Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Kings of Leon

As a cynical, snobby music fan here’s a question I rarely ask in any sort of positive context. So when did music get to where it is in the UK now? I can't figure it out. When did cool rock bands start becoming such mass market attractions? And how come a great band like Kings of Leon could sell out London's Wembley arena, and damn near blow the roof off it?

Some where along the line the three brothers and a cousin from Nashville, that started the bluesy rock band, have quietly and steadily morphed into superstars, with a number one single and album this year. And I think it's great.

For one thing it reassures me of the great desire by the British public to still want to hear songcraft, and see live performances and sincerity in music again. Despite the continued success of shows like X Factor, there also a real love of 'bands', with their own ideas, concepts and stories to tell. That is certainly something the mega-success of acts like Muse, Radiohead or Coldplay have proven recently. It is a strange thought for someone my age, but it occurres to me that the Foo Fighters have probably played significantly bigger headlining shows than Nirvana ever did, for example.

Another thing that comes with this is a younger generation who will see those sorts of bands as being too middle of the road – conformist and safe. Well that's great too, because that sort of reaction creates edgier, challenging art at an underground level. But the most amazing thing that struck me about the Kings Of Leon show is, they still rock too.

Yeah, the sound has changed a bit, matured, maybe even mellowed, which might offend the purest and hardcore fans of the first records. It might even pout off the more avant-garde rock fans in general (I can actually hear the sound of Danis shaking his head at me!) but there is still an edge present here. And even though personally I think the new tracks are bigger, more anthemic, and tailor made for this environment, it was actually the older songs the crowd really went wild for, in fact they only played three from the latest record.

Just a week earlier at the O2, I'd witnessed Chris Martin urging the crowd to sing along, asking for noise and challenging the them to raise the roof - KOL simply didn't have to. Singer-guitarist Caleb Followill barely said a word, his fragile lilting voice hit everyone in there square in the chest, and they sang along to every word.

There were some minimal visuals, but absolutely no pomp, no confetti, no stage theatrics, nothing but four guys and their instruments singing songs from their hearts. The crowd's passion and will for more was infectious. I've been to numerous shows this year and the "encore" was as genuine as I've seen in a long time.

For some reason the Kings of Leon haven't quite been taken to the hearts of their native America with the same gusto just yet, but here in the UK, we love it. Each track was greeted with thunderous applause and recognition.

And then at the end of the evening, with barely a word, just a tiny, shy wave, they left. Understated, passionate and genuine. And people buy into it.

Viva rock n' roll.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The L in Lagerfeld is for Lovemarks

You have to hand it to Chanel. One minute they’re dropping a spectacular exhibition experience onto Central Park in New York, and the next they’re making a gesture that is so delicately infused with memory that it is instant Lovemarks. I’m talking about the short film that Chanel’s resident Lovemark, Karl Lagerfeld, has created. Talk about zigging when others zag.

In this age of digital experimentation and one-upmanship, Lagerfeld has shot his film like an old fashioned silent movie. To me, as a long-time advocate of sisomo, I loved being taken back to the infancy of the powerful combination of sight, sound, and motion on screen. No dialogue but a soundtrack as evocative of Coco Chanel as her whispering in your ear, “One can never be too modern”. Lagerfeld understands the spirit of Coco Chanel intimately and captures it wonderfully in his 10 minute film about Chanel’s life and times. Gabrielle, the great lady of fashion, is played by Lithuanian supermodel Edita Vilkeviciute who eerily inspires the heritage of Chanel with its possible future. As a personality, Coco Chanel resonates wonderfully with women today. She didn’t marry into money or status, and she didn’t inherit it either. She created it for herself. She got out there and changed her world. Lagerfeld responds to this energy in his film and casts it with fashionistas who bring their own independence and attitude. He knew that regular film extras would not convey the understanding of material time and place that is at the heart of the movie. Intimate storytelling, bringing the past and present together in a surprising and sensual way.

