Strong brands. Powerful ideas. Disrupting culture.

Powerful ideas are not around the corner. They happen when talented people, and good brands, come together with the single goal to produce the greatest work of their lives in an attempt to impact culture. They get people to listen, give a damn and respond in a way that transcends the simple action of buying stuff. They trigger and nurture conversations. Sometimes they even change the World as we know it. MARKET/that shares a modest view on the good (and the not so good) that comes from it all.

/learning from DiCaprio’s near misses at Cannes.

We’ve once won an industry award at my first agency. I remember the planner running around the office, brandishing a creative brief with a mandatory section that read: “this piece of work needs to win us an award”.

My proudest achievement to date – the Puma Dance Dictionary – won us some awards, but not before the international press talked about it. Not before I received a Puma Dance Dictionary message from a close friend I hadn’t talked to in years. If the purpose of what we do is to use brands to fuel culture and make something people will love, then there’s nothing more rewarding than having people talking about it. Unless you’re a multi-awards-winning CD, a Lion is really only destined to sit under some dust in reception or be buried under a lot of blurb in your CV.

Besides, what have awards become today? The backlash from the recent Cannes Lions was clear in pointing out that the strongest ideas had made place to what could be defined as “gimmicks”. Grey’s Grand Prix wins for Volvo and Facebook’s ice bucket challenge are good examples. And with new categories created every year, we are just devaluing what was the most respected awards show a decade ago.

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It is hard to argue against Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances over the time, yet he’s never left Cannes with anything else than a hangover. The year he failed to win an – expected – award for his performance on The Wolf of Wall Street, the Oscar went to Matthew McConaughey for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club (movie fanatics will remember that McConaughey undertook an extraordinary physical transformation for that film). Perhaps Oscars aren’t rewarding the best performances anymore. Perhaps that’s why Leonardo’s physical effort in The Revenant is likely to finally win him one. And perhaps there is a strong case for awards to be overrated.

Awards give you momentum, which could in turn win you clients and talent, but never should they come before or in the way of what we do in this Industry – culturally defining moments that get people to give a damn.

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/that extra inch.

It’s not every day that a client asks his agency to develop a judging criteria for assessing work. When our lead client recently gave us that task, we felt blessed with the opportunity to educate them and ensure we would all be on the same page when reviewing work. Mind you though, we quickly realised it was easier said than done.

Throughout the process, our planner thought he would establish a parallel between our world and the world of sport. After all, athletes are like work. They happen through a long process that see them constantly try to overachieve themselves, learning through failure and building on success to reach the highest level. A lot fail early on, some manage to break through and only a handful become legends. If you can’t apply this when thinking about work then there might be something wrong in your agency culture.

But if there is one thing you need to take from all this, it’s that we’re all playing a game of inches. I remember Chris Hirst (Grey London‘s ex-CEO) giving a speech about pitching and the fine line between winning and losing. He – conveniently – used a sport metaphor and talked about the results of the final of an Olympics bobsleigh race (disclaimer: it might have been a different sport). The gap between the first and the 10th was probably of less than a second and yet no one remembered anyone past the podium despite of the fact that they were all probably pretty good athletes…

So how can we use this? Going back to pitching, how many times were you asked to completely change the pitch presentation the night before the meeting, because of a change of heart from your ECD? In a game of inches, every little inch will make the difference. 180 has got a smart belief, not being afraid to take a U-turn at any point in the process, instead of forcing itself towards conventional wisdom. And I’m probably not the first one who have had to brief amends on a website design or UX the week before it went live.

So make sure you always go for that extra inch, right up to the last second before the final whistle.

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/how did Lucozade already lost the RWC?

Keeping up with such an exciting Rugby World Cup, it would be wrong not to look at the aftermath of England’s dramatic early exit from the competition. We all know the consequences it will have for the country’s economy, the team’s sponsors and the nation’s moral state.

