Do something most others aren’t doing: Look.

If you’ve never seen The Big Short, then I highly recommend you watch it. (It’s on Netflix). Other than incredible performances from Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale, it provides a unique look into the chain of events that led to the monumental clusterfuck that was the 2008 global financial crisis.

Steve Carell as Mark Baum in The Big Short

Unlike some docu-movies that attempt to dramatise real-life events but end up skimming over the detail, The Big Short does a brilliant job of bringing the financial complexity to the big screen, treating the viewer with respect in the process. Even if you don’t fully understand what a CDO is by the end, there’s a strong chance you’ll open Google and find out.

The premise of the movie is about how a small group of investors saw what no—one else did in the run up to the financial crisis. That the US housing market was nowhere near as healthy as it was pretending to be. That fraud in the US financial system was rife; from banks, mortgage companies and even credit ratings agencies, the housing market was built on lies.

The film begins with a length narrative from Ryan Gosling, but the best bit is what he ends on, saying:

“These outsiders saw the giant lie at the heart of the economy, and they saw it by doing something the rest of the suckers never thought to do: They looked.”

Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) — The Big Short

It’s a pretty simple thing when you think about it; looking at the detail to see the glaringly obvious, but what I love most about it is it’s a brilliant reminder to anyone who works in marketing and advertising.

In this turbo-charged, time-pressured, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world that we live in, throwing yourself into a task, allowing yourself to really get into it, and spending time obsessing over the detail seems like an unattainable luxury. It’s far easier to jump to conclusions, base theories on assumptions, fill in the blanks with conjecture, research passively (or not at all), and create strategies and ideas that aren’t really grounded in anything more than a hunch.

Of course, sometimes hunches pay off and everything comes together as planned, but sometimes they don’t, and this can have catastrophic consequences.

Wouldn’t it be great then, if every bit of work out there had the sort of thinking that comes when you’ve got the time and inclination to throw yourself into the problem. Richard Huntington wrote a brilliant article about what he coined ‘Deep Thinking’ — it’s well-worth a read.

There’s a saying that goes; ‘failing to plan, is planning to fail’. On the whole, it’s something I can categorically say is true — certainly when it comes to marketing and advertising. Because only when you look, really really hard at something, do you give yourself the best possible chance of getting to a really good answer.

Happy on the outside

Tim Bergling (Avicii)

Last night, I watched Avicii: True Stories on BBC iPlayer.

Even if you’ve never heard of Tim Bergling (Avicii), or, you have but you don’t like his music, I implore you to watch it. At one-and-a-half hours long, it’s not a quick watch, but it’s an incredibly valuable one for a number of different reasons — the main being it helps you to see the effects of mental health in a way that so few programmes have ever been able to ever do.

I can say this because, like 25% of the population of the UK (16,500,000 people) my mental health has suffered at various points in my life.

It’s a hard thing to write about so publicly — particularly working in the advertising industry where it still feels taboo to talk about mental health for fear of being judged, but to be completely honest, if this helps even one person then for me that’s a good thing.

Avicii: True Stories does what so few have succeeded to do in the past because not only does it show you how mental health can so adversely affect someone’s life, it helps you to begin to really feel what it might be like (unless you’re a complete sociopath).

It succeeds where thousands of images found online that try to convey mental health issues fail. Google ‘depression‘ and click on ‘Images’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Like many of the tired, lazy cliches you see in advertising today, the images on Google couldn’t be further from the truth of what mental health is really like for lots of people suffering from it.

The following image I saw the other day on Instagram was interesting, because it shows how many people suffering from mental health do a brilliant job of internalising it. Yes, it’s not as black and white as this, but it certainly provides a fresh perspective on such a serious issue:

This was especially true of Tim Bergling.

At the time of his death, his net worth was $85 million.

On paper — and from the outside he had it all; fame, fortune, success, travelling the World by private jet, a team of people at his beck and call, and the admiration and adoration of millions of fans.

But when you watch the documentary, you’ll see why the most important thing in your life isn’t material, it’s your mental health. Tim knew it.

Throughout the documentary, he continuously expressed the fact that the expectation and pressure placed on him (by others and by himself), was slowly but surely killing him:

Avicii: True Stories, BBC iPlayer.

It was really difficult to watch.