Does Karl Lagerfeld get Lovemarks? Gotta believe it. Did Coco Chanel? She didn’t just get it, she was it. And still is.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


What makes some objects Lovemarks and others not? I am often asked this and have lots of examples up my sleeve, though recently, someone didn’t ask me what I thought was a Lovemark, but told me the oddest object that they thought was. The Slinky. I didn’t have to ask him what he meant. You remember them. Those sprung metal coils that ‘walk’ down stairs and tip from hand to hand like cards manipulated by a magician. I think one of the reasons the Slinky popped up was the recent death of Betty James; it was her husband, Richard, who invented the toy way back in 1945. The Slinky rapidly became a childhood icon with its distinctive sliding sound, erratic wobbly movements, and instant fun. To kids, it gave a sense of total control as you slid it from hand-to-hand. It also had the hi-tech hi-touch factor we’ve had to wait for the iPhone to rival.

Notice how the words surrounding the Slinky sound like they come straight out of Lovemarks Central Casting. Sometimes a simple object like a sprung coil of steel can capture our imaginations faster than the most elaborate entertainment. This seems to apply particularly in the land of toys. The LEGO block, a plank of wood, a rubber ball - they all can create Lovemark experiences with minimum fuss. Why? Because they connect with our imagination and put us in control. Toys like the Slinky truly understand that the consumer is boss. Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy, the Slinky is saturated with them. Next time you want a rough and ready test of whether something is a Lovemark, try the Slinky as your benchmark. Has it got Mystery (what the hell is that!)? Has it got Sensuality (slide this baby from hand-to-hand)? Is it rich in Intimacy (it bends as you desire)?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Love and Hate

I’m sometimes asked, “If Lovemarks are the things that people love, are there Hatemarks too?” My response has always been "not for me", and why do you want to go there anyway? Some brands (and people) are keen to polarize: you’re for me or you’re against me. That’s not what I believe. Personally I believe in fame through popularity, not controversy.

But if you’ve got Lovemarks, some people reckon there have got to be Hatemarks as well. There’s even a logo out there on the Web for Hatemarks that mirrors the type we have used for Lovemarks. They really do need to get out more. Google can tell us whether Lovemarks or Hatemarks attract the most attention, and it’s "Lovemarks" by a landslide. "Hatemarks" = 755 results. "Lovemarks" = 150,000.

There’s always been a tension between love and hate. A tension that romantic drama, for example, thrives on. The guy the heroine dislikes most, he’s the guy. It worked in Pride and Prejudice, and works still. Science is now discovering that the distance between love and hate may not be as big as we have always imagined. Neurobiologists at the University College London claim to have discovered what they call a 'Hate Circuit' which is activated by love as well as by hate. Although their study is based on work with just a few people, they do offer useful insight into the place of reason in love and in hate. They argue that in relation to brain activity, hate uses more of our rationality than love does. Large parts of our reason are deactivated in some way when we love. In other words, love is more emotional than hate so when you have a love/hate relationship with anything, it’s probably a certainty that love will be the decider.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Future of Advertising

When the chips are down the job of advertising has always been to sell more stuff. That’s the plain unvarnished truth and we need truth telling now more than ever. This job of advertising is just as important – or more important – in down times as it is when the good times roll. As no one is expecting growth in consumption over the coming months (far less the annual 4 percent it’s been for the last 14 years) understanding what people want, what they need, and what inspires them, will be more important than ever.

It’s no secret that the U.S. has been on a spending jag. Saving was pushed firmly onto the back burner with the heat turned not down, but off. Now people are waking up –with a huge headache. The automatic response is simple: ‘stop spending.’ But automatic responses can be counter-productive and this one comes from a very different place to the far smarter ‘start saving’. One is negative, the other positive; one looks backwards to what was, the other forward to what can be. And saving is more than just putting money away, it is also about getting value when you shop, something that requires information communicated in a way that makes sense to your life. Sounds like a job for advertising to me.

Too often it’s claimed that advertising is all about selling people stuff they don’t want and need. If it had been that dumb and short-term advertising would have been up against the wall decades ago. Instead advertising has always been a shape-shifter and it is transforming faster now than at any time in its history. We still need advertising to guide us through the complicated world we live in. We need advertising to help us make smart choices. We need advertising to connect us and entertain and inspire us with the possibilities of the future. We need advertising because it is based on the simple idea that people can be trusted to make their own decisions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Work Hard Together

At Tuesday’s inauguration, President Barack Obama was measured, realistic, and definitive about the nature of the challenges ahead for all of us in a time of great economic challenge.

