Being an ex-English student, I know a little about words. How they can illuminate, beguile, inform and (perhaps most importantly) thoroughly thoroughly confuse people. (Anyone who has ever sat through a Postmodernism or Structuralism lecture knows what I'm talking about).
And it's this last point I wanted to blog about today. Yes, it's time for me to take my spelling Nazi hat off and put the language Nazi hat on.
More specifically, in house language - that is to say, how ad agencies/marketeers talk internally (sparked by reading this article co-written by Gareth Kay).
These days, it seems that both parties have borrowed a turn of phrase from the masters of bullshit. Yes, the management consultant. I've heard the following at various places:
'How can we best incentivise the consumer to purchase the variant?'
'We really need to drill down into this problem'
'So how can we own the sector?'
'All I want.....is to break down the underlying paradigm'
Nonsense, isn't it?
How in God's name can we hope to understand real people if we talk in such a bloody stupid manner?
Don't worry, this disease isn't that wide spread...yet. That said, I don't want to have to break out the bullshit bingo cards (which we actually did in a former, non advertising job of mine) if I can help it.
And while I'm not wholly convinced by the notion of not calling consumers consumers (in fact, any term you give them won't cover all the bases if you are referring to people who buy your product or service) or not referring to 'brand' because it's been exhausted, there's definitely room in the industry for being as straightforward when talking internally.
Planners, I think (and yes, I include myself in this camp) are incredibly culpable, if they let their heads get away from them. As Rob notes, spending time with just planners isn't healthy - not saying that they aren't lovely, but you lose touch with people who a) don't live in London and b) don't obsess/care about brands and branding. It's a defence mechanism, but one which should be shed - I would hate to be carted out as a planning stereotype, the 'clever one' who is brought in to sprinkle a little intellectual fairy dust on things. And it's not going to happen, if I can help it. I'm going to be straight forward.
Indeed, language is why I like thesesites. Both make you acutely aware of the fallacies of misusing words and generally being out of touch with reality.
And yes, there are times that a complex, multi-faceted word has to be used. But if it doesn't, pay attention to Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language. Speak to me in a language which is used by normal people, and cut out the unneccessary verbosity.
I think the best advertisers and marketeers instinctively get this, and realise that language doesn't have to err on the over-simplistic side; if used correctly, it can create worlds in people's minds. And surely that's what we all want?
NB: The bunny comes from a random story. Check it out. It's bloody interesting.
No, I didn't look like this when I was younger, sadly. I was far fatter.
Yes readers, it's time for my annual (or monthly) blog post about how blogging changes you, and how the theme of your blog changes with you.
This post was sparked by a conversation I had with Mr Punk Planning himself; we had a really interesting discussion about blogging, life, the universe, mid 90's Premiership footballers, setsquares, and everything in between.
I left the conversation thanking God I hadn't started blogging when I was much younger. Any self-regulatory skills I may have now weren't really all there then. My generation is the first one where we have everything documented, tagged, written about and generally publicised. Citizen journalism, it seems to me, leaves you nowhere to hide.
Also, I really don't like the notion of a 'Plannersphere Mafia' either, where if you don't blog you aren't good at your job, or you have nothing to say - some people just value their personal and professional privacy more than others, which is fine. Easy to understand as well, when blogging demolishes the public/private debate - the whole world can peer in if they wish.
And I found that I'm more divided than I thought on the topic of blogging. On the one hand I like the fact that I can write my point of view, meet with incrediblyintelligentthinkers either virtually or in real life, and hell, get a job in part due to what I write here (the latter is bloody great, in fact), but, being pessimistic for a moment, it means I have nowhere to run. Thank goodness I work in advertising, where wearing silly Wall St inspired fancy dress is positively encouraged (especially in some modern day agency briefings, it would seem).
I sometimes resent people being able to learn about me and how my thinking has evolved - after all, this is just a storage box for thinking, which in itself is continually changing - there's the worry that someone will read something I've written in mid-2006 and take it as read that I still think the same (I've finally dropped the notion that the world is flat, for example).
Perhaps I should add more of a disclaimer before people enter the site? Heh. No, I'll continue to blog and write about things I enjoy and find interesting.
Going forward from the conversation I had with Charles, I had a rude awakening the other day about how if someone is one of my Facebook friends, they can find out all sorts of things. It happened when someone added me (don't worry, my privacy settings are set appropriately) who I didn't know. Not thinking about it, I accepted their invitation. Happily, it was a name I knew (lost in the mists of time), but it might not have been - it could have been a spammer or someone else.
It got me thinking to be careful who I add and who I don't. The danger is that you get carried away with being super-social and lose sight of your personal security, and personality in general - ie, you become so stretched that you lose sight of your core values.