Lucozade thought they had a good idea when they activated the brand’s sponsorship of The Rose with a tongue in cheek effort that ended up with “for the home nation only” as a tagline.

Since then, Chris Robshaw and his mates have been ejected from their World Cup. Yet, that ad is still being smashed on pretty much every ad break. On top of the irony that the ad takes the piss out of the Aussies (who ended up giving a lesson to England), what is the relevance of the message now? Should the nation stop drinking Lucozade until the end of the RWC?

Why haven’t they planned for what happened on Saturday? Why didn’t they have a re-edit ready to go on air after the defeat? Or be flexible around their media plan? And why did they go for such a risky script to start with? So many questions that are rarely answered by brands in a similar situation…

The likes of Adidas and Nike are usually better prepared for such a scenario. After all they keep banging on with bold, inspirational slogans about glory and endorse teams and players all the time. For the 2002 Football World Cup, Adidas tried to hit big with a famous spot that pre-empted France’s success. After the team was knocked out during the group stage and without scoring a single goal, they released a different edit that felt like a natural sequel to the original one and looked forward to future glory. In a more recent example, the same Adidas invited key bloggers to watch the France team coach, that became infamous when the team decided to hold a strike against their management, being crushed to pieces to – once again – erase the past and look forward to future glory.

There is nothing wrong in crafting creative that relies on events you cannot control. That is as long as you are prepared with backup options when things happen.

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/celebrate the game.

3 days into the Rugby World Cup and it’s about time I shared some work from the many brands out there trying to own their share of the game.

I’ll start with one of my favourites from Beats. Following on from their Football WC success (“The game before the game”), they carried on with long form content centered around the theme of preparation and anticipation with 3 films celebrating the stories of France (Fofana), New Zealand (McCaw) and England (Robshaw). “The game starts here” (what an evolved copy) is complete with some more content online around the 3 stories. Once again, R/GA showed that they know how to put a good narrative together and truly move their audience.

For those who are just getting into the Rugby vibe, Grey London and The Times went for the educational approach, with the “A to Z of Rugby“, hosted by international legends such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Sean Fitzpatrick and Gareth Thomas in a series of films attempting to decypher the language of the game with a light-hearted execution.

And the third one will have to bring some good around us. Rugby creates an interesting opportunity for blood donations. Both the natutre of the sport and its philosophy, built around respect and fair play, make it the right playground for such a message. That’s what the NHS tapped into with a bold execution around the iconic Rose. And they even went beyond by involving the legends of the game and their real blood. Watch it here.

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One will note that every ad break is filled with football-related messages (mostly betting) that might upset the true Rugby lover out there.

And last but not least, we are yet to see a brand making the most of a moment like Oreo did at the 2013 Superbowl. What about the controversial use of the video to give and then cancel tries?

Much more to come from the likes of Guinness and Land Rover so keep an eye on it as you enjoy what I hope will be a thrilling RWC.

Oh, and ALLEZ LES BLEUS!

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/think small.

Celebrating one of the most powerful ideas ever from Volkswagen and DDB in style, courtesy of a great Art Director (Samuel Hanson), my modest copywriting skills and our superstar pug Epice.

And remember, think it over.

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/what’s your mantra?

In an Industry where everyone is relentlessly trying to stand out, my fellow admen will be aware that most agencies in town are using a mantra to differentiate themselves from their competition. So here we are, working on “Real World Communications“, for the “connected age“, with “brave ideas beautifully executed“. These mantras usually shout about an approach, a POV or a methodology. In most agencies they reflect a culture, something that will be applied to everything they do, right from their recruitment policy to the delivery of work.

But really, to what extent do they differentiate from one another? If everyone is trying to say something different then surely no one will end up breaking through that clutter of would-be punchy lines?

Let’s get this straight. Most of them are so obvious they are almost insulting to any sound marketer out there. Who would go to R/GA expecting work that isn’t “for the connected age“? Who would knock at AMV‘s door and wouldn’t expect them to “help solve business challenges with creative ideas that change the competitive landscape“?