He invoked Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country…” by exhorting Americans to work. Obama understands that human energy and confidence shapes the mood of a country and its economy. Pull together, work hard (in our terminology, “win ugly”), but win – the hard message still had the optimism at its heart, and celebrates innovation, imagination, and the human spirit:

"...we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

It was a leadership speech – in a sense he was filling a power vacuum, since the election definitely, but also filling the moral leadership vacuum that had been left by the Bush/Cheney redefinition of US moral responsibility.

Responsibility played a key role in the speech, implicitly and explicitly:

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

An inclusive speech, both in the demographics it appealed to, the different nations of the world, this sums up his understanding that his Presidency is part of the American narrative:

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true."
– US President Barack Obama

Below is a word cloud of President Obama's inauguration speech. The most frequent words are everyday words that connect us with the challenge ahead.

Less. Today. New. Common. Must. People. Every. Generation. Work.

For the outsider, there is a lot of odd pageantry to the US presidential inauguration, but like JFK’s famous call to action it can have lasting and profound effect.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Miracle on the Hudson

At 3:30pm last Thursday I was in my office at Saatchi NY overlooking the Hudson River when the US Air Airbus landed in the middle of the river. It brought back horrible memories of 9/11 and for several minutes the atmosphere in the office was frightfully tense.

A couple of helicopters buzzed the building and we could all see this huge plane somehow staying afloat. Within seconds, the helicopters dropped divers into the freezing river (it was about 7-degrees below 0) and passenger ferries were busy winching the plane to keep it afloat. We could clearly see passengers wearing lifejackets climbing out onto the fuselage while some of them fell into the icy water. We immediately turned on CNN where it was confirmed this was a bird strike not a terrorist attack.

And then we watched as the amazing rescue effort unfolded before our eyes. All of the 155 passengers and crew survived with 71 people treated for minor injuries and hypothermia. This really is one of the miracles of our age. Landing an Airbus on a freezing cold river is beyond belief. The captain, Chesley Sullenberger (“Sully”), was a real pro and took command. He also had gliding experience which I’m sure came in handy as he floated his engineless monster plane into the river. He got there from LaGuardia in about 5-1/2 minutes on no engines and made a unilateral command decision to put the plane down on the river, which I believe is only the 4th time in history a jet has ever made a water landing. (I remember one of them was in Russia 30-40 years ago and that also ended well.) Full credit to all concerned (especially the Harbor Master who had 60 seconds to clear the river for a jet landing!!!) with one exception. That exception was the CEO of US Air who in his press conference was corporate, wooden, unfeeling and emotionless. A living example of bureaucracy and over-hyped legal and PR operators. Everyone else was a hero. The captain, the crew (they cleared the plane in 90 seconds. Why do American Airlines take 12 minutes at JFK??) the ferry boat rescuers, the divers, NY police; Bloomberg has really improved NY’s readiness following 9/11 and it showed.

It was a pretty rough time for all our people for a few minutes and then the place erupted in cheers when it was clear that what we were watching was in fact a miracle of human endeavor, commitment and accountability. Sully Won Ugly.

Beware The Man

I’m upset to be missing the unmissable in New Zealand this week – an inspirational matching of two of great lyrical artists: Leonard Cohen and Sam Hunt will be performing to sold-out concerts in Wellington and Auckland.

Plenty of you will be familiar with “Laughing Lenny” the great Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, Buddhist Monk, and “Ladies Man” (and if you’re not you should be!) but the name Sam Hunt may be news to some non-New Zealanders.

Sam’s a poet, a balladeer, a writer of sonnets and “songs for the tone deaf,” a wild and dedicated New Zealand icon. I got to know Sam’s wandering prose through my mate Brian Sweeney. Brian was Sam’s manager for 5 years in the 80s and some years ago he gave me a bootleg of a famous concert at the legendary Gluepot Hotel in Auckland in 1984. It’s a classic, rambunctious, racy, soulful, and funny.

Being a performance poet in New Zealand 20 or 30 years ago would have put you in a select group, but Sam and his famous, eulogized dog Minstrel sure covered a lot of ground, criss-crossing the country and entertaining (and sometimes shocking) crowds in bars, theaters and country halls. Nothing is as easy as doing what you love.

