Rebels, misfits and innovators: 50Over50 – Michael Owen

50 Over 50 is a series of interviews with our most influential and inspiring industry leaders aged 50 and over. We think it’s time to recognise and celebrate the true talent in our industry, the creatives, technologists, founders and leaders that are really driving our industry and shaping society.

Michael Owen is a creative force of nature. Winner of 70 awards since 1989, he ran a number of design and digital agencies before switching path to launch fashion brand Always Wear Red and concentrate on brand communication collective ANGELFYSH.

What one thing are you proudest of in your career?

FINDING & DOING WHAT I WAS BORN TO DO. I ran creative, marketing and brand communication agencies for 15 years. As award-laden, as fußball table-laden and as leather-and-chrome-settee-laden as any agency could possibly be.

But was I myself being creative? No. I wasn’t. Did I actually know why I was doing any of this? No. I didn’t. So, at the age of 46 – I closed them.

Within four years I was running my own fashion brand called Always Wear Red, writing a daily blog for an expanding audience of thousands called 50odd.co.uk and leading a rejuvenated Brand Communication Collective called ANGELFYSH – that works with contributive brands, only.

At 51 years old I have less money, less stuff and more contentedness and connectedness than ever before.

What creative heights are you now capable of that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve at the early or mid-point of your career? 

AUTHENTIC STORYTELLING. 50odd.co.uk is me writing about me. 3,650 stories. One story each day. For 10 years. The blog named itself, really. Because I started it on my 50th birthday. And because I’m odd. 

I’ve committed – every day – to creating something that people actually want to read. And one year in, a few thousand do read. I wouldn’t have had the confidence, capability or content to do this earlier in my career. 

Also, I’m a better listener these days. Meaning that, in my role as a Brand Communications Consultant I find answers more easily. As a younger man, my insecurities (which I have to say have not gone away completely) would lead to me interrupting. Pontificating. Showing off. I do that (slightly) less now.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role today?

I KNOW WHAT I AM FOR. And this is far more important than what I do.

Every brand I own has a clear and relevant purpose. For example, the much smaller Brand Communication Collective that I run only works with contributive businesses. So, what we are doing is helping brands to contribute to the greater good. Or to develop that side of their brand personality.

That way, they matter more, make more profit and last longer. It’s better for the planet too – and for the soul!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

FRAGILITY IS A CONSTANT. What we have today can be gone tomorrow. But that’s OK. Because that’s life’s law. We’re all the same. 

Take nothing for granted. Be genuinely grateful for each day. And do the right thing. And no matter what bullshit people come up with, we all know what ‘doing the right thing’ means. So do it.

Choose wisely because, whether we choose the right way, or the wrong way – we generally get what’s coming to us.

What advice would you give your 25-year old self?

BUILD. Be patient. Start now. Be braver. Be calmer. Be endlessly creative. Stop trying to fit in in a world where the best people adore those that stand out.

Celebrate your weirdness. Understand that apparently contradictory ideas, ricocheting around your head, are what your 20s are for. To explore. To win. To fail. To love. To lose. To seek-out that one thing you have always been looking for that will possess you and that will overwhelm you for ever. Only to change your mind tomorrow.

Love yourself more. Understand that you have to go through good to get to great. And enjoy the gift of the journey that you have the privilege to be on.

What is the biggest mistake companies are making in their attitude to age today?

LAZY THINKING. I really fucking hate lazy people. And I hate lazy thinking even more. Especially in the creative industries. It is our job to understand and amplify the beauty of an offer so that it is aligned, clear (clarity over creativity always), ownable, compelling, motivating and so that it resonates with our client’s audience.

First principles are – jointly – to understand the ‘why me, why now’ of the offer, plus the finest of detail about the audience itself. And it is the audience understanding that fails over and over and over with regards to age.

Lazy creatives look for typical 50-year olds. And typical 60-year olds. When there are no typical 50- or 60-year olds. Their approach is at best deeply, deeply dumb. And at best, disrespectful.

The required understanding of an ageing marketplace must be absolutely forensic. Person-by-person. Not age-band by age-band or sector by sector. And this takes care and effort. 

What are you most excited about in your industry over the next 10 years?

CONTRIBUTION. The accelerating realisation that self-actualisation in branding is vacuous, selfish, momentary and – in the longer term – of little value.

Brands with a higher purpose, a commitment to contribute – authentically and not as some transient veneer – will win. And I welcome this. I want to see those with the skills and knowledge to influence, using their power and their privilege increasingly responsibly. And I believe that the communicators that take this stance sooner rather than later will thrive.

What is your biggest regret about the industry today? 

A LACK OF WEIRDNESS. My God the world is a weird, wonderful and diverse place. But my God we should be celebrating and exploring this so much more than we do.

By boosting storytelling with our imagination and our ideas. By stopping hiding within the safety of formulaic approaches.

One of the reasons it is hard for brands to stand out is, of course, because of the proliferation of choice. But there is another more easily changed reason. It is because we play safe.

Business is boring. And creatives are boring. We all still remember Phileas Fogg. Launched almost 40 years ago (40 years!) in 1982. Because they were playful. Daring. Pioneering. Brave enough to fantasise about made-up airports and airlines, made up global explorers and cartoon factories on Medomsley Road, Consett.

Weird! But likeable and memorable and compelling and absolutely perfect for the category they had created.

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