moment I saw through the hype.

Brands who value quality don’t benchmark costs against the lowest market rates.

I get it’s a negotiation tactic, but it also reveals their hypocrisy and insecurity.

It’s why my experience with Metallica was so shocking … despite the fact what they do and value all makes total sense but the way most business operates means it felt so bizarre.

Actually, Metallica are a great example of a brand that values who they are.

Everything they do is focused on respecting the quality of what they do.

For example, to make sure their vinyl is always of the highest quality – they bought the best vinyl printing press company in the world.

Same with their live shows …

To ensure their sound is of the highest quality, they had the highest-quality live speaker system in the world built.

Rather than approach investments in terms of ‘what can we get away with’, their attitude is to put highest quality first … which is why they buy stuff rather than lease it because not only does it ensure their creativity is given the highest possible quality [rather than the best they can get away with] it ensures they always have priority access to it. And when they don’t need to use it, they get people like me to work out how to make it pay for itself, which often ends up leasing it to other bands who don’t have the same needs/standards or values as them.

Metallica understand standards better than most brands.

But then they understand who they are better than most brands.

Which is why everything they do is focus up to the quality not down to the price.

That’s a proper premium brand … one who makes decisions that reflects who they are not who they are pretending to be.

Christ, I recently saw a rep from a coffee brand get into their gold Audi.

It stood out to me because it was a errrrrm, gold Audi.

And while some may look at it and say,

“If they drove a Prius, maybe their coffee prices were lower”

… not only are they unlikely to be people who buy their coffee, they are also unlikely to care about the difference of coffee.

That’s not a diss … I like Nescafe with Coffee Mate … but it also doesn’t mean that my taste is reflective of everyone else’s either.

Whether true or not, my impression of a brand giving their rep this choice of car was they had a different perspective on standards. Rather than give their reps the lowest priced car they could get away with, they found the most efficient car of the standards they live and operate in.

Of course many may slate or disagree with me for this view …

I also appreciate some may find their choice a reflection of their pretentiousness, which they find fucking annoying.

And in some way I agree with them.

However I feel a lot better about pretentious assholes when that’s who they actually are rather than those who do it to look like they’re premium when everything else highlights they’re anything but.

Commitment costs.

You might not want to pay it … you might not understand the reasoning for it … but at least you’re dealing with people who believe it rather than those who are exploiting you for it.

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If You Want It To Be Easy, You Don’t Want It To Be Great …

Not too long ago, Campaign – in the UK – asked me for my point of view on Byron Sharp and the obsession with brand assets etc.

Specifically, they wanted to know if I felt he was hindering creativity as well as making it harder for small business to ever stand a chance of breaking through.

Now I have some issues with Mr Sharp’s character, but if I put that aside to answer the question, I said this:

First of all, I don’t think Mr Sharp wants to kill creativity.

From my perspective, he recognises its value far more than others in his position. If I’m going to talk about who is undermining the power of creativity, I’d say it can be aimed far more at the companies who outsource all their training needs to the same few individuals because it’s easier and cheaper for them to do.

God, that’s started off controversially hasn’t it?

The reality is what Mr Sharp says isn’t wrong, it’s just not the one-size-fits-all approach that so many seem to have interpreted it as.

And that highlights what the real problem is for me: conformity over possibility.

Or said another way, the modern equivalent of ‘no one got fired buying IBM’.

Look, I get it … marketing is expensive, complicated and influenced by a whole host of factors that you can’t control, so if someone say’s “this will stop you making stupid mistakes”, it’s pretty compelling.

But the reality is not making stupid mistakes doesn’t mean you are ensuring success. Worse, blindly following these rules creates a real risk you will commodify yourself … looking, talking and behaving just like everyone else. Let’s be honest, you don’t have to look too hard to see that already happening …

And that’s my problem with terms like ‘brand assets’ … they’re talked about as if you can buy them off the shelf.

Simply choose a single colour, add a logo and some category cues … then sit back and count your billions.

But people are confusing visual distinction with brand value.

Sure, being recognised in some way helps … but it only becomes an ‘asset’ if it has meaning built into it and to do that requires distinctive and deliberate acts, actions and behaviour over time.

