Can responsible creative turn #metoo awareness in to action?

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a wave of sexual harassment allegations hit the media industry. #metoo has given women a platform to step forward bravely, and many offenders are finally being held accountable for years of unacceptable behaviour.

At WPP Stream this past weekend, Facebook led a session on the #metoo campaign and asked what actions the collective group of brands, agencies & platforms could take to take this forward. We didn’t exactly make strides ahead, but the open forum for discussion was a positive step and we left making personal commitments to do what we could within our own businesses.

Returning to London, I remembered that I’d defined a similar set of ‘actions’ back in July, post-Cannes Lions.

At this year’s Festival of Creativity, Madonna Badger returned to the stage to talk about responsible creative work, joining a panel hosted by P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard alongside media legend Tina Brown CBE and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Quite the line-up.

I’m always fairly sceptical of discussing topics like this via panel, since they often don’t reach the ‘practical solutions’ bit of the debate quick enough. But the quality of the panellists was high, and they didn’t disappoint.

I won’t go in to great detail on the horrifying examples they showed; the #WomenNotObjects’ promo video that highlights the derogatory ways women are represented by brands, the “Legs-it’ front cover from the Mail featuring our female leaders from the UK and Scotland, the disgraceful clip of Tucker Carlson verbally abusing Lauren Duca (most shocking of all). But it hit me hard. Just as the stories we’ve heard over the past month or so, most recently from former Crystal Castles frontwoman Alice Glass this morning.

Maintaining a safe environment for women to work in is very different to rebalancing gender stereotypes in marketing. One is a basic human right, the other is a societal one. But still, I’m going to share the practical guidance I heard earlier this year, as I believe that the two things are intrinsically linked. The culture of your business is impacted by the work that you produce, and vice versa.

One. Test your creative’s equality score. In a bid to strengthen its #SeeHer gender-equality push, the Association of National Advertisers is making its ad-scoring system available for any copy-testing service, meaning it could become a standard module in the software engines by which analytically inclined marketers evaluate ads. For me, on this one, the question here is; why WOULDN’T you do this?

Two. Use Madonna Badger’s mentality: Props, Parts, Plastic. This is a simple methodology for ensuring that you’re not objectifying women within your ideas. Don’t reduce them to props, don’t use body parts to reduce their input to physical characteristics, and don’t paint women with an unrealistic plasticky gloss. The latter is perhaps the most dangerous, since it creates a sense of never quite being good enough – and the representation of women as plastic dolls is something a real human can never achieve.

Three. Try something. Brown referenced how excited she was to see more ‘women as subject, women as director’ projects do so well recently. Big Little Lies was one, Warner Bros.’ Wonder Women is another. Being brave enough to try this out is a huge step towards trying to get better and broader representation of female characters in to the media landscape. And the ROI is there; Wonder Woman has been a huge commercial success, and Big Little Lies has seen mass critical acclaim.

Four. Mentorship. Badger flagged this as a key way to not only encourage more women in to the positions that will help them make the decisions about how women are represented, but also in supporting both men & women in how they shape ideas to be more balanced.

Five. Form allegiances. Pritchard (like Keith Weed the day before) highlighted the UN’s two projects in this area. The first is the Unstereotype Alliance; designed to which aims to accelerate progress around how women and men are portrayed in ads and brand-led content. The second is the Gender Diversity study, being carried out by McKinsey; which is global research on the gender gap and the case for greater diversity in the workplace. There are many more projects you can get involved with, commit time to, and work with others to speed things up.

And if you’re trying to change, that’s a good thing. Badger referenced the ‘Daughter’ #DriveProgress ad from Audi, which was well received when it aired within the Super Bowl this year – then slated for being the only action taken towards readdressing the balance. But we can’t slate every brand for trying to do something differently and not being immediately able to change. The reality is that things can’t move that fast, sadly. Intent and a move in the right direction is a fine place to start.

