Monday, 23 April 2012


I was at a conference about “sporting excellence” last week run by Noggin the people-performance people. You never know about these events do you? Lots of sports people comparing discus throwing with strategic planning - Olympic medals being shown around and stories of daring-do.

Yet there was some really great stuff here.
I became convinced “thriving” was the greatest state of economic grace we individually, corporately and nationally should aspire to….doing well, “doing just what we should do”. Gardens thrive; they don’t win; they don’t go for super-growth (and when they do they fall over.)
I listened in amazement to the juggernaut flattened Gold medallist James Cracknell  (cycling across America for fun he was very nearly killed by a truck) who described the winning strategy of the rowing four – “make sure your worst is better than their best”. He also talked about the recovery from his near death experience and the negativism of some doctors. “Don’t let the dream-takers get in the way” he said. Dream-takers are the enemy of our ambition and excitement.
Many of those talking were very good mentors and coaches with some telling insights. I loved the idea that we spend too much time on autopsies…it’s true that in business much too much time is spent on the past. But it was listening to Billie Bragg on the radio that I heard a blinding definition of mentors as “sherpas”-   helping the people they mentor get to the top of their particular mountain.
And talking of climbing – the extraordinary rock climber Mike Weekes gave advice for life that we should all take. In climbing he said (and most people get this wrong) do the easy stuff fast, only take time over the really hard stuff. And don’t hang on for grim death – this is a fingertip, light touch business. Like life.
Finally the hugely impressive Jeff Grout,  formerly Sir Clive Woodward’s business manager, who described the Lion’s discovery when winning the World Cup,  that they always started the first half better than the second half in matches. So they changed into completely clean kit for the second half thereby playing two first halves. Here’s an obsession with detail and changing the weather in their minds.
Grout said, have ambitions, set performance goals and then step by step set up processes to deliver the goal. If the process is right the outcome will follow.
But I’m still thinking about the weather in my mind…what a great concept.

Monday, 16 April 2012


When I heard Andrew Lansley saying he wanted to see the end of cigarettes altogether in the UK,           I had this strange urge to light up and start swearing (which, no doubt, he also wants to ban together with satire – and if you don’t like satire stop reading this now.)

The trend to engineering what we can do and can’t do is misguided. We’ll get fat, smoke, drink too much and die or we’ll just die. But in the end we’ve got to stop banning stuff like advertising, cigarettes and drugs because we (in authority) know better. I keep on saying that the old command and control model is dead. No-one listens. I think we should make not listening illegal.

When smoking was rationalised

We have a bunch of underemployed MPs all looking for good causes to espouse. At least “Ban the Bomb” was a big idea whereas “Ban the Fag” or “Ban the Bevvy” seems a bit pathetic. And “Ban the Belly Laugh” is worse. Check out the response to the current satirical front cover of the Economist in Scotland. Swift would not do well in modern Britain.

The spirit of satire is alive and well

It was after the riots last year that I heard someone on Saturday Live on Radio 4 say he blamed advertising for the riots (ban all advertising) because – and his voice lowered conspiratorially – “we know those advertisers’ little tricks don’t we?” As someone who spent a bit of my career in advertising…er no…what are they? …wish I’d known.

There’s a whole constituency of do-gooders out there determined to ban anything that people like which isn’t wholly good for them. Let’s go for butter and Barbie, let’s go for Nike and nicotine, let’s go for gambling and Glenfiddich.

I could foresee, were I not an incorrigible optimist about the good sense of most people, a world in 2020 where Tom Watson was Prime Minister, where we had no free press, no advertising, no butchers, no pubs, no cigarettes (smoking even in private carries a three year prison term), no brothels, no toy shops, no loud music, no fast cars and no fast food.

Rory Sutherland columnist and ad man told the story of Attaturk who wanted to modernise Turkey by stopping women from wearing the veil. Realising a ban was a bad idea he tried another way. He made it mandatory for prostitutes to wear the veil.

Silk Cut anyone?  Cheers.

 Alcoholic and racist – double top!

Sunday, 8 April 2012


“We don’t do God” Alistair Campbell famously told Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister.
Nor do I but I love the frisson of religion and especially the creativity that key events in the Christian year evoke. Here’s Tintoretto on the last supper. It’s a real meal full of life with a thieving cat, a dozing dog, sweating servants and ghost like angels lurking in the rafters.

Yes, this smells right for the days leading up to crucifixion when a landslide popularity swung the other way for Jesus Christ as the spin doctors got to work.
What a great story and what a great depiction of its dying moments here unlike Leonardo’s timorous last lunchtime snack of a painting.

Another recent story, familiar to most, is about Joseph Kony and the campaign to bring this Ugandan warlord to justice. Look at the enclosed video and begin to see new ways of making things happen.

KONY 2012: Part II - Beyond Famous from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.
The world we knew is crumbling (“crumble” is remember a slow words – “crumble” doesn’t mean next month, next year or even next decade.) But when Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion – Green Party and George Galloway MP for Bradford West – British Respect Party (and gosh, won’t each of them hate being juxtaposed like this) overturn expectation and their voters disobey convention isn’t something new happening?

I detect the fragrant smell of rebellion.

For sure I think Mr Galloway isn’t exactly the most appealing of operators whilst being aghast in admiration at his ability to beat up his interrogators from Jeremy Paxman to the Senate Committee in Washington. Whilst Caroline Lucas is a slightly zany breath of fresh air in a world of political bluster.

The bottom line to all this is the established powers are all on a slippery slope – the “authorities” as a gardener I once had used to grimly describe them are losing out to the people.

It’s time to review the marketing strategies of the politicians and companies everywhere.
But however good a story - it has to look, feel and smell real.

And in the end that’s what I love about that Tintoretto painting as opposed to most religious art….it feels gritty and true not bland.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


Look at this commercial or whatever you want to call it.

It’s more of a stand-up turn than an ad and it simply commands attention through its chutzpah. And currently everyone seems to be talking about it as a case history on how to launch a new business. Its zany combination of Police Squad (the Larry Nielsen classic) and Will-it-blend? fills me with joy. I love the dig at big brand celebrity ads – poor old Roger Federer. I love its sense of being with the flow of today’s thinking – hell, this guy Mike Dubin, the founder of would leave Mitt Romney floundering if he turned to politics.

After Old Spice and Isaiah Mustafa, Geico and the Blendtec people,  advertising will not be the same again.
And all the good guys I know in the business are saying “and about time too….this is the sort of stuff we always wanted to do but the suits stopped us…”

And as importantly in a world where start-ups are going to fuel economic growth it’s communication like this which will reach the new consumer – their hearts, minds and wallets. What’s notable is the internet allows cheap direct marketing like this to be delivered with cool humour in launching pirate brands.

A guy called Peter Pham, from Science Inc., is a “business-accelerator” who's been working with Dollar Shave Club. He’s apparently also been working on other similar ideas for an underwear company and a children's clothing company. But it could be for anything where there’s an economic edge and an old fashioned market leader.

What he’s trying to do is build new consumer brands. Brands like those Virgin should have launched but never quite did. Brands which write new rules and break old ones. The web makes viral and rapid brand growth possible in a way that traditional media, and companies, can't touch. It’s a way of punishing slow thinkers.

And cost of entry is very low if you get the creative right…this ad for Dollar Shave Club cost $4,500.

And yes, I also thought it was a joke when I first saw it.

But that, I guess, is the point.

I wonder if the guys at Gillette think it’s a joke….or how much they’ll pay Mike and Peter to go away.

Monday, 2 April 2012


Richard is following his own advice and is on holiday.. Next post will be week commencing April 9th.