Strong brands. Great ideas. Impacting culture.

Great ideas aren't around the corner. They happen when strong brands and smart people get together with the aim to create something meaningful. Something that will feed culture and disrupt conventional wisdom. They get people to give a damn and react in a way that transcends the action of buying stuff. Sometime they even change the world as we know it.

think differently this christmas.

Although this blog isn’t a reviewing website, it’s been a while since I haven’t posted something and what’s better than the Christmas spirit to celebrate (and rant) on what Adland has to offer this year.

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Last year saw a burst of newcomers and as there’s always so much you can say about Christmas, most brands ended up saying the same thing, to the point that Currys and Harvey Nichols shared voice for giftface. That’s probably why everyone is taking on a subversive message for this year’s Holidays. Let’s start with the very Harvey Nichols who clearly didn’t want to risk being imitated this year with this original – if not questionable – execution “Britalia”. In an era of data-driven clients, I’ve read that the retailer recorded a peak in sales of Italian products… Buon natale then! But Harvey Nichs isn’t the only one to have taken an original approach, it’s hats off to the never-disappointing W+K and their latest spot for TK Maxx that brought a brilliant Christmas twist to their new brand promise.

And how can we forget the ball opener that was Burberry’s trailer-like short about the life of Thomas Burberry? Unfortunately for them and as with all things successful, they seem to be on for unveiling the full feature…

In the mean time, Currys stayed within the reasonable with a humorous take on gifting and House of Fraser built on last year’s musical success. One will note my deliberate move to omit John Lewis’ effort which will, by no doubt given their choice of director, be another tear-jerker that you’ll either love or hate.

Merry Christmas Adland, and keep thinking differently for more than just the Holidays!

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bring it on, rio.

The Olympics season is upon us and although Team GB have just started to bag the ultimate prize, Adworld didn’t fail to unload the usual stack of commercials from our favourite sponsors, ambushers and opportunists alike. You could be forgiven to think it will be hard to find great work this year. After all, a brief that has both the words Olympics and Rio in it doesn’t give much space to creative ingenuity. A maxi quadrennial year also means investments had to be prioritised between the Euros, the Olympics and, of course, Zlatan already being a living god in the Premierleague.

I’ll start with one that rarely disappoint – the swoosh. After the Make it Count campaign, our friends from Portland did it again, this time with Unlimited You, their latest positioning building on their tagline (which they shatter in the spot). A clip that is as inclusive (genders and sports alike) as the Olympics are meant to be, and one that still has that edge of personality they’ve recently introduced in their work. Start with the teaser and see it for yourself.

But it wasn’t about personality for everyone, as most broadcasters thought it would be tears of joy that would drive us to the aisles. That was the case for P&G who continued their Thank You Mum franchise ; Always who brought an Olympics twist to #likeagirl ; and Dick’s who gave us a lesson in biology and human nature with Gold in US.

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The greatest show on Earth is also the occasion to offer world-class storytelling, celebrating those athletes and their inspiring stories. Gillette tells us what happens behind the scenes of an athlete’s life in Perfect isn’t Pretty (although I find the link to the brand quite disappointing), Powerade went for the story of a kid overcoming obstacles in his personal life to make it to the big stage with a new instalment of Just a Kid. But one story that was worth telling this year was the one of the first ever Refugees team, the Olympics being the perfect playground for them to prove the world they’re more than what people think. Obviously a powerful story will attract lots of opportunists and Visa really missed the plot here, having such an incredible story to tell but failing to even scratch the surface, or to execute it the right way. Grey London, on the other hand, did UNHCR proud with this clip to celebrate the team’s participation to Rio.

I left my favourite for the end. There were lots of expectations on C4 after they’ve raised the bar quite high with their Superhumans clip 4 years ago. Well guess what, they’re back, moving from strength to unlimited ability (yes Nike, they can). Here’s a clip celebrating those who overcome their disability well beyond the Olympics stage. And don’t miss the short clips telling the stories and skills of the cast in the film. Hats off.

PS: Since I’ve skipped through most of the noise out there, feel free to check Adage and Campaign for a full list.

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right place, right time.

What is Starbucks’ main success factor? Location, location, location.

I was reading one of Dave Trott’s articles on content and the fact that the real question wasn’t about how good it was, but rather how well it was distributed. Although I disagree that content can be anything (people don’t eat ****), I found the point on its delivery quite interesting.

After the year of content and the year of mobile, maybe it’s logical that everything is now about context. What made Amazon successful a few years back is now common practice. You’re much more likely to listen to suggestions if they are tailored to you and if you’re in the mindset of buying. I graduated with a dissertation on the potential of NFC and how supermarket shoppers could be prompted with a relevant promotion when walking past the relevant aisle. Or imagine McDonalds calling out drivers on the motorway with a contextual suggestion on Apple CarPlay?

After launching a partnership with Spotify, Uber has just unveiled an API for developers to create contextual content and services for their riders (think about Heineken telling you about some cool bars in the area you’re heading to). 4newswall made the news accessible and relevant to millennials, and was hosted on Tumblr. Even the latest iOS is now “learning” your habits to suggest actions based on the context you find yourself in.

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Most marketers are scared of the connected world’s ecosystem, not knowing where to start. That’s probably why most content is still buried within millions of YouTube videos and Facebook posts – the megaphones of social media. The truth is that the countless platforms available offer the richest opportunities in terms of audience and context.

So instead of creating content for the sake of it, start by learning your audience’s pathways. Only then you can reach them with relevant content that won’t necessarily hit billions of likes from some bots in India, but that will engage and move people to their very core. And that’s pretty much what true content should be about.

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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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