Never mind the Botox

Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxic protein produced by a bacterium. Infection with this bacterium can result in a fatal disease called botulism. What we might call an old school type of disease.

Don’t look up the symptoms for this if you’ve been working on a big pitch this week.

The toxin is also produced commercially, one form you may know as Botox.

A bad thing, rethought, re-engineered, repositioned, renamed, repackaged, branded and marketed becomes a good thing.

If botulism can be made sexy, then why can’t we sort out insurance, banking, finance, air travel?

There is talk about taking risks or being risky. Mainly in advertising. Also other disciplines like branding or marketing. Quantitive based or measured work.

We are talking adverts. On the telly.

Botox isn’t on the telly though. Yet. Not on the channels I watch anyway.

It works by word of mouth and the clinics that provide it. It has an air of exclusivity yet everyone knows about it. And most can afford it. A bit like Marks & Sparks back in the day.

Any advertising agency, however risky or smart, will never be able to do anything more than improve the metrics on a business. That’s what the client wants.

I think the new risk in agencies is saying “Bollocks to that” and making a difference with what brands do. Not just how they look or sound. More than memorability. Where they can change the game.

I’m not talking about every FMCG tin of beans. More if VW had done that properly the first time.

What if we thought about stuff before it even got into the brief for an ad?

How about Cigarette packaging done properly. How about giving up smoking done properly. Have our cakes and eat them too. Why not?

A democracy. Why don’t we have the anti-smokers use positioning. What are they instead of, not just not doing something? Could you use humour? If we’re not embarrassed to buy condoms and sex toys then why are we not embarrassed that we are killing ourselves?

Why don’t we have warnings on credit cards? “You need to pay this back”.

Contactless isn’t contactless. So not everyone knows how to use it. Sort it out.

Car insurance sucks. We still get charged for the same amount we paid for the car, if we’ve still got it three years later. Premiums go up. If you’re unlucky to have your pride and joy stolen – well, put it this way you’ll change your view. The only way to save money is change provider. Everyone preys on your inertia.

Banking sucks. Airlines suck. Guess what, business people don’t tend to pay for themselves, the basic lot do. Who do you think will be your best advocates?

Charities and government is a mess. Emergency services advertising on police cars, ambulances and fire engines.

Yet, we can advertise Orange Tango and get the entire country talking about it. Rightly or wrongly. Even though that was back in 1992.

If the client’s got the proverbial balls then being risky is devilishly fun.

Being different makes sense when it is a natural output of genius.

Opposition or difference for positioning’s sake is kinda stupid.

No-one is putting their hand in blender right now. Being ‘first to market’ with that one probably wont pay off.

It’s well over 10 years since 118 118 made you remember something you didn’t know you cared about (the new number for 192). That was just an advert.

Imagine what we could do if applied our collective thinking towards something worthwhile.

It’s 40 years ago since the daring Sex Pistols were on TV, swearing. Risky.
Now Johnny Rotten’s TV appearances are for dairy products.

Is that risky or a load of …? never mind.

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The secret life of men

I was somewhat shocked (and late in the day) to hear Rosie Arnold had finally left BBH. Let’s hope she shines in her new role at AMV/BBDO. She called it a “soft landing”. Tiger Savage (probably the best name in any industry, let alone advertising) has this year launched her own “shop” with husband Will King (of shaves). As Dylan said “The times they are a changin”.

Savage has always had a colourful reputation and is a formidable force. Arnold always struck me more of a mentor, a facilitator. Both showed you could reach almost the top in remarkable companies. As a woman. Judging by statements and interviews, this was and is a big deal.

Tamara Ingram (a woman), the CEO of JWT recently said there was a need for “blind recruitment” and a need for “street savvy” people. For me, this is more of that elusive thing: common sense.

Women don’t need to jump out of aeroplanes anymore to demonstrate they can cope with their period. Neither do they need to list their hobbies as ‘fast cars and football’ to prove they are as macho as the testosterone heavy lads sinking pints in the pub.

The reality is the old advertising model was founded by men. The M&C that Tiger did her time with. The B,B & H that Arnold did hers. All of the big group company firms I’ve worked for were headed by men, if not definitely internationally. I’ve worked with some amazing people, in different professional persuasions, who also happened to be women.

The hardest working, smartest person I ever met, was a woman.

I find it sad that if it’s true in these big organisations there is still a glass ceiling against the female.

Unfortunately any meritocracy is flawed due to it being a sensible thing to do.

There will always be a reason if you allow it to be. Too young, too old. Too smart, overeducated.

Advertising and the marketing fields like branding that emulate the long gone 80s coke at work and Porsche 911s “masters of the universe” vibe, are most likely, masters and not mistresses.