Can’t-miss Cannes

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

Next week, the worlds of communications, media and advertising descend on Cannes for another International Festival of Creativity. While one of the biggest draws is the people you meet and the pool of new business, talent and potential partnerships; I get more FOMO at Cannes Lions than any other festival in the world. And that’s because of the stellar speaker line-up itself.

My Cannes advice is always the same; quality over quantity. You won’t get to see everything. The lines are giant, you’ll get grabbed by a client or a contact to discuss something vital, you’ll go to the wrong place. The only way to survive is to pick your can’t-miss sessions, focus on those, and be flexible with the rest of your schedule.

So with that in mind, here are the ones I’ll be lining up for at LEAST an hour in advance for the five main days of the festival.


AI enhanced Creativity with Adobe. Here we’ll here from Chris Duffey on technology-driven innovations such as Adobe Sensei that will push forward game-changing creative with AI and machine learning. I’m excited to hear about some tangible examples here, since this is one of the key trends to provide competitive advantage for agencies in the next 18 months.

Next Gen Content Creation. Yes, we all know that talking to younger generations that digest content differently and use technology as second nature is challenging. There’s a million sessions on this topic at Cannes. But this one hosted by BBC Advertising promises to look more practically at the situation. The panel will discuss the challenges faced and storytelling techniques employed to cut through with viewers and consumers. Hear from those on the front line of content creation – documentary maker Reggie Yates, BBC reporter Ben Zand and Vivendi’s Dominique Delport, in a panel discussion chaired by Richard Pattinson from BBC StoryWorks.


Mario Testino is one of the big names of the week, and what’s interesting about his session on connection and integrity through imagery is that he’s being interviewed by Teen Vogue. You’d normally expect him to be up there with an editor of a more mature fashion magazine, so I’m keen to hear what the angle is for a younger generation. I’m hoping we start to cover a bit of ‘influencer responsibility’ here.

It’s also China Day on Tuesday, celebrating and exploring the East’s influence on global marketing. We’ll be hosting our own session as part of this, where Fast Company’s Jeff Beer will lead a discussion with Glory Zhang, chief marketing officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group and H+K Strategies’ CCO, Simon Shaw. They’ll discuss Huawei’s ambition as a Chinese brand eager to take on its Western counterparts and disrupt the status quo. Throughout the day there’s some fascinating discussions on other topics, but my top recommendation would be Baidu’s take on the future of AI.


adidas, one of our most-loved and longest-running clients is hosting a session on reinvention alongside megastars Stan Smith and Alexander Wang in the Lumiere Theatre today. This will undoubtedly be a lively discussion on the brand’s constant desire to evolve and what it truly means to be authentic in 2017 & beyond.

Then in the afternoon there’s Brooklyn Brothers’ session with the legend that is Sir Ian McKellen on the craft of storytelling. That’s one not to be missed.


Grey’s 11th annual music seminar this year features Pussy Riot alongside new global creative director Per Pedersen and ECD Alice Ericsson. We need new, disruptive ideas and action. So Grey’s theory is: let’s meet with the rule breakers and find out how it’s done. We’ll hear about the band’s personal journeys from punks to performance artists through to activists with the courage to stand up for their beliefs, even through a horrifying 21 months in a remote Russian prison. According to these women, “anyone can be Pussy Riot”. I’m looking forward to hearing what that means when it comes to the audience in question…


Today sees WPP founder and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell in conversation with Super Bowl & Major League Soccer heavyweight Robert Kraft, and Academy-Award winning director Ron Howard. In a wide-ranging discussion of the intersecting worlds of sport, cinema and marketing communications, the trio will cover everything from making Oscar-winning films and taking the NFL’s greatest prize to the role of commercial creativity in supporting the sports and entertainment industries.

Then a final farewell to Cannes from Burger King: how to suck less at being a client. This should be a welcome end to the programme, with a dash of humour but a serious undertone. How can a burger chain get the world talking about its ideas? How can BK consistently punch above its weight? BK’s CMO and global head of brand ask us to join them for an “R-rated presentation that will showcase the flame-grilling secrets that keep the fire of the brand lit.”