Or said another way, you don’t ‘create’ a brand asset, things become a brand asset.

The industry is continually looking for shortcuts.

I get it … I really do … but the irony is the thing that can deliver so much of this, is the thing the industry continually tries to diminish or control.


At its best, creativity rewrites rules and changes the odds in your favour.

Creativity helped Liquid Death get men to want to drink water.
Creativity helped Gentle Monster become the fastest selling and growing eyewear brand across Asia.
Creativity helped Roblox go from niche player to the single most played game by kids and teens across America.
Creativity even helped Metallica use a 30 year old album to attract more fans resulting in them becoming the second most successful American band of all time.

They didn’t achieve this simply because of smart distribution of their brand assets. Nor did they achieve it by placing their logo as a watermark throughout their TV commercial [which has to be the laziest and most misguided attempt to achieve ‘attribution’]. They achieved it by allowing creativity the freedom to push forward in ways that – as a by-product – meant their voice created value in their numerous assets.

I get it’s not easy.

I get it requires real energy and openness.

But little can achieve what creativity can do when you commit to letting it loose.

My problem [and I appreciate this may just be me] is that many seem to have interpreted the words of Sharp [and others] in a way where they see creativity as simply the ‘wrapping paper’ to execute their rules and processes.

But creativity isn’t the wrapping, it’s the fucking present.

A gift that offers value to brands that goes far beyond the fulfilment of singular commercial objectives and goals.

There are countless examples of brands achieving incredible success and growth following different rules so much of the industry feel is the only way to progress.

That’s not meant as a diss to Mr Sharp, he is obviously very good – though I note he and his peers choose to not highlight that many misinterpret and misuse their guidance, which suggests there is an element of complicity and profiteering from the one-size-fits-all blandification that is happening all around us.

But even then, the real blame should be aimed at the industry for fetishising the learnings and viewpoints of the same few people, because however good they may be – and they are good – it means we’re literally choosing to narrow our own potential and future.

Don’t get me wrong, brand assets are definitely a thing. But they don’t make creativity valuable … creativity makes them an asset.

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Is There Anything As Fast As Someone On LinkedIn Declaring Their Expertise On Their Ability To Monetise, Explain And Define An Emerging Technology Despite Them Never Having Worked In Tech Or Done Something That Defined Any Tech?

I’m all for people expressing their opinion.

I’m all for people being excited about things they see as having great possibilities.

I’m all for people trying to find new ways to evolve, grow and make money.

But come on …

It’s getting to the point where Linkedin should be renamed Disneyland given how much fiction and fantasy are going on.

What’s worse is among all the ‘consultants’ and ‘new business development people’ claiming expertise, are a bunch of strategists.

Now I know as a discipline we think we have the answer to everything … but we don’t.

Fuck, even the people who are developing the technology, don’t.

But what bothers me is the reason behind why so many people are claiming expertise.

OK, so I know some have a real understanding of the technology and its possible implications. And in that, I include certain strategists – we all know who those brilliant people are.

And I also appreciate some mistakenly believe that because they’ve used ChatGPT, they think they now know everything about the technology.

But others – and this is potentially the majority of them – are doing it because they see it as a chance to personally gain from it.

In essence, their perspective is that as long as a subject matter is highly topical and others – especially companies – don’t know about it, then they can profit from it because they can say anything because no one will know enough to tell them they’re wrong.

You can tell who this group are because they’re the one’s who are either the loudest to declare their knowledge or the first to say they had identified the trend … despite never doing anything with their ‘expertise’ or because of their ‘vision’.

Putting aside how this sort of behaviour can damage the reputation of real experts, disciplines and entire industries … the issue I have is how it is often justified as hustle culture.

I’ve written my issue with hustle culture in the past, but the fact is, this isn’t hustling … it’s grifting and the impact of it is not just damaging people and companies, but it killing the potential of technology before it has a chance to find it’s real possibility.

I appreciate this is quite a heavy post from what was just a piss-take image of Homer … but the best comedy is always based on a truth we often like to deny.

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