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


Creativity Vs Complicity …

So many ads today end up just being fancy sales brochures.

A nondescript, stylish image that either has some meaningless line thrust upon it or a literal lift of the proposition from the brief to become the headline.

Clients love it because they think there’s no wastage.

That there’s no ‘thinking’ that the audience has to do to ‘get the message’.

I remember years ago – when I was working on SONY – the client kept referencing Mr Bean.

No, I’m not joking.

They kept saying Mr Bean is understood by all. Loved by all. Communicates a message without saying a word. They were really trying to push this until I pointed out that while that’s the case, no one would spend thousands buying a TV made by Mr Bean.

Then Balls got made and undermined my argument for years. Hahahaha.

And while I hate looking backwards, I can’t help but think the past was far more interesting creatively than where we’re at today.

These days Audi talk about ‘Future is an attitude‘ when once they talked about Vorsprung Durch Technik.

We have Chivas Regal going on about ‘every taste is an experience’ when once they talked about ‘giving Dad an expensive belt‘.

Heineken now ‘open your world‘ when they once ‘refreshed the parts other beers can’t reach‘.

We have countless other brands who were once so powerful with their brand voice who have now become bland.

[Nothing sums it up like this Audi ad for the same car with pretty much the same line]

What really gets me, is we have the talent in the industry to change this.

We have the hunger as well.

But while there are exceptions – and I mean it in terms of agencies who consistently bring the work rather than the odd bit of work getting through – somewhere along the line, we seem to have chosen a path of complicity.

Without doubt the research techniques becoming more and more favoured by companies plays a part in this. As our clients who are more focused on not making a mistake than making an impact. But it cannot be ignored that agencies have a lack of desire to stand up for what they believe is right. Preferring to be complicit rather than respected.

Which may explain why so few of them believe it is worth investing in finding out what is really going on in culture – preferring instead, to either outsource it or just accept the viewpoint of whichever ‘paid for’ 3rd party the client has hired to do the work for them.

What brought this all up was seeing an old Honda ad from the late 70’s/early 80’s.

OK, so Honda have a long history of doing great work – especially from Wieden London – but it’s always been a brand that has run to its own rhythm with its own idiosyncrasies. But even they – these days – are falling into the trap of rubbing off the edges that defines who they are to become like everyone else.

This ad – like so many of the truly great early 80’s ads – came from Chiat/Day.

My god, what an agency they were.

Sadly I say ‘were’ because as much as they still have great people in there and pull off the occasional truly interesting bit of work, when you compare them to what they were like decades ago, there is no comparison.

Brave. Honest. Distinctive. Creative as hell.

Hell, even when they lost, they did it in a way where they would win.

Every single person in adland – especially at C-Suite level – should read this brilliant article by Cameron Day, son of Guy Day … one of the founders of Chiat.

‘How Big Till We Go Bad’ is a fantastic guide on how to build a truly great agency. And then destroy it.

Anyway, I digress.

The Honda ad I saw of theirs was this …

No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Once upon a time, car manufacturers – or at least some of them – understood equality.

No cliches.

No pandering.

Just treating their audience as adults and equals.

It’s not really that hard is is, but if you compare it to what we see today, it feels we’ve regressed. [Read more about car ad devolution – with a few exceptions – here]

I do not want to look in the past.

I believe my best creative work is ahead of me.

Or at least the potential of it.

To paraphrase Death of a Salesman – or the equally brilliant Nils of Uncommon – we shouldn’t be interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around.

But the problem is, people have to see the woods are burning and I worry a bunch of the fuckers think it’s a sunset. Then again, it will be … because if we don’t push forwards, it will be the sunset on our industry and that will be the ultimate insult, because the past should never be more exciting and interesting than the future.



If Timing Is Everything, Planning Timing Is Nothing …

Despite being in this industry for 7,000 years, I still seem to get a couple of things wrong on a pretty consistent basis.

+ Creative briefs.

+ Estimating the time needed to do things.

OK, with the creative briefs, it’s less that I get them wrong … it’s just I end up writing so many different versions of them in an attempt to find the one that I think is the , most intriguing, infectious, provocative and sharp, that I end up feeling like I’ve just gone 12 rounds with a 50 foot robot octopus by the time I’ve finally finished them.

But in terms of estimating time … I remain, utterly rubbish.

I’m not saying I think something will take a day and it takes a year [though this one wasn’t that far off], it just means that I under-estimate the time needed for stuff by a day or two.

Is this because I over-estimate my capabilities?

Possibly.

But the real reason is that I tend to either find myself tumbling down rabbit holes that I find interesting or simply thinking there’s a better way to approach things and need to explore it rather than let it go.

While I appreciate this can be fucking annoying to my colleagues, I am a firm believer that rabbit holes have real value and nothing should be so set in stone that if something better comes along, you just dismiss it out-of-hand.

