Here’s a great question to ask yourself.

Particularly as we are pausing.

And because.

At some point.

You’ll be going back to work.

Do or Keep?

That job you’re going back to.


That one.

When you really think about it.

When you are back there.

Will you be spending most of your time trying your absolute best to do your job?

As well as you can.

Or will you be you spending most of your time trying your absolute best to keep your job?

If it’s the first one only, you may very well be in the right place.

If it’s the second one only.

You may very well be in the wrong one.


The Covid-19 situation shifts the significance of the question quite a bit.

Because so many people will be prioritising keeping their jobs in the short term.

But I’d maintain that.

(And this is hard).

If you project forward to what you see as your and our best chance of normality.



Or 18 months ahead.

And you predict that you’d still be spending all your time trying your absolute best to keep your job.

Then as soon you can muster the strength.

(That’s up to you).

And craft the opportunity.

(That’s up to you also).


And do something else.

I suppose I first heard the phrase.

‘Masters Of The Universe’.

30 years ago.

Because my brother, Sam.

(Who is 15 years younger than me).

Used to watch it.



And some cat or tiger that one of them used to ride around on.


Masters of the Universe.


I was wondering.

Who are the masters of your universe?

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

Who do you admire?

Who do you read?

Whose words and ideas do you devour?

Who do you consume?

Keeping inside and using what lights you up.

Keeping inside what makes you better.

And having the balls to leave behind and spit back out that which you don’t like or agree with.

So that you don’t simply become a clone.

Thought Leaders.




In your world, I mean?

Who made your world what it is today?

Who did they love and admire and learn from?

Who is shaping your category going forward?

And by the way.

I assume that you know what category you are in.

I assume that you appreciate that you have as much potential to lead your category as anyone ever did.

Or does.

I assume that you want to be world-class at what you do.

Appreciating that if you are not world-class.

Someone that wants it more than you.

Will get there before you.

My Universe.

Who are the masters of my universe?

Mine (to varying degrees) are:

William Bernbach.

George Lois.

Dave Trott.

Al Ries.

Peter Saville.

Mark Ritson.

Mr. Bingo.

Stefan Sagmeister.

David Hieatt.

Paul Arden.

Jack Trout.

Jessica Walsh.

Les Stern.

Roger Blight.

And there are many more.

And what’s more.

I’ve read all of them.

(And I continue to do so).

Worked with 2 of them.

And met 3 of them.

Masters of the Universe. 

Oasis stood on the shoulders of The Beatles.

The Beatles being masters of the Gallagher’s universe.

And now other bands stand on theirs.

Just as every art movement that ever there was.

Took influence from the ones that went before.


Life’s short.

Observe the world’s best.

Invite influence.

Devour that which is amazing.


And broaden your shoulders.

Because if you get things right.

You will be the master of someone else’s world.

With many a man and woman looking to stand on yours.

That word.


What a great word!

So great in fact.

That I am writing a little story about it.


Here’s a definition:

A system.

Such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations.

Which assists in remembering something.

And, ironically, this itself is worth remembering.

Especially if you are a business launching something with a new name.

And it is important that the target consumer remembers what the thing you are launching is called.

And let’s face it.

It is important.

Dave Trott.

The neatest story I know about the use of mnemonics is from brilliant advertising chap, Dave Trott.

And you know what?

If you are (say) 40 year or over.

You’ll know the story too.

Or at least part of it.

Thus proving the power of the mnemonic, I suppose.


Dave led a team whose job it was to develop advertising for a new, German umbrella brand.

For the British market in the very early eighties.

That brand was Knirps.

A particularly tough umbrella.

And a particularly tough name to pronounce.

Especially for the British.

(Do we pronounce the ‘K’?

Or do we not?)

Dave came up with this:

You Can Break a Brolly.

But You Can’t Knacker a Knirps.


Memorable Mnenomics.

This is particularly memorable.

First, because it’s a bit sweary.

Second, because it actually changes the way we pronounce a word we already know.

Advertising copywriting at its best.


Here is one of the adverts.

From 1981.

And it paved the way for this kind of messaging.

35 years later.

Here is the latest Uber, Grubhub, Public, Fareway Stores, Re/Max, Samsung, Apple, Kia, Budweiser, Fedex, Hudson’s Bay, Lincoln, Heineken, Facebook, Penske, Lexus, Nationwide Insurance, Taco Cabana, Littler Caesar’s, U-Haul, Nissan, Farmer’s Insurance, AT & T, Doordash, Southwest Airlines, Hyundai, Toyota, First Energy, Aldi, John Derre, India Electric Co-Operative, Spectrum, Target, Ford, TESCO, Florida Power and Light, Verizon, Spectrum, Realtor, Acura, Mazda, Runnings, SDCCU, Sprint, Cadillac, BUICK & GMC, Interior Federal Credit Union, 2020 Census, Con Edison, T-Mobile, Enterprise, CVS, Carmax, Ad Council, Indeed, Chick-fil-a, Hyatt, Dunkin Donuts, Google and MasterCard advert.

