Think like a consumer instead of a brand

 

Two explorers are walking through the jungle. Suddenly they hear a tiger roar.

One explorer sits down and takes a pair of running shoes out of his backpack.

“You’re crazy, you’ll never out-run a tiger,” says the other explorer.

“I don’t have to out-run the tiger,” he replies. “I just have to out-run you.”

This is the story Dave Trott tells in his book Predatory Thinking, to explain his philosophy of looking at a challenge you can’t solve and getting ‘upstream’ of it – changing it into a challenge you can solve. I was reminded of it this morning when a mate of mine, the CD and digital guru Steve Farkas, drew my attention to the new campaign for the HTC One. I think it has a touch of ‘predatory thinking’ about it.

Apple and Samsung are the leaders in the smartphone sector by a wide margin. Their products are great, their marketing is strong and their media spend is huge. It’s tough for the brands in third, fourth and fifth place to get onto consumers’ radars. I’ve worked in the sector – on Sony Mobile – and have seen up close how most challengers try to compete on product points. But even if they have brilliant smartphones with great features, unless they do something brilliant, their product message is often drowned out by all the other brands’ product messages. There’s an ongoing features arms race going on in this sector and we’ve got to a point where all consumers hear is a load of jumbled messages about better cameras, bigger displays, more pixels, works underwater, blah blah blah. Nothing sticks; it’s the advertising equivalent of white noise. Many consumers, understandably, take the easy option and default to the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.

The clever thing about the HTC work is that rather than diving straight into product points and continuing the victor-less feature war, they’ve gone upstream and started with a consumer insight about the way people buy smartphones. This is not a category where people think “Ooh, I like the ads, I’m going to buy the product.” It’s a category where they do research and seek opinions – from friends, family, store staff…and, most of all, online. So, boldly confident in the quality of their product (off the back of outstanding feedback from industry bodies, bloggers and reviewers), their message is, Don’t listen to us, listen to what the world is saying about our phone.

It’s so refreshing and confident it made me stop and think. It made me want to Google the HTC One to see if it’s for real. At which point I actually did engage with the product story. Which is job done. By pausing for thought rather than diving in with the usual approach. By recognising the way the world actually is rather than the way we (as advertisers) want it to be. By thinking like a consumer instead of a brand.

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“The single worst dynamic in life and in business is the fear of what other people think.”

 

Cindy Gallop is an extraordinary lady. Her infamous 2009 TED talk (above) was as brilliant as it was controversial. The sight of an amazingly confident and beautiful lady strutting across the stage in high heels and delivering her dramatic lecture was totally unforgettable. How’s this for an opening gambit? “I date younger men, predominantly younger men. And when I date younger men, I have sex with younger men. And when I have sex with younger men, I encounter very directly and personally the real ramifications of the creeping ubiquity of hardcore pornography in our culture.” Certainly got my attention! If you haven’t seen it, do – it’s a bold, graphic, mind-bendingly unexpected and utterly fascinating talk in which she launches MakeLoveNotPorn.com, a platform that busts the myths of hardcore porn and celebrates the diversity of the human sexual experience. (“Porn says: ‘This is the way it is’. And what I want to say is: ‘Not necessarily.’”)

Since then, she’s grown MakeLoveNotPorn.com massively, turning it into a real world video sharing platform to rival porn sites and spreading the hashtag #realworldsex. And started If We Ran The World, a web platform designed to turn ‘good intentions’ into real actions by allowing users to get involved and collaborate to make stuff happen. She’s a phenomenal get-stuff-done person but she doesn’t bullshit that it’s all easy and effortless; she started the hashtag #StartUpStress to be honest and open about how tough being an entrepreneur is.

Cindy Gallop has bigger balls than most blokes and is passionate, intelligent and utterly inspiring. A proper heroine for the 21th century. Do yourself a favour and have a read of this recent Huffington Post interview. There are so many great insights and inspiring thoughts in there. For example: “I left advertising when I turned 45. I’d always thought one’s 45th birthday was a moment to pause, take stock, review, ask ‘Where have I been?’ and ‘Where am I going?’ so I did that. And I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to do something different.’ I took a massive leap into the unknown. I resigned as chairman of BBH without a job to go to, and it was the best bloody thing I ever did because I couldn’t be happier doing what I’m doing now. I’m reinventing myself in every possible way.”