On April 20th 2018, aged just 28, Tim tragically passed away, reportedly taking his own life, shocking the world in the process.

Since his death, his family have set up the Tim Bergling Foundation, with the aim of addressing mental health in the music industry. They also released the following statement:

“Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions. An over-achieving perfectionist who travelled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress. When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be happy and be able to do what he loved most – music. He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace. Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight. Tim, you will forever be loved and sadly missed. The person you were and your music will keep your memory alive.

We love you,

Your family.”

But the sort of pressure he felt doesn’t just exist in the entertainment industry. It’s rife everywhere — speaking from experience, it certainly exists in the advertising industry.

Whilst it has been shown that parts of the Internet can exacerbate mental health issues, I still believe that on the whole, the Internet is a brilliant thing, and for every negative, there are tens, if not hundreds of positives, and today, the Internet has meant access to the best possible information, support, help and advice has never been better.

From charities like CALM that exist to eradicate suicide in men, to Corporate Gaslighting — a site set up by Rob Campbell to address the effect of systematic abuse from bad management on employees whilst hoping to help those who have been victims of it. Check it out if you haven’t already, because, whether you work in advertising or not, it’s likely you’ve either experienced or witnessed the behaviour the people who have contributed so bravely talk about on there.

So please, try to remember, just because someone looks happy on the outside, doesn’t mean they’re not going through a world of pain on the inside. I’ll leave you with this quote, also pinched from Rob’s blog (why does he have to be so fucking smart):

“If we knew the troubles that weighed on the minds of the people we talk to, we might react to what they say in a very different way”

Source

You only ever get one, so live it well.

Increasingly, we spend our lives checking, scrolling, updating, scanning, browsing. constantly looking for something that’s going to occupy our attention for a few milliseconds and distract us from our day-to-day.

But for what?

To pass the time?

Alleviate our boredom?

Give us that little dopamine hit the devices we carry around are increasingly designed to give us?

In 2018, Marks and Spencer launched a campaign entitled: ‘Life’s short, so let’s spend it well.

Whilst their purpose was about instilling the notion that because life is short you should indulge and enjoy nicer food, i.e. M&S food, I loved the sentiment — because it’s true.

Life is short.

I know this because, (and speaking from personal experience) people close to me have been taken too young – like my friend Charlie from school, who passed away a few years ago.

Life is precious.

I turn 40 in a few weeks.

I own a big house in the country, and I’m lucky enough to own a few nice cars. I have all the things I thought I wanted in life that would make me feel content.

But the truth is, material things don’t make you happy.

They might make you feel good in the short term, but they rarely have lasting appeal.

Unlike the things that really matter. Like friends, and family.

Like my wife; a smart, incredible, wonderful, amazing, beautiful woman.

Like my two amazing, funny, kind, loving and beautiful children; Jake, aged 3, and Millie, aged 1.

Before I had children, I used to wonder why people who did have them, never came to company parties, or stayed out late, or went out drinking at the weekend.

But now I get it.

With the big 4-0 dawning. I get that no amount of material things will ever give me the pleasure that time with my family gives me.

Time doing things that I love doing, with the people I love being with.

When Marks and Spencer launched their campaign, it connected with me in a way so few campaigns ever have done.

Not because it featured amazing looking food (another passion of mine).

It connected with me because of the message.

A message that’s relevant to everyone.

Life is short.

Life is precious.

And because it’s short, you need to do everything within your power, to live it well.

True connection

The biggest challenge every brand faces, is connecting with people. But despite global advertising spend in 2018 being a gargantuan $543.71 billion dollars, very few get it right. For context, 543 billion dollars is roughly the same as the entire GDP of Switzerland as ranked by the IMF. It’s why the majority of advertising, as Dave Trott expressed so eloquently is nothing more than wallpaper.

Ever since I started my career in planning, everywhere I’ve worked, there has been an obsession over ‘the insight’. There’s been so much written about insights by the likes of Rob Campbell, Martin Weigel and Mark Pollard in far better ways than I could ever aspire to. As such, I won’t go into detail, other than to say that the longer I’ve worked in the industry, the more I’ve come to realise that almost every insight isn’t really that insightful, and instead, merely an observation about a group of people.