But all that said, it continually surprises me that I fall into this trap over and over again which is why I loved reading this:

66 years late!!!

SIXTY SIX!!!

When I read that, I immediately felt I had the precision of a German engineering company.

The efficiency of the Singaporean government.

And if I really wanted to feel better about myself, I could blame that 66 year delay on the creative team because the brief was written and accepted without hassle.

The thing is, while timing is vital, doing something well is even more important.

And while the evaluation of ‘well’ can be very subjective, I always feel that has to be judged by the person doing their work, the person they work into and the people who need to do something with it – ie: the creatives.

It’s not the client.
It’s not the producers.
It’s not the managing director.

That doesn’t mean you can take the piss or just blindly ignore their needs and wants, it just means the people who are doing the work need to feel the work they’re doing is the work they want to do.

And while they may never be 100% happy … and while they may face all manner of frustration from the people around them … the one thing I learnt from Dan Wieden, is when the work is great, all problems disappear..



When Nothing Is Something …

Otis LOVES McDonald’s, so before we left the UK, we decided we’d have some for dinner.

He’s a bit particular about how he likes his Happy Meal, so with that – and the social distancing rules – we used their app to order.

As I was customising his burger [no sauce, no pickles] I discovered the option of having no sauce was unavailable.

THat’s right, you couldn’t, couldn’t have sauce.

Of course it was just a glitch in their system but it did remind me of the time I was in Xiamen in China on a NIKE get-together.

It had been a long and challenging day.

Not with work, but because we had stupidly left our bags, computers and passports in the back of the cab and needed all our powers of deduction and negotiation to get them back.

Trust me, in a city of nearly 4 million people and no details of the cab that had our stuff, that was a pretty big task, but thanks to the brilliance of Charinee and Jenny, we achieved it … so after that drama and then running a workshop for the NIKE Running team … we went back to our hotel tired and hungry.

We decided to have a drink in the bar and order some food.

After looking at the menu, we quickly ordered 2 cheese and tomato pizzas.

“Sorry …” they said, “… we only have pepperoni pizza available”.

By that point, we had set our heart on pizza so I looked at the waited and replied,

“Could we order the pepperoni pizza but without the pepperoni?”

They nodded yes and soon we were munching on our pepperoni pizza … without the pepperoni … with smug smiles on our faces.

And now I’ve told that story, it’s reminded me of the time I used the same logic to get one over on IKEA Hong Kong, who were trying to fuck me over with a new sofa we bought.

Which all goes to show, the best way to beat a process is to use the process against itself, because for all the ‘experience design’ processes that is all the range right now, most of them are built to protect the company rather than satisfy the audience.



Charging For Your Creativity Doesn’t Make You Evil …

Of all the blog posts I’ve written over the years – and let’s face it. there’s been loads – there’s been a few I have constantly referred to.

One is Harrison Ford’s the value of value.

The other is Michael Keaton’s if you’re an employee, you’re still a business owner.

If you hadn’t worked it out by now, both are about ensuring you are not just paid for your creativity, but paid fairly.

You’d think that was obvious, but so many people seem to have forgotten that … including the creative industry, who have decided their value is better placed on the process of what they do rather than what they actually create and change.

Insanity.

But underpinning this is the creative person’s insecurity.

Somewhere in our psyche is the belief that if we charge money for what we create, we’re not being truly creative.

That we’ve sold out.

That we are imposters … capitalists in creative clothing.

Now there is an element of truth in all of this – because the moment you are working for someone else’s dollar, that someone has some influence over what you create. But that’s not unique to the creative industry. Nor does it mean you are selling out on your creative integrity by accepting payment for what you do.

Please note I said ‘payment for what you do’.

That does not mean we should be ignoring the needs, ambitions and goals that our clients want us to help them achieve, but it is acknowledging we should also be paid well for the creativity, craft, experience – and unique way of looking at the World – that goes into creating the work that allows us to achieve their needs in ways others can’t.

The reality is as much as many – especially in the creative industry – like to suggest money is the enemy of creativity, it’s not.

It can allow us to do amazing things.

Break new ground.

Explore new possibilities.

But more than that, while it may be differing amounts, we all need money.

And – to a certain extent – we all want money.

There is nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with being paid for what we do.

The real question should be how did we earn it and what did we do with it when we got it.

That’s how you can judge a persons integrity, not the fact you got paid for what you did and the talent you invested in it.

Sure, struggling may sound romantic in a Hollywood movie, but few of us want a lifetime of that and who can blame them!?

I still remember when Lars Ulrich of Metallica copped all manner of shit because he was the face for recording artists fighting against the role of Napster on the recording industry.

The insults he copped.

The distain he was thrown.

