Fucked if you do, fucked if you don’t
In the words of the great man: I have to just lay this on you right now – there is no way around it; I have no other option as it is properly twisting my melon.
I have been a cultural addict ever since discovering Roots Rockers under the covers one night on my transistor radio. Twenty years later was this omnipotent cultural force that made me quit advertising and begin to document sub-cultures, just after the new millennium struck (the dot com bubble bursting may have also been a factor but we’ll gloss over that). I turned my back on advertising and clients and the all-important brand message and making the logo bigger and the creative smaller, and began to shoot short films about stuff that really interested me: Street Ball; Drum N Bass; Street Art (not that it was called that then); Queer Culture; the emerging vintage clothing industry; blah blah blah – basically the gaps between the established culture (cold and old) and the stuff bubbling below the surface (hot and fresh) . It was an amazing time – the polar opposite to my time spent working in digital advertising in New York looking after brands such as Cadillac, Gillette, Perrier, Kitchen Aid – just typing those names sends a blue-chip right-wing religious chill down my spin. It was so wrong, so fucked, for me to be looking after those clients.
Street Art caught my attention for a while and I made a film about one of its pioneers. This got me a book deal and I’m still churning out books and films to this day. But now it’s just called content. After I’d written Street Knowledge – the culmination of 25 years of my life spent worshipping street culture – ad agencies and brands came-a-knocking, as the only way to make an authentic connection with the youth (and then sell them shit) is to use street- and sub-culture as a conduit. Then I was asked to write a book about youth advertising and after it was published the brands really paid attention – for a nano-second. The elephant in the room is that these brands/agencies know they have to come correct with the youth otherwise they won’t buy their products, but the brands/agencies really don’t want to listen – to me, to the youth. One of the discoveries I made whilst writing the book was that the old model of advertising (print, TV ads etc.) was obsolete as it had absolutely no effect on the demographic.
But the brands don’t want to hear this, as they have to be seen as doing big things in the creative arena. The ad agencies don’t want to admit that it doesn’t work as they make a shit-load of money from making TV spots. They still cost a bomb – even in this world of cheap digital cameras and Final Cut Pro. Funny that! The words ‘gravy’ and ‘train’ spring to mind.
Okay so I‘ve gotta come clean here: I have a few global clients that I consult for. Especially in the sub-Saharan market. I provide a reality check for these brands when it comes to youth culture and all that malarkey. But most of them don’t really listen. A couple do, but the force is so strong in the relationship between advertising agencies and their clients, and so most just nod and pick up the lunch tab and then I hear no more about anything I’ve told them over the long lunch.
And these are the one the one’s I have relationship with – try telling the rest! I was a participant in a youth brand thing recently and 80% of the room was not digging what I was saying, even though I was coming from an authentic, truthful place. The faces in the audience were white middle-class and comfortable. What they didn’t need was this twat who calls himself King ADZ rocking their inflatable dinghies. My rawkus, black, rude bwoy key-note (if you can call it that) was a shock to their systems and my filthy mouth (no-one swears in reality of course) just made them shut me out . Shut me down. For the past week I have been marinating on all this and have come to the following conculsion:
This is my truth:
1 – I really don’t want to work for brands, but I need the money and they control/rule/have bought our culture. Cash Rules Everything Around Me.
2 – Culture is the most exciting thing that ever happened to me and I’m fortunate to be in a position to be able to distill some of it into books and films – to preserve what we’ve been creating under the radar, for the future. History like – with absoltuly no interference from brands or ‘clients’ (such a dirty word).
When these two things meet (or are introduced in Nobu) there is a culture clash – the brand bible vs the school of hard knocks – but instead of embracing this and using the force generated for the good of the brand, the brands/agencies shit themselves and shut it down like a motherfucker. A moment like this creates sparks that could go really wide and yet it is ignored time and time again. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable; because it undermines everything that the marketing/brand manager has ever waffled on about, and on the other side – it contradicts the myth of the advertising agency holding all the creative power.
The true creative and cultural power lies with the youth and the sub-culture and the people actually out there doing stuff that means something to somebody—ie the opposite of a brand exercise.