Politics are inevitable, however you don’t have to contribute to them.

The irony of the resurgence of the “Street-smart” (or savvy) means a nod to the Dave Trott’s and the John Hegarty’s of this world. Who are both in their seventies now.

Style is transferable. Substance is a harder one to fake.

When I was a kid, my father would say a certain person was brilliant socially but a pain in the arse to work with. That was then. Nowadays, especially working in media which ought to be fun, why can’t we be the people we’d like to meet in the pub, as well as the boardroom. Not just sitting next to yourself on a plane like some Kissinger Economist advert.

One of the answers to this is just cutting out the bullshit. If we stopped looking at people from 40,000 feet like experts, spent more time employing great people (not to satisfy demographics) and didn’t tolerate territorialism, sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia or anything that allowed bullying. Wouldn’t that be a start?

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Brand flakes™

As is often the case with clients, agencies will offer: “Brand is the answer. Now what’s the question?” You probably wouldn’t go to a hip replacement specialist for a nose job. Many companies similarly claim to be holistic or ‘media neutral’.

Sometimes though, the more important the client or the bigger the budget – the more pressure to win or keep the job. The old favourites come out to play. The pyramids, the onions, the death by spider charts. My brand fox was meant as a joke, it is still referenced.

The real golden question, which needs a bit of foreplay first is “What do you want to achieve?”

If you can understand that – then you can think a fresh way.

This is not about metrics or market share, process, EBITDA, churn, big data, content or 2x2s.

Any more than it is about disruption or magic.

It’s about common fucking sense.

Vision and mission are redundant if you need to display them to the outside world.

As is talking about people as your best assets. As is stating the bleeding obvious.

If your vision is just as easily applied to Cornflakes or someone else other than you, no matter what sector, something along the lines of: “to be the number one in innovation and to provide the best product for our clients” – then I’d seriously ask yourself “What is the point?”

Anal brand architecture self congratulatory thinking changed Kellogg’s CocoPops to “Choco Krispies”. Which lasted all of five minutes before someone else slapped that person and changed it back to what people had been buying forever.
I know what I’d rather have a bowl of. So did everyone else.

You see, no-one gives a fuck about your branding. It’s owner is not the client or the agency.
It’s the people buying it, buying into it, using it, talking about it.

Advertising is not some government NLP exercise. There is no magic.

There’s style, substance. Form and function.

If you connect people to what they want, then bingo!

If you can persuade people to try your similar product to the one they were about to buy, then that’s tasty. Tasty. Very, very tasty.

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An unoriginal thought

Belief is what we don’t know.
Knowledge is what we learn.
Intelligence is the quality and quantity of what we know.
Faith is extreme belief in the absence of tangible fact.
78% of statistics are made up, you know the rest.

That Socrates bloke, he liked to question things, back in 400 BC.

Over a thousand years later, Descartes coined the phrase “I think therefore I am”.

Lazy old Steve Jobs came piggybacking along in the 21st century too, thinking.

I was reading a book on the tube the other day when someone said “I used to be a graphic designer but I gave it up – everything’s been done”.

Well, according to the great and the good there is no such thing as originality in advertising. Any designer, writer or director will have heard those inspiring words “been done”.

Once in the professional environment we do need to learn the rules, before we
can break them.

It is an industry full of contradiction, there are no rules- but often what follow are loads
of rules to prove just that.

Being different for the sake of it, without the learning is as ambitious or futile as reacting to Picasso’s blue period, forsaking the context and relevance of the work, let alone the work that went before it.

Philosophy, fashion, art, music, things – often advance by questioning or reacting to things that went before. After all there wouldn’t be much point having neo-classicism if there hadn’t been classicism. Great comedians, musicians, artists seem to be unaware of this unoriginal stigma.

Hirst is a genius, reinventing something whilst often making simple reference rather than homage to the kind of momento mori and semiotics of the renaissance.

Peter Cook, Jobs, Deadmau5, Verdi, Mozart – all genius heroes of mine. Along with Malcolm McLaren, mainly because I just liked his style and also because he was a master of invention and reinvention.

Constantly reinventing oneself is a task.

Assuming the naivety of a child is one way. Question everything, question the question.
Sounds great in the memoirs of an old sage, harder to do in the boardroom of Tesco.

People value the smart, the clever. It’s nice to be agreed with.
What’s the difference between being smart and a smart-arse?

Consider the source, great thought will often be uncomfortable.
Self belief will mean not following the herd.

Confidence ought not spill to arrogance and ought not derive from ignorance.

A pursuit of the simple is often a good approach. It’s the different between ‘but’ and ‘and’.
Its the difference in being curious or suspicious. Sceptical or a cynic.

