May 2024 newsletter – no. 10

13 minutes estimated reading time

May 2024 newsletter introduction

Welcome to my May 2024 newsletter, I hope that you’re looking forward to the spring bank holiday, unfortunately if like me you’re in the UK – then that was the last public holiday before the end of August. This newsletter which marks my 10th issue. I wasn’t certain that I would get to a tenth edition of this newsletter.

The number ten has a high amount of cultural symbolism from the biblical ten commandments to the ten celestial (or heavenly) stems during the Shang dynasty that marked the days of their week. There were corresponding earthy branches based on 12 day groupings. While the stems are no longer used in calendars they still appear in feng shui, Chinese astrology, mathematical proofs instead of the roman alphabet, student grading systems and multiple choice questionnaires.

New reader?

If this is the first newsletter, welcome! You can find my regular writings here and more about me here

Strategic outcomes

Things I’ve written.

  • I wrote a comment that struck a bit of a nerve about being asked to do a project ‘for my portfolio’.
  • Omakase and luxury futures. In the face of all the changes facing the luxury sector, is the answer learning from the Japanese tradition of omakase?
  • April marked the 20th anniversary of Dove’s campaign for real beauty. I took a slower approach than the LinkedIn hot takes to reflect on its legacy.
  • Shutting down – when always-on becomes detrimental.
  • Mobilizing for Monuments and other things that grabbed my interest.
  • How behavioural science can help optimise the response to a coffee shop problem.
  • I saw clear parallels between car touchscreens and the changes that digital music instruments went through in terms of design and adoption.

I have had Alex Kassian’s cover version of the Manuel Göttsching classic E2 – E4 on heavy rotation. It was released just in time for the Ibiza season and has Mad Professor remixes dubbing out the balearic vibes for all the deep house shamans.

E2 - E4 cover

Books that I have read.

  • After Watches and Wonders 2024, I finally managed to get the time to read Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History by James M Dowling. Dowling is the person that the pre-owned watch market goes to for authentication of really old or unusual Rolex models. His history of the company, while unauthorised, had the collaboration of early Rolex staffers. What comes out is an interesting tale of adaption. Rolex started off as a UK reseller. The company innovated due to client needs and somewhere along the way because the luxury watch manufacturing giant we know today. What becomes apparent that their success was partly down to timing, circumstance and a belief that you change nothing, unless you’re making it better. The last point is something that product managers the world over could learn from.
  • David McCloskey’s Damascus Station came highly recommended as leisure reading. My taste in espionage fiction is more towards Mick Herron and John Le Carre rather than the more action orientated. This book had enough intellect and imperfection to make me put up with the James Bond factor.
  • I am at the time of writing working my way through Nixonland by Rick Perlstein – which I started before the student sit-ins against the conflict in the Gaza strip happened. More on this book once I have finished it.
  • Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life by David Pogue. I bought a copy of this for my Dad and re-read my own copy, I keep forgetting some of the life hacks that Pogue captured in this book. It’s a decade old and still tremendously useful.

Things I have been inspired by.

I like watches, the design and quality of engineering that they represent and even the sound of them ticking away, but I generally don’t enjoy Hodinkee interviews. However, when they interviewed sneaker legend Ronnie Fieg I watched it. Fieg’s story around his watches is amazing, with each watch marking a milestone.

TML Partners and Accenture Song have done an interesting report on ‘the future of intelligent marketing performance‘ – basically CRM and e-commerce based on a impressive roundtable of marketers. What immediately struck me was how many of the problems would haven written about in a similar way a decade ago. We are constantly in a state of digital transformation, that is starting to feel more like ‘digital treading water’ now. It is due to relatively short organisation memory and lack of a ‘learning element’ in organisations.

Back when I worked in Hong Kong, I got to work on Colgate alongside other agencies. The work that I was doing was in association with the dedicated agency Red Fuse which was the umbrella for all WPP work. I was eventually shut down from working on it by APAC senior management from my own agency at the time; due to internal agency politics that I long gave up trying to understand.

While I was working on the project, I got to meet Jason Oke who is now in charge of global client relationships at Dentsu in New York. Jason appears on the Google Firestarters podcast discussing how to get great advertising ideas made. Some of the thoughts are timeless and echo the advice of Ogilvy on Advertising. It’s well worth listening to.

Cultural Bleats
BBH Singapore Cultural Bleats newsletter

Every agency has some sort of email newsletter, but one that stands head-and-shoulders above other agencies is BBH Singapore’s Cultural Bleats. I promise you once you get past the name, it’s brilliant. The premise of the newsletter is that they put together interesting cultural things to act as useful provocations. This is exactly the kind of thinking, curation and sharing that planning and strategy teams should be doing if they aren’t over-committed on Workfront. A prime example of the kind of thing that Culture Bleats might pick up on is how rich people no longer appear to eat due to Ozempic and meal replacements like Huel.

Dow and Procter & Gamble announced an agreement to make a proprietary way to recycle mixed plastics. I am all for improving recycling of plastics, but having a proprietary method adds complexity into a recycling system that’s already unfit for purpose. I hope that once commercialisation happens P&G will follow the example of Unilever who freely licensed its more efficient aerosol cans to other manufacturers who were interested in the technology.

The Norwegian government published the results of its Mannsutvalgets or Men’s Equality Commission. The report goes into policies across several areas here (in Norwegian). It has some interesting findings that echo think tank thinking about the intersection of social class and opportunity outcomes.