You can take a look at the advert I’m referring to.

At the end of this little story.

Now, I am not sure exactly how much was spent on this one advert.

But I imagine that the conceptualising, making and media spend behind this one advert went into the billions of pounds.

And whilst – as I say – I am not sure of the exact budget.

I am sure about the Client’s Brief.

And here it is.



Please can you charge us a shitload of money to communicate our brand in exactly the same way as everyone else in and around us?

For maximum pointlessness and invisibility?



And just to check… you’re OK proving, on a global stage, that you don’t understand brand?

Or if you do understand brand, you’re OK to conveniently forget brand altogether?

Including what our brand stands for.

You’re OK to do this because it’s an opportunity for you to make a shitload of money from us really quickly.

And with almost no thought, yes?

Even though all that will happen is that we will be invisible.

No one will remember our brand.

No one will remember what we said.

And no one will remember anything at all about the advert?

You’ll still do it yes?


And you are OK with the fact that this work will – subliminally – weaken our brand.

Because we will be shown not only to be unimaginative, lazy and samey.

But much worse than that we will be perceived to be out of touch and out of alignment with our own brand values.

Because we won’t talk about what matters to us most.

And what matters to our customer base most.

At all.

You’re OK not pointing out the futility of the exercise to us, on any level whatsoever, yes?

And you’re OK not pointing out that this kind of communication also erodes the profitability of our brand?

Because we spend money and achieve nothing.




And whatever you do.

Do NOT do anything interesting or different with the creative or execution.

Art Direction should be zero.

Please don’t do anything that would get us noticed or remembered for what our brand actually fucking stands for.

Even though there is the opportunity to send a unique and stand-out message right now.

Because absolutely everyone is saying exactly the same as each other.

Do NOT try to make us stand out.


Do NOT create an intelligent, clear, bold, memorable and brave on-brand message, sensitively but unapologetically positioned against the backdrop of what we all are big enough and mature enough to understand is happening to us, our friends and our families.

Instead, go ‘full-patronising’.

Go timid, cautious and boring.

You can do that?


And incase you accidentally choose ‘visible’ over ‘invisible’.

Or ‘valuable’ over ‘a complete and utter waste of your client’s time and fucking money’.

Here are the specifics.

Here is what everyone else is going to do.

And therefore what we would like to do as well.

  1. Play slow piano music.
  2. Show some empty streets.
  3. Tell them (whoever they are) that we are there for them. Or that we are on their side.
  4. Tell them how long we have been there for them. Or on their side. Look, just say when our business was launched OK?
  5. Use the word, ‘unprecedented’ or ‘challenging. A lot.
  6. Us the word, ‘home’. A lot.
  7. Use the word, ‘together’. A lot.
  8. Play faster piano music. So it’s a bit more upbeat about 70% of the way through.
  9. Show people clapping.
  10. Show the logo.


No idea.

These are unprecedented times.

(Say that in the ad, actually.


Do that.


Make sure you say ‘unprecedented’ in the ad).

So you just chose a number for the budget.

Then smirk behind our back.

Then double the number.

Saying to us (something like),

“Well, if you want it this quick.

Even though it’s going to be shit, samey and invisible.

It’s going to cost you, big time”.

Because you know damn well that we don’t want to be left out of the shitshow.

Stupid Brands.

These are not stupid brands.


Not all of them).

These are just brands doing a stupid thing.

But what’s more galling is that.

For every brand doing the stupid thing that is identified here.

There is a stupid-but-clever creative, marketing or ad agency.

Stood behind them.

‘Stupid’ because what they just did is stupid.

‘Clever’ because they made a shitload of money from their client.

The client whose interest they are supposed to be looking after.

The client whose brand they just weakened.

Because the brand will be shown not only to be unimaginative.

But much worse than that.

The brand will be perceived to be out of touch and out of alignment with what they say matters to them most.

No question.


This would be funny.

If it was not real.

And if it was not happening right now.

But it is.

As a man, I am sad that this is happening because the money could go to help people.

As a professional, I am sad that this is happening because the industry that I actually quite like.

Is coming up with stupid and invisible work.

Or even worse than that.

The industry that I actually quite like is not ballsy enough to say ‘no’ to their clients.

Either way.

It’s wrong.

Here’s the advert:


As this pandemic wanes.

