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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A friend of mine, a successful comedy writer once told me: I couldn’t write comedy.

I won’t name names. Anyway, my mate, let’s call him Nigel Coen who writes the Mighty Boosh probably had a point. I concede there’s more to being funny than saying “ball bag” in a silly voice.

After all there’s a huge difference being the funniest guy in the pub and getting your own show on Channel 4. Let alone playing the 02. The trouble with being a creative though, is we are often frustrated comedians or to put it another way, we like to laugh at our own smug jokes.

Because we have worked with different sectors and things, it can make you believe you are an expert. You can believe your own baloney.

It’s easy to get seduced into the black pencils and ivory towers, to forget you are just another matey walking in the supermarket. Looking for loo roll and fancy milk to impress your impending possible one night stand. Ever wondered why you don’t find some comedians remotely funny?

Ever wondered why people don’t like adverts? Maybe it’s because comedy and advertising are inextricably linked to the concept of believing that most people actually give a shit.

There’s lots of factors in understanding demographics. Emotional intelligence and empathy. My Dad said “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”. Which is good advice, because you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes. Advertising, like comedy dances a jig between popularity and originality. But should popularity be the end result? If there is difference between engaging, remembering and parting with our hard earned cash – then it’s a resounding NO.

Clicks can be measured, Facebook shares can be made – but only if we buy the thing is it successful. Perhaps we need to get in touch with the audience, even realise WE are the audience.

The late John Webster was a genius at plugging into what was considered then “popular culture”.  Witty, playful, sometimes edgy. Whether it was The Guardian’s skinhead, a lager loving bear or instant mash obsessed aliens – he nailed it. Dave Trott, a living legend and one of Webster’s proteges says that “Roughly 90% of advertising is forgotten”. Leaving a 10% of remembered adverts or messages that we hate or love.

That is unsurprising if you spend any time in reality. However surely that statistic is fuel to the creative realm to make outstanding new material. This isn’t about mimicking comedy, but plugging back into the now. Without the need to use words like “zeitgeist” or “vernacular”.

Thinking about proper observations not just insights. Context, clarity and relevance.

Maybe we need to change our material then, instead of the techniques. Advertising is not about entertainment, being funny, funny, witty or shocking. Not for the sake of it. It’s a by-product of great writing and conception. The objective is to connect the thing to the person, and then get the fuck out of the way. In the most relevant way possible. Positioning. Make you buy it not just like it. Who gives a monkey’s about popularity if you are always in the friend-zone?

Most stand up comedians use a repetitive technique called a “call back” which means they segue back to their main point or topic – or opener. Great comedians use observational comedy so that you feel a connection, a relevance. Popular comedians are going to be inoffensive and talk about silly things. Bill Hicks was so edgy he was banned for his pertinence.

I’m not suggesting if you’re writing the next DFS ad it should be banned. But then again…

My dear old amazing Mum doesn’t go to Iceland, but likes Michael MacIntyre – who’s shit.

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What is creativity?

Do you find that lots of people are obsessed with the word ‘creative’ ?

It’s been overdone with job titles now for a while, and now its become a noun and an adjective, even a superlative. The dictionary states something along the lines of ‘originality and imagination’.

So, if everyman and his proverbial dog are being creative, where does that leave agency land?

Back many years ago, when the creative departments used to be in numbers of 50+ not 5,

it was simple. We were big enough to have tribal floors of creatives. It was a role, not a status.

We wore stupid clothes and looked like we’d been up all night – because we probably had.

We had another department of artworkers to back us up. In reality the producers and planners used to keep to themselves, the consultants used to wear thick rimmed glasses and swan down to a meeting room on our floor. We encountered each other at lunch and we knew where we worked.

Admittedly the pinstripe brigade would be pinging their CVs off to one of those management consultancies where they could talk about ‘flowing like a river’ and scratching their chins.

The artworkers where content to scratch their arses, happy in the knowledge with all that overtime they were mainly rocking Rolex’s and better cars than us prats in it for the love, for the art of it, with no overtime.

We knew you need to know the rules, before you break the rules. You have to learn the craft, the detail, like a martial arts kata where one day you catch yourself doing it so naturally, you don’t even think about it. At this point we tend to be one of two people: We either become moved to tears by bin bags dancing in the wind to Debussy OR we wake up like Neo in the matrix and proclaim all the strategy mumbo jumbo bullshit as just that. Bollocks.

You see even in the big tech data era of ‘content’ (IOUs) – there is still a need for genuine stuff, copy, image, things, how about ideas. Otherwise it’s cart before horse, form before function, style before content.

It takes more than a pair of Maharishi trousers to wear the pants in the creative environment.

It takes innovation, original ideas, a track record and the desire to get your bollocks out (not necessarily literally – although I have seen this happen) a lot of the time if not every day.

Which is why the smart people realised a lot of the great ideas in all the big agencies come from the creative department. Which is why those that used to parade in pinstripe are now dressing in tight casual clothing, still rocking the glasses. Now talking about ‘creativity’ every sentence.

Cannes lions is awash with creativity and for the past few months the term “street smarts” has reared its head as the future of the agency.

Which if it’s true – could mean creatives stop making art for other creatives and we see a genuine upsurge in talent and train of thought. Form from function. The gestalt. The “sell”, always a dirty word to the true artist. But if we’re not artists, then we can get on with it and be creative.

Even long after another new word re-appropriated comes along.

Which is why I’ve decided to bin all my last 3 years posts and start again.

That was then, this is now

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