Some of the content around health is particularly interesting Dagens Medisin covered some of these findings, you can see a translation of their article here. However some of the findings in health did make me wonder. It notes that men in Norway live shorter lives than women and considers this to be an equality challenge. Most writing I have seen around the gender mortality gap see it as a biological given rather than a ‘gap’. It felt like greater research was needed to support this reframe in science rather than a well-meaning aspiration.

The report calls on the Research Council in Norway to take up the challenge of improving the knowledge base on many of the issues tackled in the report. The commission acknowledged data-related challenges and wanted revised statistics / indicators for gender equality so that they reflect the equality challenges of boys and men than are currently available.

If you have semiconductor clients and haven’t been on Malcolm Penn’s Future Horizons semiconductor industry awareness workshop, you’re in look he’s running it again on June 18th. I started my agency career working on technology hardware, gadgets and semiconductors – the Future Horizons course helped no end. I went on to work for numerous technology clients including AMD, ARM and Qualcomm.

Finally this essay on human creativity provided a lot of fuel for thought. It pulls together a multi-variant model for why human creativity is on the wane.

Factors included:

  • A childhood lack of free time for play and imagination. Instead children have much more regimented structural lifestyles today.
  • Massive access to more cultural artefacts than we could possibly consume from around the world at the touch of our fingers. The unknown space is now limited and so there is less opportunity to be creative within it.
  • Science and technology innovation is connecting less disparate areas of knowledge in order to make a ‘thing’.
  • Stimulation is focused rather than a wide range of stuff, rather than washing over us.

Things I have watched. 

I have found myself watching less Netflix over time. Then Netflix moved from getting paid through the Apple app store to wanting a direct payment and bumped the price up. So a mix of inertia and not wanting to watch a compelling show or two has meant that I have consciously uncoupled from Netflix for the time being. I will probably go back when I have a good enough reason. In the meantime, I am buying the odd Blu-Ray or DVD here and there instead. It seems that I am not the only one who has taken this approach.

Amazon Prime Video seems to have a bipolar personality between Apple TV+ level tentpole content and a wide range of trashy films, some of which deserve the moniker ‘cult cinema’. Red Queen fits into the former category rather than the latter. It is based a series of books by Juan Gómez-Jurado. I have just started reading the book Red Queen, but the TV series is compelling. I didn’t realise that I had managed to watch four episodes in one sitting.

I went back to watch the Alain Delon Traitement de choc aka Shock Treatment. Delon plays Dr Devilers, the proprietor of a clinic on the Brittany coast. The clinic focuses on rejuvenating tired wealthy clients with spa treatments, special diets and infusions. The middle-aged patients at the clinic are true believers and as their treatment happens they become more child-like as the rejuvenation happens. The dark side of the clinic is that the serum comes at a price. A new patient finds out what actually happens and what plays out is a French New Wave allegory that touches on similar ethical health concerns, rather like the film adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener.

My internet went down and I managed to work my way through The Street Fighter Trilogy starring Sonny Chiba and made famous by the Tony Scott-directed True Romance. The Street Fighter series was a key influence with Quentin Tarantino, who wrote in their role as a plot device in True Romance and had Sonny Chiba appear in his Kill Bill series. All of the films feel a bit hackneyed in a post-John Wick world, but the first instalment is hard-bitten. Given the torrent of films coming out of Hong Kong at the time, The Street Fighter films stood apart with their unflinching violence displayed on screen. They became the first film in the US to receive an X certificate for violence alone.

Along with the Shaw Brothers boxsets and Bruce Lee’s filmography, the Street Fighter trilogy, is essential viewing for both Asian cinema buffs and martial artist movie fanatics.

How do the sequel films stack up? The second and third film in the series have a bit more playfulness and off-kilter aspects to them similar to films of a similar age made as spaghetti westerns. Sonny Chiba’s 1974 trilogy typify the martial arts craze that swept western cinema in the early 1970s onwards. In the UK, The Street Fighter was called Kung Fu Street Fighter. The likely reasons were two-fold, a similarly named Charles Bronson film and the glut of Hong Kong martial arts films being shown.

The Source is a French police procedural series that shows the cat and mouse game between a French Moroccan crime family and the police tasked to catch them. I am in a few episodes and really enjoying the show so far.

Useful tools.

Email charter

My friend Marshall mentioned this email charter on LinkedIn. Share it with anyone you work with to improve the quality and volume of team communications. Much of it is about level setting expectations. More about the email charter here.


Martin is an app that integrates Claude-3, Deepgram’s Novo speech to text service and GPT-4 Turbo to interact with Google personal productivity software including Google Calendar and Gmail. Conceptually it’s a better Siri-type digital assistant. I have heard good things about it, but don’t rely heavily on Google services myself, so your mileage may vary. More details here.


Magnet is a handy piece of software that keeps your desktop organised. It was recommended to me by a friend who codes software for a living. It is particularly handy for keeping ‘presence’ based channels (like Slack, Teams, together on one screen as a ‘war room” type view and having creation on another screen. It even works if you use your screen in a vertical orientation.


A service that allows you to create and share maps. You can import maps in various formats or describe it in text for PamPam to render it. Strangely useful.

Scribd downloader

I am not sure how Scribd managed to digest so many resources and hide them behind a paywall. But this might be the antedote if you have something specific that you need.

The sales pitch.

I have had a great time working on a project with GREY & Tank Worldwide. I am now taking bookings for strategic engagements for a bit of time that I have in early to mid-June; or discussions on permanent roles. Contact me here.

More on what I have done here.


The End.

Ok this is the end of my May 2024 newsletter, I hope to see you all back here again in a month. Be excellent to each other and enjoy the bank holiday.

Don’t forget to like, comment, share and subscribe!

Let me know if you have any recommendations to be featured in forthcoming issues.