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.

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.

When a survey really isn’t needed…

I’m often amazed with some of the reasons given to justify running surveys. More often than not, they happen either to reinforce a point of view, or simply because people don’t know what they’re doing, or where to look for the right answer. Or, they simply don’t want to accept the truth staring them in the face.

This is one of those surveys. Walk into any agency and have a look around. Have a look at the management team, the MD, the CEO. You’ll see that the survey is correct, but again, I’m not sure it was even needed in the first place.

The good thing is, the industry is going through a massive period of change, and that can only be a good thing, right?