Parents understand the gestalt and the illusion of choice. “Do you want pizza or an ice-cream?” They understand that “Wasting time” is better than “hurry up”. That “Silly” is better than “stupid”.

Children don’t understand why naming a goldfish ‘Hotdog’ is genius.
Because they don’t want to be a genius. Or heralded as a genius.
They are happy with a laugh or simply getting their own way.

Until we have to be the parent, we can be the child.

We can take the world in around us. We can wonder “Why?” and “Why not?”

My Dad used to get me to hang upside down with him on the sofa and we were suddenly in “upside down land”.  Being smart isn’t necessarily coming up with another app for something no-one wants. It’s looking at the everyday in a way that no-one has looked at
it before. We don’t need to be clever or smart for the sake of it.

If you want to be a millionaire make something that people want.

If you want to be happy find something to do that you love.

If you want to be the best work out what you can lead the market in.

If you desire all three then good luck.

Sometimes unlearning is as simple as changing your perspective.

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How stuff works

Art, especially the modern kind is about subjective expression.

The greats are often apparently self-indulgent, you’re not always meant to understand things.

Design is about order. If the thing is not in the right place, then it’s in the wrong place.

Advertising is an exhibition of your offer or promise which gives you something to act upon.

Normally, this means buying the thing.

Marketing is positioning the thing. PR is creating a buzz about the thing. Branding is about labelling and creating intellectual associations with the thing.

Humans are a narcissistic bunch. We’re often looking for mirrors, for reassurance.

Recognition – in all senses of the word.

We find confirmation in ourselves by creating computer systems in our own image.

We rate power in terms of memory. Memorable things are powerful.

We seek emotional connection to things be it music, fine art, poetry, comedy, film, reality, others.

I’ve always found it amazing that the same few notes or bars played since harpsichords were cool, clustered together can be so evocative. Some people relish the complex, the layered – others the stripped back, austere, essential. Minimal. Whatever flicks your switch.

I imagine in the 19th century when John Pemberton, Mr Coca-Cola, was still one man and a stand proclaiming “Roll up, roll up”: things were personal, you bought from the man.

He would have persuaded you, propositioned you, seduced you with his marvellous medicinal compounds – he would have sold you.

100 years later and you can’t possibly scale that level of humanisation to every supermarket, vending machine, advert, can. Which is probably why branding companies often like to emulate the human. They traditionally provide the vision, mission, values. The tone of voice. The personality.

The trouble is there isn’t necessarily such a thing as good or bad things, not in terms of all this intellectualising of things. There is style, content, and relevance. You can’t stand next to the product, any more than an artist would need to explain or even stand next to a painting.

The taste test is down to you and your preferences. Adults know that they like.

No-one was ever seduced or persuaded on process. No-one ever got laid on personality alone.

Those that don’t understand Picasso, I guarantee, often know something you don’t.

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel then.

Any great piece of communication is seeking parity.

They don’t give a fuck if you love it or hate it.

All they are saying is: “Is this you?”

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Success has many fathers

“That’s been done before” is probably up there with my most annoying phrases.

Probably by the sort of savant like people that take pleasure in clustering logos together to create some sort of gamut based pie chart. About as helpful as trying to get a system that wins on the horses or the lottery numbers. If we stare at it long enough – it’ll make sense.

I’m sure people with moustaches have been used in advertising before.

I’m sure that celebrities were used before.

I’m sure that someone got hit in the face with a joke frying pan before.

Sudoko is a one man sport, as are crosswords as are word searches.

However when the answer isn’t always in front of you – teamwork prevails.

In writing, in creativity, making in that stuff-fest we call media.

Giving your ideas away is one of the fastest ways to generate more.

Yes, there will be seminal moments when you have an epiphany,

but beyond that, even the hat-trick scorer needs his own goalie to come off the line.

So the next time you hear about someone excruciatingly important telling people

about something they weren’t even in the same building, let alone room for.


For those that mind, don’t matter. And those that matter, don’t mind.

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The tale of ‘Kipper’


Dave’s having a pint in his local pub when he sees this guy holding court and making everyone laugh. He says to his mate “who’s that?” – “That’s Kipper” says his mate. They carry on drinking. “Well, why don’t I know him” says Dave. “What? you don’t know Kipper? he’s a legend geez, he knows everybody” “Everybody?” “Yes, fucking everybody geez, he’s Kipper. What a legend”. So Dave joins the group and makes acquaintances with Kipper. “Is it true you know everybody?” says Dave. “Yes mate” says Kipper. “Who are you?” says Dave. “I’m Kipper”. So after a few more beers Dave’s getting a bit of courage and he says to Kipper “Look, Kipper, I’m sorry mate, but this is just a little local boozer, if you know everybody, why the hell aren’t you somewhere better?” Everyone stops laughing. Kipper says: “It’s OK, tell you what if you and a couple of lads fancy it we’ll go have a nose up in town if you want”. So he talks into his mobile and says “Driver”. Within seconds a black Phantom Rolls Royce pulls up and Nigel Mansel is driving it with the gear on and the hat etc.

