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


Who Is Fooling Who?

Being old, I’ve done more than my fair share of judging awards.

I enjoy it.

Yes it’s a major investment in terms of time, but when you come across an absolutely devastatingly good submission, it’s worth every second.

However it is also fair to say that over the years, there have been some real painful experiences. Either in terms of average papers being seemingly entered into every category in a bid to increase the odds of winning something or papers that have such a strong scent of scam, even Ray Charles can see how suspect they are. [Sorry Mr Charles]

I always laugh when I come across those. Specially at the agencies submitting them … because while they obviously think they are geniuses – or the judges are idiots – the reality is they’re wrong on both counts.

But here’s the thing, people can slag off awards all they like, but they matter.

For Colenso for example, they’re important.

We’re a small agency on the other side of the planet and being able to show our creativity and effectiveness is vitally important to keep demonstrating our validity to attract global clients.

But – and it’s a big but – it only works if its real.

And that only works if all the winners around it are also real.

Now I appreciate that different clients have different needs and budgets.

I appreciate different markets have different cultural traits, behaviours and media.

I absolutely appreciate some entries use a language that is not their native tongue.

And I think that is all brilliant – though I also think none-native English speakers are at an immediate disadvantage and the award organisers should be looking at ways to change that.

However, if you need to write 8456738585463 words to explain your problem or your idea or your insight or your results … you’re not helping yourself.

Nor are you if you are using the pandemic as your strategies main adversary – often followed up with the words, ‘how do we grow in an era of the new normal?’.

Of course I am not doubting the pandemic has caused havoc among categories of business all over the world. It’s definitely happened to me too. But if we don’t explain what the challenge is – how it has affected behaviour or values or distribution or competition or anything other than it ‘made things more difficult’ … then it’s as lazy as the time I judged the Effies in the US when Trump came to power and the opening line of 85% of all submissions was:

How do we bring a nation divided together?

[My fave was when a whisky brand used that as their creative challenge. HAHAHAHA]

I take the judging seriously because I want the awards to be valued.

I want the awards to be valued because I want the industry to be valued.

And I want the industry to be valued because I want clients to win, creativity to win and the people coming up behind me to have a chance of taking us all to better and more interesting places that we’re at right now.

And I believe they can if we don’t fuck up the chance for them.

I get awards are nice to have.

I get they can drive business and payrises.

But if we keep allowing bullshit a chance to shine – and let’s face it, we have time and time again – then all we’re doing is fucking ourselves over.

I’m fine with failure.

In fact I’m very, very comfortable with it.

Especially when it’s because someone has tried to do something audacious for all the right reasons … because even if it doesn’t come off, it’s opened the door to other things we may never have imagined. There’s even real commercial value to that.

But when agencies create, hijack or exploit problems to just serve their own means – then fuck them. Maybe – just maybe – if they did it at a scale that could make a real difference, you’d be prone to encourage it. But when it’s done to achieve just what is needed to let the creators win an award … then frankly, the organisers and judges have a moral obligation to call it out.

Asia gets a bad wrap for this. And over the years that has been deserved, but I can tell you no market is immune. Hell, I’ve even seen some in NZ recently – or one in particular – and what made it worse was it wasn’t even any good.

But as rubbish as that example was, at least it didn’t stoop to the levels we have seen previously.

Let’s remember it’s only 4 years ago an agency WON MAJOR AWARDS for an app they said could help save refugees on boats by tracking them in the sea … only for them to then claim – when later called out – that the app was in beta testing hence the information being sent back to users was not real.

Amazingly ignoring the fact they didn’t say that in any of their entry submissions and if they had, they wouldn’t have been eligible for the awards they entered in the first place.

Creativity can do amazing things.

Advertising can do amazing things.

But we fuck it up when we put the superficial on the podium.

Of course, this is not just an agency problem. Clients are also part of this. Because if they let agencies do what they are great at rather than treating them as a subservient production partner … maybe we’d not just see more interesting work, but even more interesting and valuable brands.



We Don’t Work …

I know the world has been affected by COVID.

I know most people are working from home rather than offices.

But … but … look at these results from WeWork:

I’ve written a lot about WeWork in the past.

I even worked with one of the founders in their early days at Wieden.

And there was even an occasion where they were talking to us at R/GA.

In every one of those encounters, I never understood why they referred to themselves as a tech company. Actually let me rephrase that. I did understand why they wanted to be seen as a tech company as it would mean their valuation would probably be even more ridiculous … but the way they talked about themselves in the early days – and the thing they were doing to make it real – meant they could still be something very powerful and influential if they’d just stuck with their path.

But they didn’t, which is why with Q1 results like that, it would appear their version of being a tech company was to be like Microsoft Vista.

Big hype.

But a terrible, terrible, terrible experience.

Which all goes to show that many in the investment community don’t make decisions on identifying new opportunities, but on being scared of being left behind.

Like most brand planning.



Hello Colenso …

So this is it.

First day at school. Again.

In another new country. Again.

It’s always a weird feeling starting a new job. A mixture of excitement and nerves.

Excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead and nerves that you don’t really know what the hell actually lies ahead.

Most of this is because you are not you when you begin a new job.

You’re in this weird place where you want to throw yourself in the mix as quickly as possible – both to start feeling settled and to show your value to your new colleagues – while at the same time, knowing you have to learn a whole new set of people, protocols and situations while navigating the judging eyes that are going to follow you around for weeks.

But I have to say I am particularly excited about this.

I’ve loved Colenso from afar for a long time.

And as I wrote a while back, I almost joined them 6 years ago and always regretted it didn’t work out [simply because my head was not in the right place after Mum died] … so to be given this chance again is something else.

But the main thing is how they have acted towards me before I joined.

Lots of companies talk a good game when they’re trying to hire you and then – the moment it’s all signed and sealed – turn into demanding, inconsiderate pricks.

While it has only happened to me once, it fucks with your mind.

You doubt your judgement.

You question your decisions.

It’s pretty debilitating.

And yet, while it has been almost 8 months since we agreed to get married, Colenso have been amazing in how they have dealt with me.

One of the big things is how steadfast they’ve been not involving me in stuff till I’m here.

Of course they checked in … but they never gave me work to do, because they didn’t want our first experience working together to be one where I’m the only person on Zoom and 13 hours behind the rest of the team.

And while I would not have minded, I totally get why they wanted that to be the way.

That said, I did want to use the time to get to know the team and I basically had to beg to get that to happen.

Of course it’s not the best way to build any sort of understanding, rapport and relationship with people – so rather than talk about work, we tended to chat about what’s happening in our lives and how we feel about it – which took away any formality and allowed us to start revealing the different sides of each other.

And while I can’t wait to get to know them properly from here on in, I’m happy we have got to a stage where they feel comfortable enough to already call me a range of ‘choice’ names … which means I’ve just saved a week on my typical timings, ha.

While the past 13 months have been a very special time for me both personally [spending so much time with my wonderful family in our new home] and professionally [working with amazing people doing work I never dreamed I would be a part of] I am utterly thrilled to be starting here today.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it won’t all be rainbows and unicorns.

I’m old enough to know there will be plenty of times full of pain, drama, arguing and asshole challenges … but when you work for a place that only has its eye on the work they create, it means everything works out in the end.

For all the tension, scars, arguments and bloody hard fucking work it takes for creativity to be at its sharpest and most dangerous – at least a lot of the time, but not all of the time – once you’ve got it there and let it out into the world, it’s amazing how all the tension, scars and arguing fade away.

Better yet, it’s replaced with excitement, energy and possibility.

OK, and nerves, but even that is in an excited way.

Now I accept this might all sound like bullshit, but it isn’t

I lived it at HHCL, Cynic and Wieden.

It’s why it’s the founding principal behind Uncorporated.

It’s why places like Uncommon, are attracting the biggest names rather than chasing them.

And it’s why a small agency on the other side of the World has consistently played against the very best in the World.

The key word here is consistently.

Not one offs.

Not once upon a time, a long time ago.

I mean doing it day in and day out.

Finding new ways to do old things.

Looking for opportunities where creativity can change outcomes.

Embracing technology to expand the possibilities of creativity rather than just efficiency.

Staying on the path even when you could take short-cuts or potentially crash and burn.

Because in an industry that is increasingly defining success outside of the work they make and the cultural impact it creates, it’s those who let the creativity do the talking who create and attract the most interesting futures.

Not just for themselves. But for clients and culture alike.

So thank you to everyone who helped me get to this place in my career.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me actually get to New Zealand.

And thank you to Colenso for your stupidity in giving me this opportunity.

I will be eternally grateful, even if my new planning gang won’t be.

Right, time for the oldest ‘new boy’ to go cause some chaos.

Have a great day, I know I will.



Obstacles Inspire Creativity …

I am a big believer in putting as few boundaries around creativity as possible.

That doesn’t mean it can ignore the problem it is trying to solve.

I just think the focus should be on solving a clearly defined problem rather than piling on a bunch of additional ‘mandatories’ that are often for no other reason than satisfying someone’s ego within the organisation.

The main reason for my view is because I know when creativity is given the freedom to solve problems, it can do it in the most imaginative and powerful of ways. In my opinion, too many companies are dictating the solution they want from their agencies – which not only means they are robbing themselves of the possibilities creative people could add to their business, they need to take some of the blame in terms of the lack of traction so many of their ads have in culture.

However, as we all know, when it comes to being able to save a client money – they suddenly become far more open to changing their behaviour. The digital and data industries have profited from this approach more than most – and while some of the things they have done are phenomenal, a lot is quite simply, flawed thinking … designed to drive short-term growth at the cost of long term profit.

Please understand, I am not saying digital and data are flawed. I’m saying many of the things digital and data agencies are doing is. From D2C models that are ore about driving commoditisation than distinctive brand value, to CX practices that are often designed to reduce transactional friction than reinforce brand experience through to user-journeys … which are sold as fact but are designed for mass convenience.

