From Sierra Leone with Love

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to a taste test for a new range of ginger beer being brewed up for one of our pro bono clients, Global Sisters. For those of you who are yet to discover this remarkable organisation, do yourself a favour and check it out at www.globalsisters.org

Yarrie was the name of our brewer, and from the second I walked into the room, her infectious presence was an undeniable force. Being around her felt like plugging into an energy source.

A poet, a dancer, a young woman alive with a beauty that emanated from deep within her.

She was a gifted raconteur with a story that would have been utterly heartbreaking had it not been shared by someone whose eyes were alive with pathos and wisdom, and who served it all up with an amazing circumspect humour.

Let’s just say that brewing ginger beer was at the tail end of one almighty tale.

Yarrie was born and raised in Sierra Leone, to a privileged family. Her mother was a dealmaker, a trader, a businesswoman on a mission. She raised her children strong and determined, attributes that came in handy when their country erupted into a vicious civil war.

She shared with us how aged 10, she was taken off to market with her brothers and sisters and instructed by her mother to “Sell….Sell anything. Sell everything we have. We need this money to eat”. She told us she was scared and tired and unused to such exertions, but she did as her mother said, and thus had her first experience of being a ‘business woman’. She didn’t like it much.

Over a decade later, after spending time as refugees in Guinea and finally finding their way to Australia, Yarrie found herself in a curious position.

Suddenly, at the tender age of 22 it fell to her become the beacon for her family. Her mother, now weary and finding it difficult to settle in a strange land, had bred in Yarrie the instinct to stand tall on her own two feet, and yet the world had dealt her the cruellest blow. Yarrie had youth and optimism on her side. And so the idea of bringing ginger beer made from her aunty’s recipe to the trendy cafes of Sydney was born.

I’m African too originally, although it’s been a long time since I lived on that restless and untameable continent. And yet one sip of Yarrie’s ginger beer – brutal yet gentle, raw yet beckoning, filled with tears and laughter, much like its maker, took me straight back there.

I love that here in Australia, someone as magnificent as Yarrie has a chance at luck again. I hope the Bondi hipsters and Rozelle foodies pay a small fortune for their own little taste of Sierra Leone. Perhaps they’ll turn Yarrie into a small businesswoman of the year one day?

Because it’s so easy to forget how unbelievably privileged we are to live in this lucky country of ours. A place where for those willing to reach out and grab it, opportunity is endless and possibility is a fact of life.

And yet with such boundless riches right on our doorstep, the modern condition sees us lonely and isolated, and perhaps a little lost.

Yarrie reminded me that all that good luck is a privilege, not a given.


Loyalty Rethought – When hate turns to love overnight

Firstly, because it’s not a loyalty programme so much as a human connection tool based around real, everyday exchanges. “I like your red lipstick, have a free coffee on us”. Secondly because it makes me smile at the simplicity of a truly ballsy idea. Imagine the guy who had to stand up in the boardroom and say “We’re giving our staff the power to give away free coffee. that’s it. That’s our entire loyalty programme.”

I love the audacity and confidence behind that, in a world where the top table is punctuated by science and numbers and spreadsheets and ROI quantified to within an inch of its life. If you don’t know the Pret story, read about it here.

And that brings me to my current tale. I’ve been a customer of the NAB for over 16 years. They have me wrapped up in more knots than 50 Shades, with home loans, credit cards and pin numbers whose complex web of intricacy means I am just never going to leave. But I have stayed with them out of begrudging apathy, which is not an emotional happy place. It makes me do things I don’t like about myself, like yelling down the phone at some poor person working the late shift in Manilla that I am definitely, 100% moving banks first thing in morning. My impetus to act is always tempered by the cold light of day and the sheer effort of changing all those secret pins and account numbers. I am one of those people who moans loudly in “I told you so” disgust every time they unceremoniously shut down yet another ATM, and have always been very happy to tell people at BBQ’s how much I loath their three small letters.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when everything changed.

Picture the scene – Saturday afternoon in Bondi Junction, hordes of people and screaming children, one distracted Me drawing money, and a curious case of $300 not making its way into my wallet but instead left lying on the ATM. I didn’t realise I’d left it there until a few hours later when I was confidently reaching for my wad of cash to pay for sushi, to be rudely confronted by a big fat pile of nothing. “Oh no!” I said to my husband in dismay, “Maybe an honest person will find it and hand it in at the bank?”

I called the NAB’s Helpline and spoke to a lovely woman who reminded me that all ATMs have cameras. “Let me take down your details and if someone does hand it in at the branch we’ll be sure to call you” she said. “And while I have you on the phone, why don’t we lodge an unclaimed monies report?”