Don’t do the shiny thing

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

A few weeks back I spoke at the inaugural One Question conference in London. The premise of this new event is simple but refreshing: one question, many perspectives. I for one appreciate the focus this brought to the day, and that it allowed me to carve out a really clear response based on the point of view I was asked to represent.

The question at hand was: how do we successfully marry humanity with technology?

When I thought about these two worlds colliding through the lens of what I do at H+K, I considered how we use both to generate amazing creative work. For me, the humanity is the idea; and the role of technology is to enhance or make it better. It shouldn’t be the other way around.

My story began back in March at SXSW. My favourite session was J.J. Abrams’ ‘Through the eyes of Robots & Murderers’, which focused on the very same topic as the first One Question – the relevance of the human factor in digital communications.

What J.J. was really interested in talking about though was empathy.  When asked how storytelling would be improved by technology, his answer was quite simply that it wouldn’t. His take was that if you can’t put yourself in the position of the person you’re telling a story about, or the person watching, no amount of tech will help you make the story better.

And this was the core of my point for One Question. Yes, technology has made telling stories more accessible and easier to share –  but it can be distracting.

Thing is, when it’s done right, technology can create empathy in spades. I referenced REWIND founder Sol Roger’s work with VR Together (an organisation promoting ideas, projects and technologies in VR that have the impact to positively affect human lives) as an ideal example of this. Particularly, the use of VR snowscapes to help speed up and ease the recovery of burn patients. There are many others in the same space; the UN’s first ever VR experience ‘Clouds Over Sidra’ that explores the world of a 12-year old in Syria, and the National Autism Society’s immersive video (below) for its ‘Too Much Information’ campaign as two key examples.

But my session wasn’t about good and bad uses of VR and immersive tech. That’s too easy a target. VR is either great, like the New York Times’ VR app that takes its reporting in to a completely new space when it comes to creating empathy. Or it’s utterly rubbish, like CNN’s screening of one of the democratic debates last year (which was universally panned for just putting journalists ‘closer’ to a few people standing around in suits).

I actually think we’re guilty of getting distracted by technology on a much smaller scale.

I then pointed to two examples from Land Rover. The first was Adventuregram; a modern version of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story powered by Instagram. As shown in the demo below it used the image tagging function to ask people to make a choice between two or three routes, then directed you to additional different feeds to progress. A clever use of the platform for sure, but Mat Morison’s analysis of it showed that (using likes as a proxy) it got on average 15 times less interaction that typical branded content. Why? Because even though with my media hat on, this is smart experimentation, it feels a bit like being clever for clever’s sake – rather than consider how people naturally behave on the platform.

But here’s where things get sticky for me. The second example (also in the video below) was a similar interactive story called Solitude in Sawtooth. This time it feels somewhat more intuitive. Here, the experience exists within a single feed, and asks you to spend more time there by featuring a series of images and video clips that tell the story. Looking at the Likes, it fares little better than the original, but for me this is a far better bit of innovation.

In fact, I had an argument about ‘creativity for creativity’s sake’ on Twitter back when this came out, but my opinion is still the same – if we constantly berate people for playing about and testing the limits of what can be done, we’ll never get anywhere.

Another thing my One Question session allowed my to do was indulge in answering a question that’s bugged me for years. WHY IS THERE A QR CODE IN THE BACK OF MY CADBURY DAIRY MILK? My Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Rocky Mallow Road to be precise.

So I bought one, downloaded a QR scanner (because after all, I’m in the UK – not China, where QR codes are standard procedure for delivering information). It wouldn’t scan. To give the code the benefit of the doubt, I downloaded a second app. Still nothing. I then removed the chocolate from the wrapper, and finally with a near-perfectly flat surface, saw success.

What I was directed to really surprised me. It was a TRUE moment of joy; a beautiful Vine (RIP) of a baby blowing raspberries. Totally on-brand, totally in sync with what Cadbury represents. I loved it. So why did it take me more than ten minutes to get there?