Don’t get me wrong, some of them do matter and make you listen. They do when they connect an agency’s strategic approach with its vision. They do when they are remembered over time and have a true purpose. They are defined through the circle of truth. They answer why we do things, why do consumers care about our work and why would a client want to partner with us.

Perhaps another approach would simply be not to have one and define yourself through what eventually matters the most. Your work. Something to think about.

And to wrap your week, here’s a nice little something challenging you to match a mantra to its agency.

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/by the way, how’s the Apple Watch doing?

This week was probably the most important one of the year for many early adopters out there (probably because Star Wars will only be out at the end of the year). Tim Cook – first disciple of Saint Steve – unveiled a whole bunch of new Apple gadgets, including a new iPhone, iPad, 3D Touch, and pencil (because “nobody wants a stylus”, right Steve?)

But what about the Watch, Tim? So far the Watch is slowly taking off with about 4M devices shipped. Good but still some way to go before they can replace something that’s been on our wrists for so long.

The recent announcement of an Hermes partnership (and a less “gadgety” look) is going to give it more credibility as a fashion accessory, a key step to reach before competing in the watch market (and not the smartwatch one). You could see the foundation of that strategy when they launched a high end Edition range. Let’s face it, no advertising will do more than showing off its features and how it could benefit our lives, but I doubt the millions of Apple users need convincing on that front. The real challenge to me is to convince people it can replace their watch – something that is everything BUT a gadget in most people’s minds.

One shouldn’t undermine how important that product line is to them. They are building on their new status of luxury brand (especially in Asia and according to Brandz) and will have to gain full credibility within the category.

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/the renaissance of Lego.

For a recent client meeting, we had to prepare by presenting our favourite brand. In the shadow of Apple and Coke, few would have chosen Lego. I remember spending hours mixing the content of Lego boxes collected Christmas after Christmas to build my own creations, just like, today, some commissioned artists amaze my eyes in the isles of our department stores. Lego might be one of the longest ideas ever created. They come back from nowhere and I have noticed 3 key factors to their success.

Staying true to themselves – the father and son story. In a time of recession, most brands have shifted their messages towards their heritage, going back to their brand’s roots, product classics or local heritage. Lego will forgive you for not knowing they are a Danish brand, as long as you remember their rectangle bricks, and the countless edifices you have been crafting and building with your dad. That story has even been the focus of their recent ad.

lego dad and sson

Innovating and diversifying – They went beyond their category to build a strong, all round brand. Not many toy brands count a theme park, a fashion range (that I surprisingly spotted in Copenhagen airport) and a blockbuster film to their name. From a product perspective, they’ve also diversified through new product lines to reach girls with the successful launch of Lego Friends.

Staying relevant by celebrating popular culture – the partnerships with strong equities such as Star Wars to even create a collector piece, once retailing at $500 (and probably more on e-Bay), the hype around the launch of a Simpsons range or the celebration of Breaking Bad. They have followed a strategy of brand association, which could prove successful (Angry Bird with Rio and Star Wars edition) or disastrous (Cover Girl Hunger Games edition). Not only did they broaden their audience, from fathers and sons to nerds saving to buy their collectors, but they have also managed to respond to a growing competition in the bricks building market by keeping their name at the top of consumers’ mind. To the point that porn star Christy Mack chose Lego when challenging her audience for an interesting reward (mind you, I’m not interested). Or even Cern’s competition by hiding Legos in Google Street View. Speaking about nerds, what about some new ideas for your Halloween costumes?

Lego came from nowhere indeed but – having experienced with innovation – they managed to find the right balance between keeping their heritage and embracing the Now. And that’s just clever marketing. The challenge will be to remain focused and not overwhelmed by spreading around with no clear direction or brand vision. But we shouldn’t worry too much about that since they probably learnt from their past mistakes.

lego man

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