Unclaimed monies? You mean they might be decent enough to actually give me my money back even though it was totally and entirely my fault for leaving it in plain site on an ATM machine? I mean I know they’re spruiking ‘More give, less take’ but come on, these are the same people who charge me for drawing out my own money! “OK” I said resignedly, not holding out much hope.

Cue two weeks later. A letter with the NAB monogram arrives in my mailbox. I usually leave them for a couple of days because let’s face it, they’re not going away. So it went on my desk with all the other household admin mess.

When I finally opened said envelope a week later, expecting a somewhat depressing rundown of my credit card status, imagine my complete amazement to find a letter telling me that the $300 I’d written off weeks ago had been put back in my account by the NAB. I was floored. I was the one who’d made a mistake. And the NAB is not known for sensitivity to human error.

The thing is, it wasn’t about the $300. It was the fact that the NAB had finally demonstrated to me after 16 long years of being banking robots that they have a heart. There was no good Samaritan who took it upon themselves to hand in my cash. It was the folk at the NAB, who watched the video of the vague blonde walking away empty-handed from the ATM machine lost in thought, and elected to give back $300 – just because they could.

It’s a small amount in the NAB scheme of things, but to me it’s huge. Not so much in money terms but based on the immediate softening I felt in my heart.

I like the NAB now. They’re nice. It may just even be love. And this one small act of kindness has bound me to them for life.

Just like a $4 cup of free coffee binds Pret a Manger’s people to them.

So when it comes to loyalty in 2016, perhaps it’s not so much about catchphrases around Marketing-IT integration and smart software solutions. Maybe, just maybe, it’s actually about simply making people feel good with generosity of spirit and the small acts of kindness that escape so many businesses today, bogged down by their own BS.


The Millennial Craving for Truth and Wonder

Ok, let me just say it. I hate car ads. Who wants to buy a car from some fake person bragging about how great they are? Cue: ‘Category convention’.

Is this sacrilege from someone who works in advertising? Perhaps. But I guess I’m just a product of my generation. In a straw poll over a couple of drinks last night, 99% of my fellow millennial co-workers agreed. In my view, the more awesome you are, the less hard you should try. Millennials crave genuineness and mystery more than ever, which I’d say is the by-product of the perfectly curated, editable reality that we are living in right now.

Each day, we receive content before asking for it which is why our BS detectors are so highly attuned. That’s why, when someone has the courage to be the antithesis of fake, and create something raw and full of personality, they get peoples attention. The perfect example is the Mercedes CLA Project by Casey Neistat, a Youtuber who hates ads. He’s beloved by millennials because he’s well-known for steadfastly refusing to compromise his integrity in spite of the fact that advertisers have offered him squillions to punt their wares.

His approach is the polar opposite of the state-of-the-art, high-end, glossy ads that car manufacturers tend to favour. Instead, he created a 4-part short film in which the car is merely a compelling partner in crime. The narrative is fun and full of surprises, you can’t wait to see what’s next. The whole process demonstrates not only the product but also the attitude of Mercedes, opening the brand’s more adventurous soul up to a bunch of millennials with whom this message resonates (just quietly hats off to the folk at Mercedes who had the balls to approve doing this in the first place!)

It’s not by accident that Casey has created a cult following of over 1.6 million subscribers. He is credited with reinventing filmmaking with his daily vlogs on Youtube and although he’s highly acclaimed with awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Sundance and with his own HBO series, he has never lost sight of what made him famous in the first place: the art of amazing storytelling. We have consumed stories since the beginning of time. A great story can activate our brain from experiencing the emotions to storing them as long-term memories. This is not about writing a story that sounds ‘nice’, but about having a genuine story to tell. When you find a narrative that fits both honestly, that’s when you get noticed.


Click here to watch all 4 films culminating in Casey’s ‘ad’:


Bringing the locals back

Perched at the top of a hill, nestled amongst the residents of Greensborough in Melbourne, sits a shopping centre with a strong sense of goodwill and soul, but lacking relevance and pulling power within.

Image reproduced courtesy of Ku-ring-gai Council. Designed by JMD Design in collaboration with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer.

A village green – a common open area within a village or other settlement commonly used as an open-air meeting place for the local people.

Talking to Greensborough locals, it quickly became evident to DDI that Greensborough had a strong sense of identity connected to the surrounding environment, and that Greensborough Plaza had a strong sense of place within the community. Over the years however, the centre had become defined by ‘convenience’, rather than the role it played in the community.

Brought on as partners to re-position the brand, we took everything people loved about the centre and reframed the centre to be less like a shopping centre, and more like a village green – a place where locals can gather, learn, play, re-set, connect and call their own.

The end point: A new positioning for the brand re-positioning Greensborough Plaza as the heart beat of the local community – brought to life through a state of the art kids precinct that still has all the heart and soul of an old school town square.