Lil’ Dicky and embarrassing ad agencies

Advertising agencies have a responsibility to foster culture, to capitalise on memes as the basis for selling products and help brands reach their desired audiences. Passing fads, novelties and limp parodies do not provide the basis for enduring and connective advertising or branding campaigns. It should be a truth universally acknowledged that comedy rap is seldom funny and often terrible, especially when being done by a privileged white person. Nevertheless the chronically unfunny Lil’ Dicky was not only born of an Advertising agency (Goodby Silverstein), he was actually rehired from Account Management to copywriting after they saw one of his parody rap videos.

Lil’ Dicky, who differentiates himself from those other [read black] rappers who ‘rap about going to the club and popping bottles’ as being a ‘normal [read white and middle class] guy’ that [white] people can relate to, is from a wealthy background a slid into a career in advertising, first as suit then as a creative. Much like Macklemore’s Thrift Shop and your aunt’s Facebook posts about Black Friday, Lil’ Dicky’s denunciation and parodying of consumerism in Hip Hop and in a broader cultural context is both classist and racist. It’s the implied ‘look how stupid and desperate these people are to get a cheap TV’ and ‘oh aren’t these rappers so garish and tacky with their gold chains and Grey Goose bottles’, it’s Iris Worldwide’s ‘Iris on Benefitsflyers but with an added racial dimension. There’s no nuanced or considered take on why consumerism is a central lyrical and visual feature in commercial Hip Hop, just a case of using comedy to browbeat the black nouveau rich and signal the distance between those without the social capital and those with all of the capital, be it economic, social or cultural. In providing an outlet for this pernicious punch-down kind of satire Ad agencies are only demonstrating how out of touch they are with today’s world and specifically with today’s America. Today’s ‘woke‘ generation are ready to pick things apart, to rally around purpose and elevate causes to the top of the cultural agenda. They crave authenticity and are ready to tear down messaging that marginalizes and belittles people.

Brands are still working out what their relationship to culture is. The days in which they could rent-out ‘cool’ by way of celebrity appearances in 30 second TV spots are gradually subsiding due to the surprising cultural elevation television whereby agencies are under more pressure to match the standard of programming with more clever and creative ads. Brands are now holding the reigns over a lot of the western world’s cultural output due to my generation’s refusal to pay for any kind of artistic or cultural produce.It is therefore important for both culture and brands that any work produced that has any pretension to being culturally relevant or artistically valid must be original, well crafted and able to resonate with its audience. This is more succinctly put in an article by upstart agency KRPT LDN in a blog post:

This battle between art vs advertising is one that could be resolved if we lived in a more transparent world where brands have a clear mission and focus on being part of culture instead of using it.

This is why I take issue with Lil’ Dicky and his cheerleaders in US Adland and this is why I feel the need to point out the contrast between the Red Bull Music Academy approach of working in a direct, organic way with artists such as A$AP Rocky, Skepta and PC Music against, the support that sportswear brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike have shown the grime scene or how Vans remain connected to their association with the Skate scene with some of the more blundering attempts by brands and agencies to connect with the broader culture.

Part of the problem seems to be rooted in the lack of general diversity in the agency world where the old guard still very much seem to be in control of a lot of creative initiatives. The very fact that Lil’ Dicky’s mediocre comedy raps were enough to get him hired by Goodby Silverstein creative department is telling of the tone-deafness that plagues many parts of the industry. Take for example Lucky Generals’ completely over-egged collaboration with UK Hip Hop act Rylo for Pot Noodle which forces the poor aspiring rapper to create a lukewarm banger called ‘Winner’ which amounts to how your mum imagines a rap video to be.

Another instance that caught my eye was a piece in Campaign by Paul Burke which considers the creative legacy of working-class lads David Bowie and Alan Rickman.The writer makes some valid points about the status of working class creatives in the ad industry and bemoans the trend of ‘bloking down’- i.e. sticking to coded class behaviours. The problem with the article is that the cultural aspiration that Paul Burke believes to have been lost in today’s talent is largely irrelevant to today’s cultural landscape. Distinctions between high and low culture are being rapidly eroded as the ‘digitally native’ (sorry!) generation have been able to access and interpret art from both cultural spheres with ease. Beyonce videos are now written about in Pitchfork, Selfies are discussed in The Atlantic as a legitimate art form and Grime artists regularly perform at the ICA. The article in itself presents a valid argument about class but is misses the point in seeing culture as a ladder to climb up; today’s creatives are grabbing what they like from wherever they can find it and throwing it into the mix.

