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.

You can’t be what you can’t see

When you have children, you become acutely aware of certain things that you most-likely rarely ever thought about.

Things like free time, silence, lie-ins, spontaneity, and responsibility. Things that you take for granted until you suddenly have to look after one or more little humans.

I’m not saying people without children don’t think about these things, but I certainly know that I think about them now more than ever; either because I never have them any more and miss them dearly (a lie in on a Sunday morning for instance), or they’re front of mind 24/7 – responsibility for their well-being.

Here are my two; Jake aged three and a half, and Millie, one and a half:

They’re absolutely amazing.

They’ve enriched my life in unimaginable and indescribable ways.

They constantly surprise me with their creativity, their humour and how smart they already are.

There is however one thing that I absolutely loathe about bringing up children, and that’s the mental conditioning that happens from such a young age, from things like their toys, their clothing, and the TV shows created for them – even the food that’s promoted to them.

I like to think that we’re bringing them up to know that boys and girls are equal and capable of achieving anything they put their minds to, but this is challenging when so much of what they’re exposed to from the moment they can think for themselves is geared towards making them think and behave in certain ways – purely based on gender.

The other day, Jake brought a toy car to me and went “this is for boys, Millie can’t have it”.

I know for a fact this isn’t something we would ever have taught him but at three and a half, he’s starting to think for himself a lot.

I quizzed him as to why he said this, to which he replied “only boys drive cars”. Now, he typically spends the majority of his time in a car with either his mum or his nanny driving so I knew this wasn’t his point of reference.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was in fact the various shows he watches:

Paw Patrol:

Noddy:

Peppa Pig:

Postman Pat:

Blaze:

Cars:

In the majority of children’s shows and films, the cars and/or the drivers are male.

It made me feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable that in 2019, things that are created for children are still full of ridiculous stereotypes.

It’s an outdated view of the world and absolutely not representative of real life. For instance, in the UK, 46% of drivers are women.

It needs to change.

And whilst it’s the responsibility of us adults to recognise it and make the changes, the change they need to effect starts with children.

Children’s TV shows need to stop stereotyping based on gender.

Children’s food needs to stop stereotyping based on gender.

Children’s toys need to stop stereotyping based on gender.

Children need to be shown that whether you’re a girl or a boy, you are capable of doing and achieving anything. That whilst your gender might define who you are, it certainly doesn’t define what you can do.

Some of the best loved brands – like Nike, get it. They don’t just get it, they’re doing something about it. But when it comes to children and the brands aimed at them, based on what I’m seeing and experiencing, we’ve still got long way to go.

As Marie Wilson famously said; “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

They say you should never meet your heroes

…but I did – and I’m really glad.

Ever since I started out working in planning – about thirteen years ago, I’ve been on a continual drive to learn as much as possible from whomever and wherever I can.

I’ve always said that planning is unlike most other disciplines within an agency, for a variety of reasons. Project management for instance, you’ve got agile and waterfall methodologies to work to. The frameworks are proven and effective.

Whereas, planning is different. Whilst there are a plethora of books you can read, and different frameworks you can use, and courses by the IPA and APG to aid your thinking and your output, the actual way you go about actually doing planning is massively open.

It also doesn’t help that planning isn’t one dimensional, and instead, multi-faceted. It intertwines with and overlaps so many other specialisms in the agency, from analytics and business intelligence, to creative and copy, and even into client service… (hint – if you’re a planner and you’re not presenting your thinking to your clients, do something about it).

So you have to be an expert generalist, and on any day, wear a multitude of different caps to fit the many different contexts and scenarios you’ll end up in.

Planners will often pigeonhole themselves as ‘brand’ or ‘comms’ or ‘data’ or ‘creative’ and whilst I agree there needs to be these sorts of specialisms, I’m convinced most [good] planners – specialist or not, have a bit of everything in them.

With planners who I’ve managed in the past, I’ve always advocated them finding their own individual style for their planning. From how they approach a problem, to how they craft their thinking. I tend to find this is a far more effective way to help people develop that trying to force a one-size-fits-all way of doing their planning upon them.

But like those I’m managing today, I also had to start somewhere and beyond the many business, advertising, strategy and creative books I’ve bought and read, I found the Internet to be the best source for not only developing my craft, but also giving me a level head and keeping me in check.

As with most professions and hobbies, there’s a really strong community that exists for planning. Most planners I’ve ever met are generally quite emotional, deep thinkers who have a high degree of empathy and curiosity. The sort of traits that add a richness to some brilliant discussions you see about life+advertising on blogs and social media.

Over the years I’ve built up a fairly hefty list of planners who blog and planning resources, which I promise I’ll share one I’ve had time to update it as I’m sure by now many of the links no longer work. From the brilliant Nick Emmel’s irreverent guide to writing creative briefs, to Julian Cole’s Planning Dirty newsletter, Martin Weigel’s blog to Mark Pollard’s no-nonsense approach. As a planner today, you’re spoiled for choice.

But there’s one stand-out resource that for me, has been both instrumental in helping me develop my craft and which, has kept me sane. This resource has helped show me the importance of qualities such as integrity and honesty in my work. That it’s OK to say ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t think it’s the right thing to do’. That the obvious route is probably not the right, nor best way to go about something. That there’s always a better answer to a problem. That lateral thinking trumps literal thinking when creativity is concerned. That it’s OK to call bullshit on lazy planning and crappy advertising.

What is this resource I hear you ask?

Rob Campbell’s blog.

In December, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Rob – after a decade of reading his blog. I simply wanted a bit of advice on a number of different planning related things and despite not really knowing me, he offered to meet for a coffee and lend an ear. His advice and kindness was beyond words.

My only disappointment was he wasn’t wearing his trademark Birkenstocks. But it was December so I can probably just about forgive him.

So my advice to you is this; if you’re not learning from the people you work with, move teams. If you can’t move teams, move jobs. If you can’t move jobs, then find someone who can be your source of inspiration and guidance. It’ll do more for both your career and your mental state than any book or course ever will.

Keep hunting. They’ll definitely be out there.

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: