Monday, 29 June 2015

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

A simple point.

A few months ago I was feeling pretty lost in my job hunt. I’d scored a few good internships at great agencies, I’d learned a lot – but I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any internship prospects in the offing.

In short, I didn’t know what to do or where I was going. And it was impacting on my job hunting and on my motivation. How do you keep hunting when you’re not even sure you’re on the right track?

But a couple of friends made a suggestion to me that changed everything. Why limit yourself to one country? There are other places to look after all. Even outside English-native countries, there are many where English is the language of business and of advertising. So why not look?

So I did. I contacted every agency I could find, in France and Belgium and Sweden and Germany and on and on and on. Most of them didn’t even reply. I didn’t care – I was sending 20+ emails every day so I was still getting something back all the time.

One of the best ways to get yourself motivated and start really moving things is to give yourself more challenges. I was running out of agencies to apply to in the UK – and just as important, I was feeling run down by all the rejections and missed chances. Giving myself new options was a breath of fresh air. It multiplied my opportunities and took the edge off the rejections.

It all comes down to changing the game, changing your horizons. Broaden your thinking and you’ll find yourself learning all the things you never knew that you didn’t know.

So if you’re ever feeling a bit stuck, whether in your work life, your personal life, or even just a single problem or issue you have to deal with, broaden the picture. Usually you’ll find that the solution was never that difficult to discover. It’s just that it wasn’t in your vision.

Broaden your thinking and suddenly there are solutions everywhere.

Thursday, 25 June 2015


One of the most successful UK advertising ideas of the last few years is the “Be More Dog” campaign for O2, created by VCCP.

It’s a very simple thought in a way. The main ‘character’ is a cat who acts, talks and thinks more like a dog. That idea sends a powerful message about O2, because, well, a company that claims to be acting more like a dog and less like a cat is an appealing one. It's also a call to action to the audience themselves. In a crowded market of successful campaigns, that's a good way to gain traction.

And that single statement wraps up a lot of meaning in just a few words. It means caring more, doing more, and having more energy. It means having customers who are "adventurous, inquisitive and active". And above all, it means being a company which is more motivated to help people.

It doesn’t hurt that the executions they’ve come up with have been a lot of fun – creative and engaging. Stylistically they have a great tone of voice. And especially, they feel vibrant, adaptive – just what a company that is all about technology and customer service should be.

But the O2 case is an important one to look at, beyond any single creative execution, because it demonstrates a more universal truth: that having that strong initial idea is the first step towards everything else. The “Be More Dog” idea is powerful because it builds a universe of content around it. It’s an idea powerful enough that O2 can keep expanding on it over time, constantly generating new initiatives and strands of thought while remaining within that first framework.

I mean seriously. It just goes on and on. And that's just in film.

Trying to build a strategy without an idea doesn’t get you very far. But with a big idea there’s no limit, because a big idea isn’t limited to a time and a place. Or a type of media. A big idea can go anywhere you want it to.

So if you have a major campaign you’re creating, a new positioning or a new brand messaging, it pays to keep asking yourself, “What’s the big idea?”

(I know, it's a ground-breaking thought!)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gaviscon and the Danger of Making Your Ads Look Like They Were Designed by an Alien

Gaviscon is a brand of indigestion and heartburn treatment. They usually run fairly cheesy, silly ads. This time their pitch is dual relief from both issues. And the message to convey it?

A man in a suit delivering a speech at a wedding, smiling for some reason as he feels heartburn. And then the same man, in the same pose, with the same smile, outside playing football and clutching his stomach as he feels indigestion.

Tell me that’s not odd.

Everything about the ad feels as if it’s either a) designed by aliens, or b) designed for aliens.

To be quite frank the entire build of the image is strange. Apart from the strange smile of the man who we’re supposed to view as in pain, the football scene features him wearing a pink jumper with a football scarf, holding a pristine black and white football. The scarf confuses me more than the rest. Who wears a football scarf to play football themselves?