What an amazing woman, force of nature, role model. I find the idea of starting afresh at 45 and radically reinventing myself shocking, terrifying, exhilarating and inspiring in equal measure. Sod the comfort zone, Cindy rules!

Creativity is everywhere

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I’ve always found it strange that people who work in the creative department in ad agencies are called ‘creatives’. What about the creativity in the other departments? And other industries? Or are we saying there isn’t any? This would clearly be untrue; I know people who work in retail stores, plumbers, stockbrokers and stay-at-home mums who are far more ‘creative’ than some ad agency ‘creatives’. On this subject Dave Trott often quotes Edward De Bono’s famous line, “There are lots of people calling themselves creative who are actually mere stylists.”

I was reminded of this the other day when, running late to pick up my kids, I dashed out of work and saw my bus turn the corner and head up the hill towards me. The bus stop was 50 metres away, uphill. I started running to try to get to the bus stop before the bus, but I had no chance. As the bus sped by, the driver tooted me. Not only was I going to be late, I was also getting mocked by the bus driver. Annoyed, I muttered expletives under my breath and carried on running, though it was now clear I wouldn’t make it.

However, for some reason the bus waited at the bus stop with its kerbside indicator on. Perhaps someone was asking the driver a question or there was an issue with the ticket machine. I kept running towards the bus, knowing deep-down that as soon as I got near it would indicate and pull off.

Except it didn’t. I ran up alongside the bus and saw that the doors were open. It was almost as if the driver had been waiting for me. But that never happens, right? I got on, out of breath and, as I fumbled for my ticket, the driver said ‘hello’ to me. Still a bit annoyed that he’d tooted me as I ran up the hill, I said ‘hello’ back grumpily.

“Two toots means ‘don’t worry, no need to rush, I’ll wait for you at the bus stop,” he said.

“Oh,” I replied.

“Did you know that?” he asked, probably prompted by my English accent.

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

“OK, well just so you know…two toots is ‘no rush, I’ll wait for you’ and one toot means ‘I’ve seen you, I’ll wait for you, but hurry up I can’t hang around,’” he explained.

“Ah, brilliant, OK, I get it,” I said. “Thank you so much.”

What a great idea, I thought as I sat down. Creativity is everywhere.

“The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

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Recently, I was asked to write a 400 word piece for an industry publication – in an hour and a half. I like to think I’m quite fast, and writing this blog has made me even quicker. But the deadline did put me under a bit of pressure. I got the piece done with a little time to spare; it could’ve been better – much better – but it was fine. When I told a business journalist friend about this, he laughed and told me he routinely pumps out 400 words in 20 minutes.

The same week, I read a brilliant piece about the aborted attempt to publish a ghostwritten autobiography of the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Aside from the fascinating reflections on the political/ethical implications of Wikileaks’ work, the main things that came across were Assange’s out-of-control egotism and the strange amateurism of his outfit. At one point, Andrew O’ Hagan, the flabbergasted ghostwriter on the subsequently abandoned project, points out that Assange and his team purport to be flat out but are actually coasting: “I was beginning to wonder about the time-wasting. I couldn’t understand the slow and lazy way they went about things. They always talked about the pressure of work, about how busy they were, but, compared to most journalists, they sat on their arses half the day.”

It all got me thinking about people’s differing relationships with time and the different time constraints within various fields of creativity. For example, I heard a Dave Trott interview the other day where he was talking about the difference in process between artists and advertising people. “Guys who do pure art have got forever…an infinite amount of choices of things to do and an infinite amount of time to do it in. We haven’t got that, we’ve got to go from a standing start much faster.” And, depending on the agency you work at and the brief you’re on, that could mean three weeks, three days or three hours. I don’t think Julian Assange would make a very good copywriter.

Then, as I was pondering this, thinking about the drivers that motivate us to get our arses in gear, I read an interview with Bruce Springsteen in Rolling Stone that seemed to get right to the very core of the issue. He was talking about his attitude to work and getting stuff done. A workaholic and obsessive detail freak, he’s created an almost peerless body of work across four decades. But he didn’t release a studio album between The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1995 and The Rising in 2002. Although he’s 64, he doesn’t intend to slow down and get less productive; he can’t imagine ever taking another seven-year break. “It’s like that old story,” he said. “The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

“Everybody in this room is gonna be Prime Minister!”