Meaningful brands.

Meaningful brands that unfortunately died because of the pandemic.

They’ll be bought.

And they’ll be bought by vultures.

Authentic Brands.

Authentic brands are born from the personality of the founder.

Authentic brands are built around the change the founder wants to make.

Or at least.

They bloody should be.


And if the authentic brand is built properly.

And run properly.

Every single thing the brand does.

Makes the change the founder wants to make more likely to happen.

That’s the way brand works.


Fans gather around the brand.

Fans want you to succeed.

Because fans want the change that you want, too.

So they support you.

Buy from you.

And tell others.


This pandemic, though.

It’s messing things up.

It’s going to kill many brands.

And that’s a shame.

Because sometimes something as simple.

And as unpredictable

As good old (bad old) bad luck will get you.

And there’s nothing the brand can do.


As this pandemic wanes.

Meaningful brands.

Meaningful brands that unfortunately died because of the pandemic.

They’ll be bought.

And they’ll be bought by vultures.

Vultures that care little for what the brand creator cared for.

And that’s confusing.

Because vultures are rarely brand-driven.

They are sales-driven.

So they shift the strategy from ‘tell more’.

To ‘sell more’.

And vultures chop quality.

And batter supply chains.

To increase margin.

So that they can recoup what they paid for the brand equity embers as quickly as possible.

In summary.

They are buying the brand’s reach and recognition.

And putting what the brand actually stood for.

In the bin.

Mike Ashley.

My respect for Mike Ashley starts and ends with his ability to make money.

My respect ends abruptly when I think about what he does with the money he makes.


As far as I can see.

Is little more than a grown up Augustus Gloop would do.

And my respect for Mike Ashley also ends with what he does to brands I grew up with.

Like Slazenger.

Which to me as a younger man meant smart.


And ambitious.

Now it means cheap.

Like Everlast.

Which to me as a younger man meant tough.


And saturated with US swagger.

Now it means cheap.


Which to me as a younger man meant cool.

Fuck-you single-mindedness.

And progressive.

Now it means cheap.

Look further. 

So please.

Look closer at the brands that you know.

Or at least.

The brands that you think you know.

Especially in the next 1 to 5 years.

You can avoid the vultures by looking not at what the brand does.

But by looking at what the brand is for, instead.

Check that brand behaviour is still aligned to the thing they’re supposed to believe in.

The thing that you believe in.

And if it is.

They’re a brand.

But if all the brand seems interested in these days is floggings stuff.

They may very well have been gobbled up by a vulture.

I mentioned to a friend of mine recently.

That I will very often do my best work.

When I don’t know what I’m doing.

Two Me’s 

This is because.

I think.

There are Two Me’s.

The First Me.

The First Me knows what I know.

And the First Me will fish in this knowledge to get results.

This First Me lives in the world of the probable.

The Second Me.

The Second Me doesn’t know what I don’t know.

So the Second Me is carefree.

The Second Me neither knows nor cares how good or bad people think I am.

The Second Me just ‘does’.

This Second Me lives in the world of the possible.


I’m launching my new Brand Strategy offer in a few days.

Called ‘mychael’.

And if I can help you give me a shout.



And if you do get in touch.

Ask for the Second Me.

(He’s far less boring than the First Me).

Business can learn a lot from Ricky Gervais, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley.


It’s because of how these people do their work.

They’re brave.

The more that I absorb how emotional and life-enhancingly relatable ‘After Life’ by Ricky Gervais is.

The more that I appreciate how storyful the content, and how immediately hooky the dialogue in every Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s ‘Inside Number 9’ is.

The more that I enjoy discovering the arresting quirks and observations inside Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’.

The more that I choke on how beautifully outrageous and real ‘The Inbetweeners’ by Iain Morris and Damon Beesley is. (Wondering why I, or anyone like me, had never thought to write down the magical shite that teenagers talk quite like this).

The more that I think back to how interesting, refreshing and challenging the (early series of) Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain’s ‘Peepshow’ were.

The more embarrassed I get for almost every other short-form TV sitcom or series that is meant to engage and surprise.

Because to me.

Almost all other programmes are just padding.


Programmes that slot into a genre.

Programmes that read the rules.

And follow them.

The only thing that keeps these programmes alive is that they grip the generation they are targeting – early.

So that that generation sticks with them.

Like the last generation stuck with the previous clone.

Until 5 to 7 years later.

The penny drops.




The viewer realises that the programme is just meaningless padding.

So they leave it behind.

And the programme disappears.



Because I run businesses.

And because today, I am thinking about how my and others businesses are perceived.

I just wanted to say that.

If your business is just doing what everyone else like you does.