Kipper and Dave get in the back with some lads and Dave says: “Kipper, your driver is Nigel fucking Mansel?” “yeah mate” says Kipper. Nigel turns round and says “mate, Kipper is a total legend geez, he turned it around for me. sorted this motor, got me back on track. And he’s a gentleman too. I love him”. “That’s amazing” says Dave and they carry on. A few back doubles later and they pull up to the Wellesley. “Alright Kipper” says the doorman and they move to a VVIP back area off the bar. “This is fucking impressive I’ve never been in here before” says Dave. “There’s more to life than being flash mate, people are important” says Kipper. “Fucking hell, he is a nice bloke, I can see why he seems to know everyone” thinks Dave. “But, then again, I mean I could hire that car and a look alike and blag it into some gaffs if I wanted”. Just then Richard Branson walks in with some Japanese businessmen “Ahh Kipper, good to see you, I’ll email you that thing later yeah” says Branson and goes about his business. “What do you do then?” asks Dave. “You’re asking the wrong questions my friend” says Kipper and orders a dirty martini. “You know Kipper invented that drink in NYC” says the barman as he brings it over. “How the fuck have I gone through life never hearing of this fucking Kipper geeza?” thinks Dave and drinks his drink.

“Why are you called Kipper then?” asks Dave. “It’s just a name mate” says Kipper “don’t think about it too much”. “Right, come on, drink up we’re offski” says Kipper and they go outside. “Wow, Kipper, I’ve never driven a Rolls Royce before” says Dave “Can I have a go?”. “Yeah sure” says Kipper. “I tell you what, it’s a big car, but take it down the Mall – it’s a wide road there”. “Cool!” says Dave and he jumps in the driver’s seat. They go round Hyde Park Corner and loads of people are waving at the car. As he passes Buckingham Palace he sees the Queen and she puts her hand to the side of her face making a phone shape and mouths: K-I-P-P-E-R.

Dave is having his head melted by now and pulls over in disbelief towards Trafalgar square.

“You must be a copper or SAS or MI5” says Dave. “Don’t be bloody silly mate” says Kipper. And they head to St Martin’s Lane. Kipper’s mobile goes off and he has a short sharp conversation in Russian. “You’re a gangster then, fucking underworld” says Dave. “That was just a pal of mine, I picked up a bit of Russian, no biggy, not all foreigners are bent you know geez, stop stressing” says Kipper. “I tell you what, I know what you need” says Kipper and they go to Stringfellows.

“Kipper!!” says Peter Stringfellow as they enter “Couple of bottles of bubbly and a Grey Goose for the Kipper” he says and Dave beckons over his fantasy woman. “It’s free if you’re with Kipper” she says “And if no-ones looking you can be naughty later” and slips Dave a piece of folded up paper.

Just then there’s a big commotion in the next booth. It’s only fucking Jay-Z and Beyonce. “Yo Kipper!” shouts Jay-Z. “Listen thanks for that tip on the new tune bro” he says to Kipper. “Fucking hell Kipper!” says Dave. Kipper raises his eyebrow: “Chill”.

“I’m flying B to Europe tonight on my jet Kipper, having a party, all the old school dudes will be there, get in my G6 Kipper” says Jay-Z. “Fancy that?” says Kipper to Dave. “Errr….yeah, but..” he stutters. “Mate, clothes, passport, the essentials. give me your postcode and I’ll sort it” says Kipper.

“Kipper, you are fucking awesome” says Dave. So they party all night, and predictably meet lots of people that Dave thinks are great and cool and amazing. None’s got a bad word to say about Kipper. He really is the man. Pretty soon they’re on the G6 and off to Rome to pick up some mates. They get escorted straight off the plane and round through security and soon they’re in St Peter’s square, by the Vatican in the morning sun. It’s amazing. It almost brings a tear to Dave’s eye. He looks up to see who people are
waving at. He sees a guy in long white robes who looks really important.
“FUCK OFF KIPPER!” says Dave. “You can’t tell me you know THAT person”. “Who?” says Kipper. “The bloke in the white…is that the…” says Dave. To which Kipper replies; “you mean the geeza stood next to Jon Edge?”

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