 

I’ve written before about the phenomenon of great work coming out of tough briefs. Well they don’t come much tougher than a hard-working supermarket retail brief. You’re not selling glamorous sportswear endorsed by footballing superstars, you’re not telling the world about some new life-changing technology and you’re not moving people to action with some heart-breaking public service message. You’re flogging stuff. Unglamorous stuff people can buy in an unglamorous shop for their unglamorous lives.

Because it’s difficult, brands often default to shouty price messages. Leaving no room for an idea or the art of persuasion. Which is why, when someone does employ some creative charm, the work really stands out. For me, the trick is to be creative while still being direct, to engage people’s emotions while still landing a crystal clear message about the product. Which is exactly what this great campaign does. Once the lead ad, above, has introduced the scenario both this 15 and this 15 work a treat. Top work, BMF.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory


In this world of democratised technology, social media and reality TV, it’s pretty straightforward for anyone with a modicum of talent to get it out there and showcase their ‘mad skillz’. Views, likes and retweets constitute the court of public opinion and the good stuff spreads while the rest languishes unwatched in the backwaters of You Tube. It feels to me as though we all see so much more ‘stuff’ these days and yet so little of it stands out. From panel show comedians who are competent-but-uninspiring to X Factor singers with good voices but, ironically, no ‘X factor’.

The magical element that’s invariably missing is soul. Which is something so hard to pin down and so difficult to describe that it’s almost impossible. Perhaps it’s some mystical combination of hard-won wisdom, bitter experience, singular talent and a dash of desperation. Who knows? But when you see and feel the real deal, it’s unmistakeable; it knocks the wannabes and try-hards into a cocked hat. It blows your mind and rocks your world. Just like the song above. A friend of mine saw the great Ronnie Spector at the Queen Elizabeth Hall recently; his excitement prompted me to go back and listen to this. Ronnie’s voice + Joey Ramone’s backing vocals on Johnny Thurnders’ sublime song = pure soul magic.

“It takes courage to tell the truth, no matter how unpopular those truths may be.”

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I’ve been in Australia for a few months now. The natural beauty of the country is breathtaking and I’m loving the process of discovering new places and different ideas. One of the things I’m interested in is Australia’s relationship with its past, the juxtaposition between this amazingly open and friendly culture and the dark history that seems so hard to take in, process, move on from.

The different perspectives on Australia’s past have been called the ‘history wars’ and the national debate about what impact British colonisation had on Australia’s Aboriginal population goes on. It’s a difficult area for me, as a newcomer, to write about, as my knowledge and understanding of the issues are far from deep. Having said that, from my outsider’s point of view, it feels as though much progress has been made since I last lived here (in the mid-‘90s).

(Former) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008 to all Aborigines and the Stolen Generations for their “profound grief, suffering and loss” was clearly a landmark moment. Perhaps his desire to “leave behind the polarisation that began to infect every discussion of our nation’s past” hasn’t yet been achieved but it’s a journey that goes on.

Current Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to finalise by September a draft for amending the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people as the first Australians. I’m no Tony Abbott fan but I agree with him when he says that this reform is worth taking the time to get absolutely right. “We have to be comfortable with it as a nation: black and white Australians, old and new Australians, Australians from everywhere have to be comfortable with it and they’ve got to appreciate that this will be, and should be, a unifying moment.”

It was within the context of these ongoing and hopefully positive debates that I read AFL star Adam Goodes’ challenging and inspiring piece in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. A call for courage, honesty and empathy, Goodes’ bold, brave and often moving words are shot through with passion and integrity. Reflecting on the John Pilger documentary Utopia and the Australian media’s response to it, he makes clear that there’ll be no reconciliation without justice and no justice without truth. No progress without facing up to the past and then shaping the future together.

Goodes’ piece is full of sadness and anger, made all the more powerful by the fact that it’s not written by a voice from the fringes of society but by a man who’s a Sydney Swans legend and Australian of the Year. (I first came across him in the form of a little plastic figurine on the keyring of legendary headhunter Esther Clerehan, a self-confessed Sydney Swans nut).  “It takes courage to tell the truth, no matter how unpopular those truths may be,” he says, referring to the film; the line could just as well apply to him.

As I said, I’m fresh off the boat and woefully under-informed about the historical and political details. But I instinctively believe that Goodes is right, that positivity and forward momentum will come from truth. Please have a read of his piece and let me know what you think. And go to see Utopia. I’ll be back with more thoughts once I’ve seen the film myself.