(I’m getting to the point of this article I promise)

Recently, I’ve had to go through a period of my life of fairly intense self-reflection, and recognise that it’s OK to not be OK all of the time. I think that the nature of the industry I work in has meant that I’ve simply tried to pretend I’m fine, when sometimes I’m not.

My natural reaction is to go online and seek out information and advice – of which, there is plenty. But rarely does it give me the answer I want. Not because it doesn’t say the right things, but because it’s dry, and cold, and only connects with me on a rational level.

Actually, I can probably count on both hands, the number of times something I’ve read has connected with me on a genuinely emotional level, but recently this has changed – a few of the articles I’ve read have smacked me round the face like a ton of bricks. They’ve connected with me on a deep, emotional level. Made me look inwardly. Made me stop, think and reflect.

Triggering that sort of response is nirvana for any brand’s advertising, but if any brand’s survival is predicated on their ability to connect with people, then why does so much of all advertising fail to do this:

Martin Weigel – Escape from Fantasy

As you can see, it’s getting worse. People don’t favour advertising in the same way they used to. Despite having more channels and mediums that we know what to do with, the drive seems to be on creating more and more wallpaper, and that simply doesn’t feel right.

There are however, a few brands who do get it right, almost every single time:

Nike is the brand synonymous for one that gets culture. A brand that has a view on the world, and the eyes and ears of its audience. A brand that understands that to connect with people you need to really understand and empathise with them. You’ll notice that in much of Nike’s above the line advertising, products are rarely featured. They don’t need to be. People get what Nike is about and who they are for.

Perhaps it’s time for more brands to escape the confines of their own echo chambers, and start really focusing on people, see how they can be more relevant in people’s lives, how they can communicate with people in ways that are authentic, and believable – not patronising.

Perhaps it’s time for brands to start seeing the true potential of connecting with people.

The power of imagination

When I was young, like most children I loved playing with Lego.

I had two enormous tubs of it, every type of brick you could imagine – all different shapes, colours and sizes.

To this day, playing with Lego is one of of my most vivid memories, because I can associate moments in time with the different things I made.

Over time, the types of thing I used to make changed – much of it was based on what I’d seen on TV, or in a magazine – submarines from James Bond, and a huge X-Wing fighter after watching Star Wars (the original one).

This was back in the 80’s, a time when we had one television in the house, with four channels, about an hour of children’s TV a day, and where, the channels used to shut down and stop broadcasting overnight.

Everything I used to do with my Lego, from building things, to playing with them afterwards, was down to my imagination – and a lot of patience/frustration in working out how to create my next masterpiece made of plastic bricks.

I love Lego, because it is truly one of those things where your imagination is the only limit as to what you can create – that and how many bricks you have.

Today, on Instagram, I saw an advert for an augmented reality Lego app. The idea is, you build something, then point a phone, or a tablet at it the thing you’ve made, and it turns what you’ve created into a game on the screen.

At first I thought “that’s cool”, but after a few minutes it felt at-odds with what Lego is all about. Lego is about unleashing your creativity and building something awesome, then letting your imagination take over when you play with it.

Playing some sort of pre-defined game based on what you’ve made, feels completely removed from what Lego is all about – certainly from my perspective. Actually, I felt a bit sad to see it… Does Lego feel like its core product is no-longer satisfying its core user-base? Does Lego feel like it needs to diversify to stay relevant in this technology-obsessed world in which we live?

I’m sure many who see it won’t agree with me, but I’ll leave you with this one additional thing…

Tonight, Jake, my three year old son, came and joined me in the kitchen whilst I was cooking dinner. He doesn’t really know it but he’s got so many things I could only dream about as a child. I’ve worked hard my whole life to give him and my family everything I didn’t have growing up – every toy you could imagine. But tonight, he didn’t want to play with his toys, instead, he wanted to stand on his much-loved IKEA stool, and make shapes with the seeds from a pepper I’d just chopped up. Something he did for half an hour.

So I say to Lego, please don’t feel like you have to embrace every bit of technology going, because deep down, a child’s imagination is so amazing, so incredible, that all you need to give them are a few seeds (or bricks) and they’ll do the rest.

Interestingly, I also saw this ad, done by Ogilvy Canada, so I like to hold out hope. Because this is the Lego that I know and love: