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


How To Stop The Smallest Minds In The Room Create The Biggest Headaches …

I recently read an article in the Guardian about the launch of the X-Box.

Given the brand has been part of gaming culture for the past 20 years, it’s easy to forget what an achievement this has been for Microsoft.

Let’s remember back then, the brand was far more synonymous with office computer programs than gaming … so to come from such a negative space and place to become the powerhouse it is today, is nothing short of incredible.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Sure, their cause was helped by SONY seemingly forgetting everything that had made the original PlayStation launch so successful … but even with that, Microsoft were still coming from pretty much a standing start.

It’s a great article that’s well worth the read, but there was one part that really stood out to me.

This:

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there …

Where someone chooses to ignore a statement of obviousness and instead, attempts to turn it around so you look like you’re making a potentially dangerous assumption.

Don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t blindly assume common sense is common sense, and – without doubt – there’s been a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions that have ended up being the backbone of ideas and campaigns all around the World, but this sort of behaviour is nothing but an act of petty cowardice.

However, let’s assume for a moment the person who wanted proof that people did expect DVD quality to be better than the crunched-up shit that was on screen, was right.

Let’s assume that we didn’t know that DVD brands had been communicating ‘improved image quality’ to the general public for years.

Even if all that was true, the real issue was still not being addressed.

And that is facts doesn’t mean standards.

So rather than fall into a ‘fact inflation fight’ that no one was going to come out of well – even though I get why they were triggered – they should have asked Mr Petty if the image on the screen reflected the quality of product and performance he – and the company – wanted to globally be associated with?

Quickly followed up by enquiring whether Microsoft had the technology to dramatically improve the current standard of performance?

By doing this, they not only side-step the pointless barrier being placed in front of them and refocused the conversation to values, standards and ambition.

I’ve seen this situation happen so many times.

Where political point scoring derails ambition, potential and standards.

Where the company starts focusing on the ‘minimum viable product’ rather than what could drive the brands perception.

And while these situations have also seen me lose my shit – A LOT – I always remember my Dad telling me the real way to win these sorts of arguments, which is to elevate the discussion to reputational standards not down to petty point scoring.

He was brilliant at it.

Me? I’m still working on it.



If A Video Game Company Can Do It, What’s Your Excuse?

For all the talk about diversity and inclusion being spouted by companies, I don’t see much diversity and inclusion.

I still see companies mainly filled with people like me and where there is diversity, it tends to not be at the management level.

And on the rare occasion that it is, you then see the media go after these people with a zeal rarely seen towards anyone white. Or male.

Of course, diversity is more than simply heritage … though companies often use that as a convenient excuse to not hire People of Colour, ignoring that – SHOCK HORROR – People of Colour can also come from low income areas, have physical disabilities, be members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or have any other number of ‘minority’ characteristics you wish to throw at me … which is why I am so excited by a new video game that deals with diversity head on.

Forza Horizon 5 is a brilliant racing game on XBox.

The graphics are amazing.
They’ve introduced a ‘story’ mode to the game.
And the world you get to explore is almost limitless.

But … and it’s a big but … the really brilliant thing is the level of customisation they allow you to make of your character.

Look at this …

And this …

How amazing is that!

You can customise your identity and add prosthetics.

No doubt, this will cause huge offence to presenters on Fox News for succumbing to ‘wokeness’ which makes it even better … but they’re missing the point in 2 fundamental areas.

1. Being called woke means being called someone who considers the context and needs of others so they can live a similar life in terms of opportunity as you. For me that’s a compliment, not an insult.

2. The option is not to get headlines – though it does, because of its rarity – but to allow people who are minorities, feel seen and valued and celebrated for who they are, not who they aren’t. Anyone who thinks that’s a bad thing to do can basically go fuck themselves.

The gaming industry has a bunch of issues – from how it operates to the storylines of the games it makes – however they seem to be far more committed and focused on making change than so many of the companies who talk about their D&I programs on social media and in magazine articles.

People can accuse Forza Horizon of jumping on the woke bandwagon all they like.

They can shout that they’re only doing it because they don’t want to alienate potential customers.

They can say it’s a ‘one off’ and should be treated as such.

People can say what they like … it’s still more than most have done and will mean far more to the millions of people who have been ignored by companies for decades for no other reason than simply being a bit different to supposedly ‘common’ characteristics.

And I can tell you, that will mean more to them than some press release about a companies D&I program that doesn’t change a damn thing.

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Thank you to James Whatley for letting me steal his screen shots, even though I own the game myself. THAT’s how lazy I am. Not that you didnt know it.



If Everything Is An Experience, You Better Make Yours Great …

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

How important it is.

How it can drive brand value and growth.

How it can create distinction and differentiation in crowded categories.

I’ve also talked about how badly so much of it is done.

That it’s more about consistency than excellence.

That it isn’t a new approach, just a new profit centre.

That many aspire to everything average than some things spectacular.

It blows my mind what some agencies and companies think is ‘an experience’.

Especially when you compare it to people who genuinely ‘get it’.

Whether it’s certain luxury brands or my client, SKP-S in Beijing.

Which is why I love the picture at the top of this page.

At the time, the person on the runway was 62 years old.

SIXTY TWO.

This was taken on the first of 3 nights of performing to 68,000 paying people.

So over 200,000 in total.

In South America.

Think about that for a second.

OK, so the person in question is Brian Johnson … lead singer of rock band AC/DC.

But let’s also remember we’re talking about a group of pensioners.

Literally.

Yes, I appreciate there are all-sorts of factors/considerations/contexts/excuses you could use to explain why they can achieve that sort of response when brands – with all their experience models and big budgets – can’t.

But the one thing AC/DC understand is if you want to keep people coming back, you need to focus on creating a seminal moment for your audience not average consistency.

It’s why I always ask ‘experience strategists’ about their life rather than just their work. I want to know what their frame of references are for experience. Because frankly – and I appreciate I’m being a massive snob here – if it doesn’t include festivals, theatre, art, music, retail, museums … then I don’t know if we’re ever going to share the same ambitions.

Because while I appreciate ‘average but consistent’ has value to some organisations, I would rather drink bleach than advocate that as a brand goal.

Not simply because I have an aversion to average.

But because when you do experience right – which means knowing who you are and who your customers are – the profits extrapolate. See, I’m not totally selfish.



Finally A Brand Experience That Stands Out From The Crowd …

As funny as the photo above is, the reality is it’s still a better brand experience than much of what passes for good brand experience these days.

Hell, if I was shopping there and saw that sign, it would make me smile, which is more than a lot of brands and their experience strategies achieve.

I’ve said it before but too many companies mistake basic interaction as brand experience. Or worse, think that by simply removing friction from the purchase process, they’re building a good brand experience.

Seriously, how boring and self-centred must their lives be to think that?

If done well, brand experience can be a huge thing.

And by well, I don’t mean making bad, average – or creating a consistent base-line standard across the company – I mean making the things that actually matter to audiences, personal and valuable … or focusing on the key things audiences think you actually do well and pushing that so the experience can become something that is almost seminal so people want to share, repeat and shout about.

I wrote about this a while ago [here and here, for example] … but it still blows my mind how many companies and agencies approach experience in terms of not getting left behind when they should be seeing it as an opportunity to move ahead … a chance to leave their competition looking slow, rather than themselves.

And before people say this approach would cost more money, it doesn’t. Or it doesn’t have to. It’s all about defining the experience you want to create.

Given a badly placed store sign next to some condoms gave me a better brand experience than so many of the systems, processes and strategies brand experience promotes, it’s safe to say the discipline may need to start understanding what people give a shit about rather than what they wish they did.



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.