While your ‘average person’ would have given up long before, I’d stuck it out. But what a shame! Moving beyond the initial clip I was served, I found an entire hub full of viral moments of joy, curated by Cadbury. Of course, I have no idea how the brand is using this elsewhere in its comms or what the objective is. But with a simple URL, I could have found that clip almost instantly. Why make it harder for me? There must be a reason the brand’s printed them on its bars since 2011, but I’m still at a loss as to why.

I’ve been talking about social platforms for over almost 12 years now (scary). We as an industry are always bitching about people misunderstand new platforms, about how people overlook them as being ‘just for kids’. Snapchat is one of those for me, but in fact for the opposite reason. 80% of its users fall inbetween the ages of 14-18; it truly IS a community built by and for youth. But my beef with the Snapchat situation is that there’s a misinterpretation of the content, and the role it could potentially play in shaping the views of a generation. Of course there’s a lot of drivel in there, it’s a private network after all, but for me there’s real potential in there to create empathy through shared experiences.

At One Question I called out the platform’s use of Live Events to show people’s perspectives on specific themes to the rest of its community. A curated view of an important moment, not from media or ‘influencers’, but from everyday kids, distributed at scale. Snapchat’s Passport series is a window into the way other cultures live, the anniversary of ten years since Hurricane Katrina deals with a delicate subject through the eyes of people who’ve lived it, and even the behind-the-scenes stuff at music events like the VMAs present a different view.

Empathy doesn’t have to be about sadness; it’s just about looking at something through someone else’s eyes for a while.

The thing I hoped to leave the audience with was quite simple; do the human thing first. Come up with the idea and use tech to help, make it easier, better or enhance it.

I referred to Marks & Spencer’s very first Adventures in Imagination ad. A beautiful bit of work. Stunning in fact. A unique, impactful idea brought to life by people working for 18 months to get the right shot, with a dash of modern lighting technology and editing techniques, but no post production animation. The perfect example of what I wanted to get across.

Let’s do what we do best and come up with irrational, off-brief, bizarre ideas and use the technology we have available to us to make work shine, rather than be led by it.

Gen Alpha and the desire to be current vs. considered

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

This morning, an interesting thing happened. Well. My use of the word ‘interesting’ here is fairly broad…

I noticed that I’d made a mistake in an over-excited tweet I’d posted last night, and the familiar clench of annoyance hit me right in the stomach.

I’m in the older end of the amorphous ‘millennial’ group. We were raised without social media being prevalent until the explosion of MySpace in 2003. Yes, you can argue that there were a few early starters before this, but that’s really when things went mainstream. When we graduated from MSN Messenger to a proper, open social network. And I was 18 by then.

We were a generation advised never to delete things. Posts and comments lived on the Internet forever. We were told to be careful, and that what we posted online would impact and affect the way employers, partners and basically EVERYONE would view us in the future.

And so. There’s this weird juxtaposition I feel when I make a mistake in a tweet. Because I’m acutely aware of the impact of my social presence on my reputation and job, I’m keen to get things ‘right’. My irritation in misspelling a word is beyond rational. I’ll update a blog post several times if it’s still not quite right. But I’m also aware of the whole ‘don’t edit’ mantra that was drummed in to me via every social media guru’s blog out there as I was starting my career. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

The next generation; our Gen Z, is suffering an even greater tension in this area.

On one hand, capturing the moment, in all its unfinished, unpolished glory, is more important than presenting something perfectly. There’s a craving to be experimental, to test and edit and play. We explored this for a pitch recently, and that message came through loud and clear, from younger men and women from the UK, Russia, China and the US.

On the other hand, the presentation of a perfect life, filtering, posing, is more prevalent than ever.

Yes, these two trends can converge; you can be in continual beta when it comes to how you produce social output, while also being meticulous about what you shoot.

But if the conflicting desire to be ‘current’ versus ‘considered’ is something that started with my generation, and is becoming ever more challenging to the next – where will we see this go when it comes to ‘Generation Alpha’ (babies born from 2010 onwards)?