The challenge for creative agencies and marketers is to understand these underlying cultural trends, to engage meaningfully with today’s creatives and most importantly to not be embarrassing.


Remembering David Bowie: Creative innovator and lasting cultural brand

It was with great sadness this morning that I found out about David Bowie’s death through a push notification on my phone from the Guardian app. I don’t think I’ve ever been this sad about a famous musician dying before- perhaps because his artistry was so moving and immersive, maybe it was in seeing the cross generational reactions including everyone from rock dads to pop stars to electronic and dance music heads chime in with their favourite Bowie tracks, interviews and images on social media- I can’t say for sure.

There is definitely a lot to be learned from Bowie’s legacy artistically, personally and maybe even spiritually but we can also learn a lot when we assess David Bowie as a brand. The lazy option in doing this would be to characterise each incarnation of the icon in his artistic journey from psychedelic folk singer through to hard rock, art rock, glam rock, soul, funk, experimental, new wave, pop, industrial, drum n bass and then back to art rock using a plethora of different characters including Major Tom, Ziggy Startdust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke as being rebrand after rebrand. The fact however is that David Bowie, through all of his reinventions, musical and visual experiments, interests and pursuits was an incredibly consistent brand. Reinvention and that constant need to explore, experiment and take risks, along with high-artistry and carefully-crafted cultural experiences, is the cornerstone of the Bowie brand. It’s difficult to reduce this electrifying personality to a mere brand and an extended discussion of rockstars as brands so I’ll leave it here for now but R.I.P. all the same to an artist whose work has defined the last 50 years and whose legacy will inspire the next.






Notes on the ad agency of 2016

Happy 2016 (well let’s hope so!). These are my notes on what the ad agency of 2016 should look like. Inspired by Nils Leonard’s great piece in Campaigand Jamal Edwards of SBTV’s piece in that same publication as well as this one by Clive Martin at Vice, this is very much a work in progress and may be subject to amends throughout the year.

The ad agency of 2016 knows that it traffics art and culture between true innovators and brands.

The ad agency of 2016 knows that it constantly needs to justify its existence to a weary public and to its clients.

The ad agency of 2016 knows the difference between a highly relevant piece of art and a short-term gimmick

The ad agency of 2016 works directly with great artists, musicians, writers, thinkers, technologists and designers.

The ad agency of 2016 knows that it is nothing without a thriving, constantly developing and innovative cultural landscape so it gives back accordingly.

The ad agency of 2016 respects solid academic credentials in its talent but looks beyond high ranking universities and unpaid internships when recruiting.

The ad agency of 2016 never practices nepotism.

The ad agency of 2016 is proud of its outreach initiatives to schools in deprived areas, to those who may have been written off academically and to those who haven’t quite found someone to mentor them and foster their talent.

The ad agency of 2016 has creatives with the irreverence of Kanye West, the cultural bravery of Bjork and the refined craftsmanship of Jamie XX.

The ad agency of 2016 has planners as thoughtful as David Foster Wallace, as immersive as James Joyce and as questioning as George Orwell.

The ad agency of 2016’s suits are entrepreneurs who try to emulate the visionary nature of Steve Jobs, the creative businessperson credentials of Vivienne Westwood and strong leadership and steady resilience of Larry Page.

The ad agency of 2016 has no use for buzzwords or jargon.

The ad agency of 2016 has a senior management team who foster a culture of trust, the look of the office is controlled by the staff and is ever evolving and the music plays loud.

The ad agency of 2016 knows that it has to fight to keep its talent and uses purpose, development and responsibility as its bargaining chips.

The ad agency of 2016 is a brand in itself.

The ad agency of 2016 starts with one brave client and a small team of highly intelligent, confident, creative and diverse people.



Cool Shit Round Up 28.08.2015

The Ad

C’est shook by Grey London for Orangina

The Art

Back to Bed. A surrealist video game based on the work of Dali, Magritte and Escher.

The Song/Video

The Weeknd x Kanye West (on production)

The Article

The Internet’s Newest Plague: The Cult of Negative Viral Content by Clive Martin at Vice.


The Making of Jack Ü and Justin Bieber’s ‘Where are Ü Now’