That’s what attracts me to both Leonard and Sam - the confluence of their deep reflections on the nature of love and life on paper, combined with their unique and uplifting performances that celebrate the joy of living. They both sing from the soul, and people can’t help but feel the passion. Last year, Leonard Cohen closed the legendary Glastonbury music festival in the UK with what by all accounts, was a beautiful rendition of his standard “Hallelujah” (which by the way was the UK Christmas No.1 and No.2!) At 74 years old, he still knows how to win over a crowd with a mixture of humor, subtlety and total dedication to the song. You’ll see his performances described as hypnotic, or religious – songs such as “First we take Manhattan”, “Suzanne”, and “Bird on a Wire” will you have you revisiting (or downloading) your music collection for weeks afterwards.

If you can’t find yourself a ticket or you’re too far away then at least make sure to pick up Sam’s new collection “Doubtless” this week, then revisit Lian Lunson’s 1995 film “I’m your Man”, a beautiful film that celebrates Leonard’s life and music. Because I can’t be there, that’s what I’ll be doing.

Sam Hunt image from 1980 documentary “Artists Prepare”, National Film Unit

Monday, January 19, 2009

Positive Deviance rules

I'll continue the New Year the way I mean to go on, with praise for the art of curiosity. Curiosity has got to be one of the most exciting and inspiring of human qualities. It’s sure why kids are so fascinating – and not just to their grandparents! I like people who want to know more, people who ask the right questions, people who put two and two together and never simply get four. Without curiosity, innovation and invention would be processes performed by rote rather than explorations that sometimes get to shape our world. The curious can always find a new angle, a new problem, a new solution to play with. Rather than going at a challenge head on, these cats circle round the back and surprise us with the obvious time and time again.

Here’s a great example from the often conservative and rule-bound world of academia. In the general run of things, when researchers study small communities it’s the people who are at risk that occupy most of their attention. Seems like the commonsense way to use your resources best, doesn’t it? If out of a group of 100, 70 are malnourished, the obvious approach is to focus on the 70 and help them get more or better food. Faced with exactly this problem, Jerry and Monique Sternin surprised with the obvious. They headed in the opposite direction and reached profound insights the mainstream missed. Instead of focusing on the malnourished members of the community, for example, they studied why the 30 percent had done so much better. Rather than focus on how to fix the bad, their research dug into how the more successful got to be successful. Using that information they then taught the same skills, attitudes and strategies to everyone in the community.

Jerry Sternin called the process Positive Deviance. It is inspired by the idea that solutions to community problems already exist within that community. You just have to identify them and spread them. No big surprise to learn that the New York Times named it as one of the big ideas of the year. They have taken the technique into business, public health and hospitals where the Sternins and their positive deviants have led to the way to hugely improved hygiene and greatly reduced infection rates. Sternin put it brilliantly, “One of the best ways to solve problems is to think about how we act, rather than acting upon how we think.” Amen to that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lift up your eyes

I have posted before about how the Internet enriches our appreciation of the world. Now, just as I can walk the streets of New York from a screen in my hotel in Paris with Google Street, I can scan the universe with WikiSky.

WikiSky is an amazingly detailed map of the sky put together from countless high quality images from pros like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Eventually the site hopes to cover more than a quarter of the entire sky but even at this early stage of development, around 500 million stars are included with more being added every year. The project is inspirational both in concept and the reach of its ambition. Its vision was inspired by the concern that most people are too focused on their everyday life to consider the big challenge we face: surviving in a universe when we exist on just a single planet. Stephen Hawking summed up this challenge when he said, “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.” Well yes, accidents and effects for which we are directly responsible. For me, though, the joy of the site is not learning about the millions of planets, stars and galaxies that surround us and certainly not meditating on the precariousness of humanity’s survival. For me this site is a reminder of the precious nature of our own world. There is nothing like raising your eyes to the heavens to appreciate the wonder of the earth beneath your feet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Social Work in Amsterdam

On the morning in December that my mother died I was in Amsterdam opening a Saatchi & Social exhibition. The exhibit had been put together by Jan Muller and his team and they had arranged an incredible venue De Oude Kerk (Old Church). The Church is right in the center of the red light area and is the burial ground for many of the Amsterdamers who were instrumental in founding New York. It was a wonderful place for me to walk to having received the phone call from my sister only one hour earlier. I was able to take some quiet time in the Church and was then lucky enough to be surrounded by many caring Saatchi & Saatchi Amsterdam friends who could not have been more family-like. It was a tremendous comfort to me and I will be forever grateful to those warm Dutch men and women (and a few Scandinavians and English too).