And all he was doing was trying to protect the value of his – and millions of other bands – creativity.

Why was that wrong?

Was it because, at that stage, he was already wealthy?

Is there some sort of rule to say that there is only so much you’re allowed to make before creative people need to shut up and be grateful for what they’ve got?

And what is that amount? No doubt, somewhere between ‘enough to live but not more than the rest of us’.

However somewhere along the line, society has decided to reposition creatively minded people as idealists … naive or even weak. Ignoring reality so they can wank-off on some self indulgent project that only interests them.

Which is total bollocks.

Apart from the fact I’ve never met a creative who isn’t insanely focused on the challenge they’ve been given – even if they have a very different opinion on how to get there to the client or the rest of the agency – the fact is we’ve now surrounded them with 10,000 different types of ‘strategist’, with 10,000 different opinions and agendas … which forces the conversations to be more about the importance of a discipline than the actual potential of the work.

And don’t get me even started on the fact a lot of these new forms of strategy are either [1] not really new or [2] not doing actual strategy, but executional management!

However all that aside, the reality is in all this, creative people have to take a responsibility for the situation they find themselves in.

Or, potentially even more specifically, the people who are training and developing them.

Because they are complicit in maintaining the belief your creative value and integrity is somehow linked to not being ‘diluted’ by payment. Which, when you think of it, is utterly ridiculous given value is created by what others will pay for it.

Schools … universities … agencies … everyone has an obligation to change this.

Not just for the future of their students or employees, but also for their own value.

Appreciating the economic value of what you create and what that creates is not dirty … it is the opposite of that.

It’s purity.

It means you have power in the conversation.

A right to fight for what you believe rather than what is convenient.

Creativity comes in many forms but right now, the form of ‘engineering’ is winning.

Where it’s less about what could be created and more about how you create something that has already been defined. Worse, something that has already been done.

So if you’re in the creative industry or thinking about it or know someone already in it.

Or, alternately, if you’re a teacher involved in the arts – or any subject for that matter – or careers advisor or a parent of someone who is in, or wanting to be in, the creative industry … then please read this article by Alec Dudson [the founder of Intern] because in it, he explains why ‘the economic value of creativity’ skill still remains largely absent from creative education … the impacts of that omission and, most usefully, how you can change it.

Creativity can change outcomes, possibilities and culture.

It has played a pivotal role in every great brand, product, idea and invention.

To devalue that is insane.

But not as insane as the people capable of creating it, also being complicit in it.

Know your worth. Charge your worth. Build your worth.



A Picture Paints A Thousand Words …

For reasons I am unsure of, I have been asked to do a lot of presentations over the last few weeks.

From the board of directors of the World’s most notorious video game company to Silicon Valley VC’s to the social platform Trump is petrified of and a whole host in-between … I’ve been asked for my POV on all manner of things.

The role of technology in sexual education.

How technology can evolve how we tell stories.

Why the best way to be wanted is to be banned.

How experience design is increasingly built on efficiency not emotion.

How to create the environment where the best creative is allowed to be born.

It’s been so much fun …

Not just because it made me think about things or that I got to meet a bunch of amazing people, but because I could do the presentation entirely as I felt I wanted to.

It’s not that I have felt I couldn’t do what I believe was right, but over the last few years, there’s been a few people who have tried to convey a ‘this is how you should say things’ attitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, it takes an army to make an argument and you should always be open to other people’s thoughts and suggestions … but if you’re made responsible for giving the presentation, then you should get the final call on how you express it.

Having people more obsessed with how you’re saying things rather than what is being said is pretty depressing, but not as depressing when you realise colleagues can be more of an obstacle to great work than your clients.

When that starts happening, you start questioning things.

Often yourself.

Are you good enough?

Are you worthy enough?

And then, before you know it, you’re chipped into complicity by the constant stream of criticism … leaving you with no confidence, no self-belief and not much hope for where you’re heading.

I wrote about this a short while ago which is why I want to just reiterate, when you do the presentation you want, the feeling is infectious.

Not just to you, but to who the audience is.

Here’s some examples of the pages I’ve presented in the last few weeks …

And here’s the thing, they all went down very well.

Sure, some of them made the audience gulp.

But they also loved it because they knew I was saying was to try and help them win better rather than just kick them in the head.

And that’s the key.

Show you really give a shit about them.

However, while some seem to think you do this by pandering to the audience, I believe it is by giving them utter transparency and honesty.

Let’s face it, if you’re willing to do that to a client at a formal presentation – albeit doing it in a way where they understand why you’re doing it – then most of the time they’re going to respect you, even if they don’t agree with you.

I’ve had so many clients come to me/us who initially didn’t.

Because as my old, brilliant head of NIKE marketing said to me once,

“Middle management want to be told they’re right. But senior management want to know how to be better”.