I visited a Wetherspoons over the weekend.
There you go. I said it. I admit it.I visited the lowest rung of the boozer ladder. No music, no olives or wasabi nuts and a menu where the numbers are printed bigger than the photographs of the food. And, instead of choosing a mid-range beer, I chose the cheapest beer on tap: a pint of IPA for 99p.
I'm like the next man. I have a repertoire of drinking establishments I go to and a repertoire of drinks I usually drink. But over the weekend I wanted to forget about these temporarily so I ended up in a Wetherspoons drinking cheap bitter.
That's why I like going home to the North East for the weekend. There's a different vibe about the bars, the pubs are full of old men and the Social Clubs can't be described without visiting them. When I'm there I catch up with my dad and his mates. I chat to them about what they've been up to, and they ask me how expensive things are "down in London."Not what things are like, but what they cost. I talk about experience, they talk about price.
When I'm there I ask them what ads they have noticed recently, or if they have been given any freebies at the supermarket. The feedback I get from them is brilliant. You see, these people are the North East. These are the men that have worked all their lives, looking at the prices of everything they buy and weighing up the benefit with the price. It may be a new sofa or it may be a pint of Brown Ale. It makes no odds, the process is the same: if I can get it cheaper here and the experience is the same as that place down the road, I'll get it here thankyouverymuch. But, the price always comes first.
The problem is, I've never seen these people walking around here at Engine Towers or any other agency I've been to. In fact, I feel that I stick out like a sore thumb sometimes just because I refuse to soften my Northern drawl.
I moved away from the North East 12 years ago. I was the first person in my family to go to Uni, the only one at all to get an MA and my dad thinks I've "made it" because I live in London. As much as I like to think I'm flying the flag for the working classes (if they exist any more), I live in a mews in Old Street, I can usually base my purchases on want and not need, and I earn more than anyone in my family - including people who have grafted much harder than me their whole lives. I've physically and mentally moved out of the working classes, but I still try and keep my links to it. I spent 18 years of my life as part of it. So I guess I'm 2/3 working class...
But, (and there is a but) meeting up with family and friends who still live it is more illuminating than any focus group or than any TGI run. When people start back-slapping each other for the new campaign they've just released that has superb creative, excellent strategy and wins awards for the agency concerned, I just ask my dad if he's seen it. You see, in this whole industry he's the most important person. He's the typical punter for a lot of the things we sell. He has no idea when he's been marketed to, doesn't understand PR and adverts are just an opportunity to put the kettle on. But the way he looks at things would make him one of the best planners in the industry.
It's so easy to become blind to what we actually set out to do. Things distract us along the way. Yet it's people like my dadthat I think about when I become disillusioned with the industry. We might think drumming gorrilas, people dancing in train stations or cars made out of cake or paper are superb, but he can't even remember them.
I need to trust my gut a bit more. A lot of the time I'm given a brief and I immediately get a feeling of a way to move on it. But then I remember I'm part of an agency. That I'm a planner. That the client needs TGI data to back it up. That we should employ psychological techniques and use metaphors and analogies.
But I reckon sometimes I should just trust my gut more. Say it as it is. I need to be like my dad more. Every agency needs a dad like mine working there.