I’m not saying there’s not great value in this … when done well, the impact on brand and business can be huge. But too much isn’t done well. Sold as transformative but executed in productised form.

But I digress

You see I recently read a piece about some incredible lateral thinking.

Where creativity didn’t just overcome a huge obstacle that was eagerly embraced by clients with an open mind, but created an outcome that was better than they ever thought possible.

A few years ago, the US Air Force was facing huge budget cuts.

Their technology was out-of-date and the cost to update would place huge pressure on all the other things that needed investment.

Rather than sacrifice, they explored other ways to solve their challenge.

To cut a long story short, they discovered the answer was a SONY Playstation.

1760 Playstation 3’s to be precise.

1760 Playstation 3’s the came together to build the most powerful supercomputer in the entire US Department of Defense.More than that, it was the 33rd most powerful supercomputer in the world.

At the time, it’s performance was unparalleled … able to perform 500 million mathematical operations in one second and analyse over a billion pixels in one minute. Because of this, the Air Force used it to process high-resolution satellite images, identify unclear objects in space and deepen their research into artificial intelligence.

At the time, the Playstation 3 cost about $400 each.

The cost of buying approximately 2000 of the machines meant the entire project was approximately $2 million … which was between 5-10% of the price of a regular supercomputer of similar capability.

Of course to pull this off required a lot of incredibly talented engineers and computer programmers – not to mention open minded senior officers – but the reality was the end result was something that actually advanced their capabilities.

Not an optimised solution.
Not a short-term benefit at a longer term cost solution.
But something better than they had before at a price that enabled them to do the other things they wished to invest in.

So much of what we do is impacted by systems and processes that are designed to validate remuneration.

There’s value in that.

But when it ends up killing possibilities of effectiveness and value … simply because it doesn’t fit into their pre-determined evaluation criteria of an organisation, then you have to ask who is really mad.

The people who can see ways around the impossible, or the ones who want to stop them.



When Is A Logo Not A Logo?

Well I told you I wouldn’t be writing any posts for a while and I have to say, I’m as surprised as you that I managed to stick with it.

Obviously a lot has happened in the past few weeks – including learning how nothing tests how good your family relationships is, like being cooped-up in a small hotel room together for 2 weeks, 24/7 – but we’re happy, excited and up for adventure.

Before I begin, I have to say how amazing the New Zealand organisation is.

So clear, consistent and compassionate.

For someone who had a very privileged covid lockdown period, I was amazed how much it had affected me when I came to a place where I didn’t have to worry about mad decisions and u-turns.

Anyway we got through quarantine, already bought houses and cars [I know, I know] so this week is about stretching our legs, getting Otis a school, ensuring Rosie – the cat – gets to complain as much as she likes and generally getting our bearings of the city before starting at Colenso.

But that’s all for another day, today I want to kick-start the regularity of this blog with this piece of rubbish.

Now I know the re-design of the Burger King logo is not new news.

And neither is what I will be writing about, as I talked about it when it happened.

But while I like many things about the new/old BK design, the thing I like most is how perfect it is for the emoji universe.

Seriously, look at it. It’a the most emoji thing ever.

Sure, I could talk about how clever the B and K fit together.
Sure, I could talk about how I’ve not seen a logo that made me smile since since SONOS.
Sure, I could talk about how it’s as squidgy as sinking your teeth into a Whopper.

But I’m not. I’m going to say how perfectly it would go with other fast food emoji’s already available.

🍔 🍟 🥤

Come on … you so can see it fitting in with that group can’t you.

Now imagine how it could be used to communicate BK’s food menu?

Or, better yet, how it could be used for TikTok/Whatapp order functionality?

Imagine being able to order BK delivery simply by emoji on whatever platform you’re on?

When I was at Deutsch, they tried something like it for Taco Bell using Slack.

Obviously it wasn’t in emoji form and there’s questions how successful it actually was – but it showed there’s more ways to order food than simply going on a website or app.

If that wonderful BK logo was turned into the emoji it begs to be, it could be a really interesting way to drive delivery using the platforms and iconography of culture.

McDonald’s had to pay Travis Scott millions to deepen their connection with culture. BK could do it in an emoji. Their emoji.

OK, I know that is easier said than done and emoji’s are carefully controlled, but given BK’s love of trying to be controversial to be noticed, here is something they could do that has a real benefit and value to all, not just the BK PR department.

Maybe.

I also know some people are slagging the logo off.

Saying it makes the brand look as old as their food or that they need to get their stores looking clean before relaunching their brand design. But apart from those people making the classic mistake of being subjective rather than objective … I’d love to see the work they’ve done recently that proves their actions rather than their words.

God, that was feisty wasn’t it?

I’m definitely back and rested.

But all that aside …

While it’s really nice to see a brand using design to be both distinctive and authentic – versus the corporately beige approach that seems to be the norm for so many – I really hope they see the opportunity for it to be more more than just a static image. Because I have a feeling if they embraced the way culture uses social and platforms, that logo could be more than a branding device, but something that dramatically drives revenue.

You’re welcome BK.