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.



Rejected By Love …

I have always believed that bad news can be delivered in ways that don’t create bad feelings.

I know … that probably sounds mad coming from me, especially given I was once described as someone who could start a fight in an empty house … but it’s true.

In fact, I believe there’s a way where you can deliver bad news that makes the recipient feel even more positively about you.

I remember when I lived in Sydney and bought a brand new VW Golf GTI.

Within 6 weeks, the turbo blew and the gear box collapsed.

In a carpark.

At the entrance.

Stopping all the cars behind me from being able to get in and forcing my car to be dragged out backwards [while stuck in first gear] because the tow-truck couldn’t get in front of it.

Obviously I wasn’t pleased about this, especially when the dealership said they would not lend me a car while mine was being repaired.

Pissed off, I sent as many variations of what I thought the global CEO of VW’s email would be, explaining that while I appreciate it wasn’t their policy to lend cars to customers, it wasn’t my policy to buy a new car that collapses in 6 weeks.

Within 48 hours, I was told my car had been fixed as VW had flown in a new gear box from Germany.

While I should not have had to deal with that situation, the [eventual] approach meant I felt an even greater loyalty to the brand than I may otherwise of had. Though this was before they admitted to emission scandals and gassing animals for ‘research’.

Now I appreciate there may be times where you want to deliver bad news in a way that leaves bad feelings … but the ability to use each challenging situation as an opportunity to build a better relationship is generally always there, which is why I love how comedian Steve Martin dealt with fan mail.

I’ve written about the opportunity of rejection before but I do feel it’s something we could all do with practicing more. Especially as our industry is so small that you can be sure any person, or agency, you reject will likely come back into your life.

Which is why one of the most valuable things to remember at points of rejection is it’s never ‘just business’, it’s always personal.



Originality Wanted …

I still remember buying a movie soundtrack only to discover none of the songs had actually featured in the movie.

When I looked at the cover, I saw “songs inspired by the movie” … in other words, the film company couldn’t get the rights to release the actual music, so they got some two-bit band to write some nondescript music supposedly after watching the film.

It wasn’t as bad as those albums where they got a covers band to sing a well known song – rather than the actual artist – but it was close.

The reason I say this is that I’m seeing a bunch of ‘write-ups’ of ads that seem to adopt the same position.

“Inspired by”.

“Influenced”

“Reinterpreted”.

Now there’s nothing really wrong with this … it’s something that’s been done by all manner of industries for centuries … however while there’s a common belief that ‘genius steals’, the counter to this is ‘lazy borrows’.

I know … I know … I’m being deliberately assholey, but the beauty of our industry is when we allow creatives the freedom to create.

To allow their crazy minds to take us all to crazy intriguing places.

But instead … thanks to budgets, timelines, dictatorial research, corporate fear, layers of management – and countless other things – we don’t.

Which is why we see so many pieces of work that are replications of a film, a meme, a song, a TikTok idea … basically a version of an album of popular songs that haven’t been played by any of the original artists.

Our industry is capable of brilliant things.

But we’ve sold creativity down the river in a bid to make things easier for people who don’t even value the power of creativity.

Nothing smacks of madness as much as that.

Meanwhile, culture leads change of behaviour, attitudes and choices through its endless energy to explore and express.

So while being inspired is one thing, duplicating is another and when certain brands expect people to spend hundreds or thousands on their products, it blows my mind they want to under-invest in the way they actually present themselves in their communication.

Oh they won’t see it that way.

They’ll talk about the celebrity they hired to front the campaign.

Or the music they licensed.

But underneath it all, they’ll they’re taking shortcuts.

They’ll kid themselves it’s working with charts on optimisation or efficiencies … but the reality is they’re trying to work out how long they’ve got before it all falls apart, because the difference between leading and chasing is not about spend, it’s about attitude.

Or said another way …

You either make music or you’re just a cover band.



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..



If You Think It Would Be Mad, It’s Probably Got Something Going For It …

Before I write today’s post, I want you to listen to something …

Yep, that’s the White Stripes with their now classic, ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I say classic, because it is.

It was recorded in 2002 as a bit of fun and yet now it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Sung at concerts.

Sporting events.

Pubs.

It’s the modern equivalent of Smoke In The Water … the go-to song for any guitarist starting out. [And the nightmare for any guitar shop employee]

But the thing about it that I never realised is that it’s a song without a chorus.

Nothing.

Nada.

It’s deliberate, because one day Jack White liked the idea of – in his own words – “creating a compelling song without a chorus”.

And he did.

A song that will no doubt outlive him because – like Queen’s We Will Rock You – is a simple, repetitive riff that allows audiences to not just join in, but be an integral and active participant in the music.

When you look at the ad industry, while we have evolved from talking AT audiences, our version of audience involvement is still largely based getting them to be an extension for what we’re doing rather than be an integral part of it.

Now of course, I get an audience doing stuff for a band they love is very different to getting people who are mildly interested in a brand, to do something for us … but the main point here is we are not pushing any boundaries right now.

Oh of course there’s agencies constantly pronouncing they have just executed a ‘world first’, but apart from the fact it’s often just a slight variation of something that has previously been around, it’s almost always done to benefit the agencies and clients ego and no one else.

But where is the bolder stuff?

The writing a compelling song without a chorus stuff?

If adland was about writing music, you can bet EVERYTHING would have a chorus.

It would also probably be a pop-song, 3 minutes long [MAX], as simplistic as they can make it and designed to be so palatable as to not offend a soul.

It would be this song …

Hell, even Matt Beaumont thought so in his brilliant book, E.

OK, I’m being a bit mean because its not like there aren’t some agencies doing amazing pieces of work using the ‘traditional’ model not to mention those who are genuinely trying to push the boundaries of what creativity can be – and do – for clients, like this brilliant Planned Parenthood campaign we did at R/GA recently … but in the main, the focus is not about breaking new ground it’s about treading carefully over the old.

Look, I get it … this stuff costs a lot of money.

There’s a bunch riding on it.

But where this ‘minimum risk’ approach fails is when brands talk about wanting to make a big impact in culture … something that powerfully differentiates themselves from the competition … an idea that change attitudes and behaviour … because the most effective way to increase the odds of this happening is to literally do something that runs counter to traditional norms.

An airport lounge that is modelled on a Rock Stars house.

An electric car with an insane button.

A ravioli where the pasta disappears.

An ad that talks about failure.

Now I know what you’re thinking, most companies will never do that.

And you’re right.

But what I find amusing is that we all know doing the same as everyone else produces, in the main, even less chance of breakthrough success than walking into the unknown or unexpected.

The harsh reality is that while many companies talk about breakthrough … innovation … provocation … what they really mean is – at best – being a degree or two better than their competition or – at worst – simply playing catch-up

Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation.

And while I know there is a lot of talent in our biz – talent who use creativity to create incredible ways to either deal with old problems or create new normals – we are in danger of letting ourselves just become executioners of clients transactional requirements, and if that happens, we lose any chance of regaining/retaining our seat at the boardroom table. Because in my experience what the best C-Suite want aren’t companies who simply execute their requirements, but those who see the World differently to them, so they can help them get to places in ways they never imagined possible.

In other words, creative people with commercial appreciation rather than commercial people with creative appreciation.

Now the problem is we live in times where the money men value consistency more highly than boldness … which is ironic given they them place them under immense pressure to keep finding new ways to grow, transform and unlock new revenue streams.

An oxymoron if you will.

Which, for me, highlights 3 things.

1. Independence is power.

2. As Martin and I talked about at Cannes last year, chaos can achieve what order can’t.

3. The only things worth doing are the ones that can break your heart.