Answer: aliens, probably.

More seriously, it’s as though the makers of the ad were determined, or perhaps ordered, to paint the scene in the broadest strokes possible. So it comes across as an ad made for children.

(But who knows, perhaps there was a major epidemic in children with both heartburn and indigestion at once that I just haven’t heard about.)

So here’s the point of all this. Don’t let ticking boxes become more important than the ad itself. Simply throwing in concepts and imagery that suggests an idea is not the same as conveying information and convincing people.

I’d love to know the thought process that informed that ad. I’m a little worried that there wasn’t one.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Being Proactive Does Not Mean Having A Positive Opinion About The Concept Of Being Active

If there’s one piece of advice you can get in your career that will never be inaccurate, never be out of date, never cease to be useful, it’s this:

Be more proactive.

There is no real point of proactivity where you can’t keep pushing the boundaries.

It’s why whenever you have a performance review, even if you’ve done a near flawless job in the previous few months, you’ll almost always be told to work on being more proactive.

It’s an annoying answer because you’ll never stop hearing it.

It’s also a useful answer because it has the virtue of always being true.

The point to all this is not to feel bad about not constantly being proactive and inspired. And it’s not to feel bad about the ideas that other people think of that you don’t.

It’s to feel excited because you live in a world packed with innovation and potential – a world you get to be part of.

Feeling good, feeling energised about what you’re doing – that’s the first step to being more proactive.
Here’s one small story from my end. I always want to be more knowledgeable about the work my agency does, and what’s going on in the industries we work for. So I made a point of looking out for news articles on relevant topics, every day.

And, because I like writing, I started sending on news articles I thought were useful or relevant – and most importantly, that interested me – to the team of an account that I wasn’t working on. It wasn’t in my remit, but I enjoyed the experience of finding those stories and sending them over with a quick summary and a line or two of analysis. Soon some of these write-ups were going over to the client themselves.

And before long it was something I was known in the office for doing, and that I was to some degree relied on to do, because while I certainly wasn’t breaking any ground in finding these news stories, it was nonetheless filling gaps in our research coverage and in the all-important area of “showing the client that we know our shit, yo.”

That’s not an example to show how smart I am. It’s actually a very easy task. The challenge isn’t really in the task itself – it’s in finding these chances to learn in the first place.

There are a million ways to be more proactive – it’s an infinity of possibilities.

It’s just all about harnessing your passions and your skills. And then turning that energy into something that has value to other people.

Ikea Thinks Differently

Ikea had a brilliant ad last year. There’s a good chance you saw it. The “Book Book”, a spoof of the breathless, self-involved ads Apple has become known for.

(I just mean that rightly or wrongly, it’s become part of the general consensus. Put down the pitchforks, Apple people.)

It’s a fun spot regardless – check it out here. Quite apart from being a clever takedown of Apple’s perceived self-importance (and the overall obsession within the tech world for declaring minor innovation X to be the beginning of a revolution that will change everything), it’s just perfect for Ikea. As a brand it has always played upon its perceived quirkiness, it’s slightly mad Swedish sense of humour.

(Sidebar: has anyone else noticed that the vast majority of Swedes are slightly mad? In the most positive way possible, but still. Maybe it’s all that pickled herring.)

In any case, the ad is all about the new Ikea catalogue for 2015. And it’s their greatest innovation yet – with “tactile touch technology”, bookmarking, and (my personal favourite) loading pages instantly, with no “lag”.

But it’s not just a fun film. It’s an exercise in soft selling. We’re enjoying the film and each cleverly scripted joke, but every joke is about the catalogue and its features – and Ikea itself.

Ikea has too many varieties of product to sell every one of them in an ad. But we already know what Ikea provides and why it’s useful. All we need once in a while is a nudge, a reminder that Ikea is there.

And, of course, that Ikea is the fun, quirky, 21st century company that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself or the companies around it. Which seems to be something we like.