The Church was kind enough to take me into a private room where Rembrandt got married and showed me around the 600-year old garden. They told me that many of the working women use the Church for solace and it was great to see this spiritual home was still being used to comfort human beings in their hour of need.

The Saatchi & Social exhibit is something of which I’m very proud. The original idea came from my dearest friend Paolo Ettorre and first opened in Milan in 1995.

The works on show at the Oude Kirche spanned some 35 years of Saatchi & Saatchi Social Campaigns from the iconic “Pregnant Man” to more recent work from my friends at the Amsterdam Agency. The exhibition confronts many issues we wish we’d never had to: Child abuse, cancer, road safety, STDs, war, racism, drugs, torture, contraception, censorship and the environment. The work can shock, frighten and sometimes even hurt – but all of it is designed to make people think and act.

The greatest threat to humanity is not poverty, pollution or persecution, it is indifference. Each and every one of us has to make choices, to do the right thing and to inspire others to act and to make a difference.

We have to break the truth out, attract attention and get commitment on issues of serious public importance. We have to transform a numbed response to a seemingly overwhelming problem, to move people and let them know that their involvement matters.

Global enterprises have to lead global change. The role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. The role of individuals is not to look away but to look ahead, to show courage, to commit and to act. We can realize dreams. And each one of us can make a difference.

That’s why I’m proud of the exhibition, and thankful for all of the beautiful human energy that has gone into making a difference where it has been needed most.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Three Tuesday Notes on Winning Ugly Together

1. Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison’s book Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis puts winning down to three key actions: getting an edge before the game by sticking to your core; obsessive focus during the game; and playing smart by controlling the controllables. He talks about playing smart against Boris Becker. Gilbert knew he was no match for Becker’s power shots so played a soft hitting game that put Becker off his rhythm and won the match. Control the controllables. It’s about not getting distracted when things don’t go your way (a real life inevitability) and staying focused on flexible, rigorous execution of what’s core. Adjust accordingly to circumstances and execute immediately. Take that to work tomorrow.

2. Nothing favors the brave more than in tough times when everyone else hunkers down and waits. In the mid-1970s the U.S. saw unemployment reach 9%, inflation surge 11% and the stock market crash 48%. Most people hunkered down while Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft, Frederick Smith launched FedEx, Michael Ovitz opened Creative Artists Agency, Time launched the game-breaking People magazine, and Saatchi & Saatchi got its sea legs as global change agents. These people knew that inspiration trumps desperation.
3. To understand “Together” you need to understand Geese. One of the greatest Saatchi & Saatchi ideas ever made (in Wellington many moons ago) is the two minute “Lessons from Geese”. Two examples:
  • As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an ‘uplift’ for the birds that follow. By flying in a ‘v’ formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent extra flying range. Lesson: People who share a sense of community can help each other get where they are going more easily …because they are travelling on the trust of one another.
  • When the lead goose tires, it drops back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position. Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as
    when we are strong. Take turns doing the hard tasks.
Honk if you’re Ugly.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Winning Ugly Together

My mantra for 2009 is “Winning Ugly Together”. I wish it were “Winning Beautiful Together” but the reality is that the economic and commercial challenges we face will draw on our stamina and our imaginations in ways most of us have never faced before. It’s going to be ugly, and the only way to face this is a) together and b) with a totally winning attitude.

“Winning Ugly” is borne of the rough and tumble of great victories on the rugby field, on the basketball court, on the tennis court, in political arenas, in battlefields. Grit, guts and genius spilling out from every pore to secure victory at the final moment.

Vince Lombardi, football “Coach of the Century”, said “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.”

I’ve just had a note from Pully Chau, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi China. Their new business team worked for six weeks straight, relentlessly, and have come up with five major new business wins and two pending. This is a time for ultra-competitiveness and the China Lovemarks Team have set the 2009 benchmark for our network. They are committed to playing smarter; actions not words; inspirational leadership; optimism; and keeping the love flowing.

Nothing has changed in the belief system we have developed over the last decade: Peak Performance; Lovemarks as a world-changing idea; True Blue as our means of creating sustainability. Nothing Is Impossible remains stamped on our foreheads. All of this gets executed in 2009 with urgency, relentlessness, and a passion to win. Together. Ugly (or Beautiful). As Sean Fitzpatrick, the most successful All Black captain of all time said after a memorably bruising encounter, “It wasn’t pretty out there, but we’ll take the win.”