I don't mind people knowing what I'm doing, but sometimes it's nice to make mistakes in private. And I'm sure I'll make one or two (or a hatful) as I continue to grow up, both personally and professionally. Over-use of Twitter seems to be one at the moment - it's the social equivalent of comfort eating for me.
You see, my blog isn't quite a warts and all expose of what I did on a Sunday, nor a highly polished, professional manifesto or online CV. It attempted to be the latter in the beginning, but I realised that it's just not human, or honest.
Additionally, I'm not a planning director, nor am I attempting to solve the industry's problems with this blog. I'm just projecting a series of ever changing thoughts and ideas, throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some things re-emerge over time, but by and large, it's what I've just thought, off the top of my head (it's also why it's not that well written, to be honest).
All this bloggery/self promotion/communication is what it is. And it's nice to show on the blog/facebook/twitter that I am a 'real' person away from the day job, even if I might talk too much sometimes.
Indeed, it'll be fascinating to imagine what business is general will be like in the next twenty years, with the rise of these people who've gone through a similar process to me. Personally, I think those who are willing to self publish will help push the boundaries of what's out there, and those who don't will be a little bit more reluctant to early-adopt newer things. Neither is bad, it must be stressed again. Interestingly, all the bloggers that I've met, without question, are keen to use technology to improve the world, and use every form of communication to help widen their knowledge.
Charles nails it here when he says that "there really is no better social research than socialising." And I've got to agree. It's helped me grow up a lot in the last year and a bit.
This is where I used to go swimming when I was little. There's a pool inside and out now..
Well, I had a lovely long weekend planned. But oh no. Global warming intervened.
It began at 4pm on Friday. After having too many teas/talking large amounts of rubbish in the Breakfast Club, I went back to my flat to prepare to go home.
Got a call from my folks. Ah, so that little bit of flash flooding in London (lasted about 10/15 minutes) has actually been going on all day. Oh dear.
Still, like a mug, I went to Paddington to pick up my tickets. No dice.
Not really surprising when you think that this was the situation Saturday morning. Yes, Pershore is about 10 minutes from my house at home (in fact, it's where I went to school when I was a wee nipper).
Compounding my status as a mug, I tried again. Still nothing (click this link to see what the train line looked like - picture twelve). However, watching the massive scrummage to get on the Bristol train was a joy to behold, and fully restored my faith in small, determined elderly people who got their way through with the odd cheeky elbow.
Upton Upon Severn. Nicked from the BBC (Daniel Berehulak), usual rules apply.
And it got worse. Upton Upon Severn, for those who click on the link and learn about it, is again, about 10 minutes away from where I live. It's where my Grandma used to live. Happily, she doesn't any more, or that house would be a write off (as it is, it can't get insurance any more, as it floods so frequently).
So no, I didn't go home this weekend.
And it's still pretty bloody terrible near where I live (Worcester/Gloucester border, quite near Tewkesbury). Some people I know have no fresh water or electricity. Here's hoping the emergency services can help.
Things like this make you realise that it's all very well to worry about the environment, and global warming, but we need to DO SOMETHING. I'm as ignorant as the next person, but when something like this happens on a local level, it should serve as a sobering wake up call.
No bullshit. Just listen to the scientists, and get prepared for more monsoons - lessons must be learned.
And yes, family Humphrey are just fine. Albeit a bit shaken and concerned by it all. This is fairly dark stuff for a Monday - don't worry, I shall resume more advertising/nonsense writing shortly.
If you believe some of the figures, there's never been a tougher time to work in an advertising agency. Take a look at this article. And with the likes of the cheeky Zeroinfluencer and his new project (detailed here by Bowbrick), branded entertainment is coming to the fore, allowing people to choose what they'd like to see in the next episode.
Well, I've met the erstwhile Mr Bausola. He's not a frightening man (unless he's just missed Happy Hour). And I applaud him for what he's doing. I think it's the future. And a hearty well done to Ford as well - kudos for rising to the challenge;I doubt it's a coincidence that the last few Ford TV spots have been a lot more thoughtful and provocative. In fact, have a look yourself:
But I want to move away from the (frankly boring) debate about advertising's effectiveness. I'm firmly (and you'd expect as much, considering the title of this blog) in the camp that well produced, planned and above all, interesting work will stimulate a positive response.
But the nature of the work is changing. Indeed, the title of this post is deliberately misleading - I think a lot of advertising agencies and clients will have to wake up to the new worlds that Imagination and co talk about. But at the same time, for some products and services, it may not be the right approach. It's just another way to positively provoke your audience, and one which (I think), is dead right for Ford - who needs another car shot and overarching promises? Far better to entertain first and tie it into a bigger brand thought, a la Honda.