In pretty much the same way.

It’s a boring business.

It’s just padding.

And you can do better than that.

The Penny Drops.

Businesses that slot into a category.

Businesses that learn the rules.

And follow them.

The only thing that keeps these businesses alive is that they grip the target market they are for – early.

So that that market sticks with them.

Until a little while later.

The penny drops.




The customer realises that the business is just meaningless padding in their lives.

So they leave it behind.

And the business disappears.

Your Business.

You can do better than that because the creatives mentioned earlier in this story have created emotional, life-enhancingly relatable, storyful, immediately hooky, arrestingly quirky, beautifully outrageous, real, interesting, refreshing and challenging television programmes.

Which means that you can create emotional, life-enhancingly relatable, storyful, immediately hooky, arrestingly quirky, beautifully outrageous, real, interesting, refreshing and challenging businesses.

And until you do.

You’re boring.

You’re just padding, too.

Outspending the competition is the chosen strategy of many brands.

Bigger brands, normally.

And you know what.

For some.

That is a necessary part of the overall plan.

But if that’s all they’re doing.

That’s crap.


Outthinking the competition is an option too.

Having better ideas than them.

Braver ideas than them.

Different ideas to them.

Ideas that then get turned into unforgettable communication.

Both written and visual communication, I mean.

Because yes, people have to be aware of you.

You have to be noticed.

But what’s the point of being noticed if you are not remembered?

And what’s the point of wanting to be remembered?

If you don’t know what you want to be remembered for?


So have a think.

About Brand Strategy.

Have a think what you want your targets to think about you.

And to do.

Develop your Brand Strategy.


And your Marketing Strategy.

And your Messaging Strategy.

Then spend on raising awareness.

I think that’s best.

Because an ‘outthinking’ strategy.

Done right.

Makes you far more money than an ‘outspending’ one.

(Note: The talk I refer to below.

Check the date.

And the time.

There’s a slim possibility you can catch it.

If you want to, that is).

The Talk.

I was asked to talk at an online festival this week.

At 9.30am on Tuesday 28th April, 2020.

In a ‘Thought for the Day’ kind of thing.

The Festival.

The festival was called ‘The Space In-Between’.

My talk was on the subject of, ‘Doing What You Are Born To Do‘.

(Here’s the link:

And the festival was organised by the excellent Eleanor Tweddell of

My Brain. 

My brain knew about this talk.

So the night before.

My brain set to work.

Trying to think of something neat.


And (most of all) truthful.

For me to say.

One Thing. 

As with most talks.

It is useful to think about the one thing you want people to remember about it.

It’s nice if the chat is dynamic and engaging, of course.

And interesting.

And upbeat.

And I knew that my talk was going to be about the fact that we only have one life.

And the balance between existing and excelling.

But I also knew that people tend to hook into just one thing when they hear a short talk.

One takeaway only.

So the night before.

As I snoozed.

My brain worked on what that one thing would be.


Every day.

I send myself emails.

5 or 6 each day, actually.

Emails with ideas for 50odd.

Ideas for Always Wear Red.

And ideas for talks.


These emails take me by surprise when I read them back.

Because I forget I’ve sent them.

And I forget what I’ve written.

And when I awoke on the morning of my talk.

I discovered that I had in fact sent myself an email that previous night.

Just before I dropped off to sleep.

As I was trying to think of the one thing that I wanted people to remember about my talk.

My talk about the fact that we only have one life.

And the balance between existing and excelling.

The Email.

Here’s the email:

Be very careful.

Be very careful that in this short life.

You don’t waste time making money.

When you could have been doing brilliant work.

Thank You. 

Thank you brain.

I like that quote.

And if there is just one thing that I want people to remember about my talk.

This is it.

It depends why you’re doing it.

Design I mean.

It depends whether you’re trying to do the best design of your life.

Or whether you’re trying to make the most money you can from design.


I suppose.

The third option.

You’re trying to make the most money you can from design, by trying to do the best design of your life.

Two Deaths. 

I have an opinion on these 3 options.

  1. Trying to do the best design of your life.
  2. Trying to make the most money you can from design.
  3. Or trying to make the most money you can from design, by trying to do the best design of your life.

It is my opinion that if you try to achieve option 1, you have the potential to do the best design of your life.

If you try option 2, you will never do the best design of your life.

If you try option 3, you will suffer Two Deaths.

You will never make the most money you can from design.

That will die.

And you will never do the best design of your life.

That will die also.


I say this as I move myself into a new personal chapter with my career.

As I am exploring not only what I do.

But how I make decisions about what I do.

And because I want to design for the love of design.

Because I want to do the best design of my life.

That’s what I’m going to do.