Sometimes the biggest fattest problems are actually opportunities.


Love Jozi had two problems. One, they were an achingly cool Johannesburg T Shirt brand, but only the well heeled could afford to buy them.


Two they could see brands like Nike and Puma getting cloned and ripped off in the market stalls and predicted that happening to them


A bigger brand would do all they could to muscle their IP and threaten copyright law.


Instead they made their own bootleg. They pretended they were made in China (they faked publicity shots in Joburg’s Chinatown) and released the miss-spelled T shirts clandestinely.


Love Jozi’s well heeled clients thought it was cool that others were imitating them, but they “knew” they had the genuine article.


On the other hand, those with 3 rand instead of 13 could get their hands on something almost as cool as the real thing.


All the money went to Love Jozi.


And all the Kudos too, cause they later revealed to both markets that the brands were one and the same. A win-win. And a win at Cannes too, rightly so. Brilliant.


Today I had a conversation with a very talented designer who’s just started with us.

We talked about a project she’s been on and how she’d become a bit stymied by it. Probably because she was brand new and was feeling the pressure to be brilliant right on day one.

Then she gave up. Went home early. Walked away from it.

And started back at it later with all the pressure removed. And sailed through her first designs, and got to a really nice place with the project.

All because she’d stopped trying so hard. Which meant she could actually get her thinking straight.

It made me think about most of the times we try to create things

The more we try the less we create. You can’t schedule a moment when it all comes together. And the more you fret the worse you get.

Often  you get surprised by an idea.

You’ve stuffed your head with all the facts, chewed the brief over, kicked it about the room, then leave it. Then the subconscious mind takes over.

And occasionally an idea just sneaks up on you.

The very talented and engaging type-obsessed Andrew Byrom covers some of this in his talk “If H is a chair…”

He says (round about the 4 min mark) once you have the beginnings, of an idea, typefaces kind of design themselves.

We live in an age when the polish is becoming more important than the shoe. But when you get the thinking right, the rest follows.

We were once being briefed by the very smart Paul Bartlett, now Marketing Director of C&C, the Magners people. This was when he was at Bulmers.

He was describing how Bulmers was made at zero degrees and Magners wasn’t. And they wanted to leverage that against Magners in reaching cider-over-ice drinkers.

“So you make it that way because they drink it that way?” I said. Paul touched his nose, like they do in Charades. We knew we were spot on.

After that, getting to an ad where bottles swam like salmon back to colder climates (because they were born for ice) was the easy bit.

As Andrew Byrom would say, it just kind of designed itself.

You can see his talk here

It happens in every industry.

Tell doctors or teachers they have to meet certain targets and suddenly that’s what they concentrate on, rather than teaching or consulting.

It’s the same in advertising. Measurement is often about fear. People want to guarantee an ad will work. Or at least guarantee they won’t get sacked if it doesn’t.

But if you want something original, it doesn’t work like that. Original means it hasn’t been tried before. And that involves some element of risk.

Many clients can’t handle risk. They think it’s bad.

Some clients can handle risk. They understand that calculated risk is what propels a brand from “me too” to “look at me”.

Risk aversion is why some clients spend ridiculous amounts of money in ridiculous ways testing concepts.

Eye tracking is one. A piece of software watches where a consumer’s eyes go on an ad. And then tells you whether the ad is bad or not.


Bill Bernbach said: “We’re so busy measuring what people think, we forget we’re in the business of persuading them to think something else.”

So much of this snake oil selling is simply preying on the fears of the Marketing Director. He or She can’t afford to mess up.

Here’s a question for you. Just about everybody pre-tests ads these days.

So how come there’s such a high proportion of ads that still suck?


Just spent an hour with the very bright Steve Rigley from the Glasgow School of Art.

He was explaining how over the past few years they’ve begun to centre their teaching around a student’s aptitude and skill rather than a set curriculum.

It creates a more tailored experience for each student. And they reach higher heights because of it. So if you’re utterly brilliant as an emerging web video maestro (for example), they’ll do everything for you to excel in that area and not try to turn you into a typographer.

Of course it means they’re less rounded. And some people complain saying things like “there’s less Graphic Design” in the degree show.

But there’s more brilliant people who are being the best version of themselves possible. And walking into jobs at places like Weiden and Kennedy.

It made me think about how we create ideas here, and how other even better places do it too.

We go wide. What the amazing Tim Brown calls “Divergent thinking” in his brilliant book “Change by Design”.

Then once we’ve thought of everything, we throw most of it away. We go narrow. Convergent. We concentrate on only the solution and the best expression of that.

Just like Steve’s students. Go wide, then focus in. On the best solution for you. And the best solution for your client.

Something Seth Godin also mentions in his two step process. Same stuff, go wide (learn everything) and go narrow (specialise and be brilliant.)

My friend sheena is a glider pilot. Well in her spare time anyway.

She lives in New Zealand where throwing yourself off things is a way of life.

She was once coming into land with an instructor. Right at the front of the landing strip was a landrover, parked slightly to the right.

Sheena though “I’d better watch I don’t hit that.”

Now, a Land Rover is about 8 feet high, max. Sheena’s glider would normally be at about 30 feet at that point. And the Land Rover was away to the right, so in theory well out of the way.

But the more Sheena thought about missing it, the more she looked at it. And the more she looked at it, the more inexorably her flight path was drawn to it. Despite all her attempts, the glider just kept drifting towards the 4×4.

At the last minute, her instructor took the controls, hopped the glider over the Land Rover and landed them down on the grass. They trundled to a stop and sat there in silence. As you’d imagine, the instructor had her full attention. And he said only this.

“Never concentrate on what you’re trying to avoid. Concentrate on what you’re trying to hit.”

By thinking so much about the Land Rover, Sheena was imperceptibly steering towards it. It became the focus of her attention.

And if that’s the power it exerts on your body, imagine the power it exerts on your mind?

So don’t concentrate on the agency you’re trying to beat. Set your heart on what you want to create. You’re much more likely to hit the right target.

People are making their own ads. And some of them are quite good. This is what happens when the ad agencies become the establishment. Crafting TV ads that have no connection with real people? Worse still, what happens when those same ad people make things and pretend they’re made by real people and we all feel physically sick?

What we need are more, smaller agencies. Or more big agencies that break themselves up – psychologically speaking. Pirates. Mavericks. Jesters. Insurgents People who don’t depend on half a million pounds of research to tell you an ad sucks or is great.

(If research tells you if an ad is bad, how come there are still so many bad ads out there? You can bet your bottom dollar they’ve been researched – especially the bad ones.)

Fear not…


Fear is the enemy of creativity.

Fear stops people saying what they really think. Stops people knowing what they really think.

Fear is what makes makes client worry about what their boss will say.

So you stop thinking about making the best possible ad and start thinking about pleasing the most number of decision makers.

What if we were truly fearless? Not arrogant. Not cocky. Just fearless. Unafraid of criticism and unaffected by success.

What if we lived our lives truly free of fear? Free to be yourself and express yourself and be the best version of yourself. You’d make different choices wouldn’t you? You’d probably do a lot of things differently.

That’s my new year resolution.To be fearless.