The fact of the matter is, though margins may be tighter, and the likes of TV spend are at a 5 year low, I don't think there's ever been a more exciting time to be working in the business (NB: This is said by every idealistic 23 year old planner, I'm sure). It's like the advent of technicolour; I can now view the world in a new way, and I don't think that's an overstatement.
Out goes the plannery wank that many would use to sell a strategy; I believe Roland Barthes has a lot to answer for when it comes to the advertising community - I don't think I can tolerate sitting through a creative review where signs, symbols and bastardly signification comes up (yes, I had to endure a year of that in first year English - bet you think you dodged a bullet there, eh?).
No, it's slowly being condensed into stories. Stories which will entertain, sell and be relevant (though don't get me wrong - the latter will be bloody difficult to pull off - and that's where a good agency/client relationship comes in).
Instead of being constrained by a 30 second spot, new world agencies can create the narrative. Stimulating, relevant stories which both drive up commerce and allow agencies to flex that creative muscle. And, speaking as a planner, it means that my brand ideas can truly be a strategy, rather than some stop gap solution which is discarded at the same time as the agency is dispensed with.
No, there isn't any smoke without fire. The old model is under threat. But I sincerely hope that the new one will retain the most important elements of the old - creating big brand ideas - with a much more dynamic and stimulating approach. And that we lose this 'seeing ads as advertising people' belief - you are a person. So is your audience. So treat them like that; if you don't, it looks like you'll be out of a job.
Above: England's finest celebrating a goal. Picture via hout7.
This has been sparked by a few conversations I've been having; it's a response of sorts, so bear with me.
As I'm sure I've mentioned on this blog before, I talk a lot. Sometimes, this can be misinterpreted as being a wee bit arrogant, or not listening properly. I wish I could stop talking so much, but it's bloody difficult (and I hope I'm neither arrogant nor a bad listener).
Anyway, I was thinking about this a bit more - why do I talk so much? Why do some people clam up in conversations?
When it comes to the latter, I don't think it's down to a lack of passion, that's for certain - I think it's a comfort issue; how willing you are to open yourself up to people you don't know very well/are intimidated by, for example. Pretty obvious stuff.
But why should I talk so much? Surely a core planning trait is the ability to be stoic and quiet, only interjecting when it's absolutely necessary? Well....I've certainly met planners like that, and that's no bad thing - I wish I possessed as much clarity and brevity as they do, but I think (hope) it'll come in time.
What gives me hope about my chatty nature are bloggers (I'm thinking of a few) that I know like to express an opinion or two. Not the archetypal planning person (certainly not what the IPA would have you believe), if you look below:
Yes, it makes me scratch my head as well. I have a social life, honestly...and I'm not sure I have a 'planet sized brain' either.
The stereotype is frankly bollocks; misappropriating the myth of the planner, which is no more right than propagating the slicker than owl shit suit or the grumpy genius creative. Just wrongheaded.
Anyway, back to the point I was making. Such character assessments are wrong. But what should be important (something I look for in people I meet) is being passionate about what you like, whether it's being an ad bod like myself, or a toy maker or whatever. I enjoy working in advertising, so I write about it. If you are quiet but are desperately passionate about kite-flying or taxidermy, that's also great.
Enjoying your job and being passionate about it, whether being quiet or talkative, is crucial for me. It's why I didn't pursue Law as a career.
Whether or not I talk too much, or fit into a planner stereotype just doesn't matter. Now, whether I care about the work I undertake and what I'm doing does.
A friend of mine once said that 'you can't just be passionate anymore' when speaking about how to get into advertising, and he's right. But it still remains the most important trait. Passion for the business and for effective work should be at the forefront of everyone in the agency. Not just because you want associated fame from getting an ad on the telly (though that is nice).
It's funny, doing a little bit of research into what I like, and what drives me reveals it even more startlingly. My favourite music artists are all ballsy, passionate people who want to create though provoking tunes, whether they be big beats or acoustic, sensitive ballads.
The same is true for writers; I admire John Milton and George Orwell above all because they care, and are deeply, deeply passionate about what they write, and it really resonates with me.
It must be stressed that being passionate without reason is definitely barking up the wrong tree (akin to talking too much without a real point). But the two shouldn't be mutually exclusive in the first place - if you are passionate about something, you'll probably know a lot about it, or want to learn, which is the most important thing.
And yes - passion can overspill into what appears to be arrogance or anger. But I don't think it's either - it's wanting to do a good job, wanting to make the work the best it can be and above all, caring about things.
NB: Though I'm no Man United fan (God no), I love watching Wayne Rooney play football. Someone who cares so much and wants to win, coupled with that amount of skill, is a joy to watch. I only wish Mamady Sidibe was like that.
I'm also planning to do another Cucumber Sandwiches Podcast, this time featuring some of my favourite passionate tunes.