The Wisdom of Insecurity.


For the creatives. A piece about uncertainty and why it matters.

Originally posted on Damon's Brain:


For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

The Wisdom of Insecurity is a book by Alan Watts I read when I was just starting out in advertising. The simple message is that certainty is an illusion and change is constant. So, becoming comfortable with change and not knowing can teach you many things. It shows you there is no end point or pattern. Which of course works really well in a business full of deadlines.

Being comfortable with uncertainty in an industry that demands certainty is a strange place for a creative to be.The truth is nobody really knows anything, absolutely. And even if they do, it isn’t necessarily interesting or inspiring.

Inspiration.There it is. The world’s most overused word. It is used constantly and there is so little of it.The stars make me dream. I…

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The red clogs Hamish made.


For the creatives. A piece about a good friend who taught me something that will always stay with me.

Originally posted on Damon's Brain:

Twenty years ago I was seriously broke. I used to count coins to go to the corner store. I would walk in and begin the negotiation Tango with a very kind Portuguese mama who owned the store. She would smile when I told her I would pay her the rest next week. She knew I would never pay her back.

I lived in Yeoville in Johannesburg. It was a suburb full of hustlers with vague potential and no money. It was full of people like me.

People who were sure they were supposed to go and do something important. They just needed to borrow some bus fare to go and do it.

We all had nothing. It united us. We knew we would have to figure it out for ourselves.

This is where I met Hamish. Hamish might have been one of the few people in Yeoville who was more…

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advertising, Uncategorized

The great comfort of bad Superbowl ads.

“I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.”
Gilbert K. Chesterton

Quick, name your top 10 Super Bowl ads from this year. I know, it’s a struggle. I am asking you to remember 10 out of a 100 or so ads whose sole purpose is to be memorable.

Each 30 second spot costs 4.5 million dollars to run. Each spot would have cost at least a million dollars to make. These numbers are considered a bargain because of the massive audience the Superbowl attracts.

These numbers also do something else. They create enormous pressure to deliver a great ad. And the truth is year in and year out only about 15 percent are any good. As hit rates go, that isn’t great.

Now, the easy explanation is the creative was no good. Well, I will take you a billion dollar bet that there are better ideas sitting on the wall inside each agency involved. Ideas that are perhaps risky. Maybe the agency couldn’t sell them. Maybe the client couldn’t buy them. What it proves is that all the money in the world doesn’t make good ads. What it proves is when the pressure comes no matter how big the committee, fear and bravery, will always decide the outcome.

In a world of data and endless research which should help guarantee a higher hit rate than 15 percent we find many making average decisions because of the most human of emotions. Fear.

A large part of our industry is now in the business of trying to get rid of fear. Processes that try to get us to an acceptable answer. Not a new one.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it is a strange anomaly in our industry that our screens are full of average, boring ads and nobody is nailed for it.
There are a hundred explanations for why it was the right decision to make something nobody will remember.

Yet, the moment you try and push the boat out and you don’t quite make it you are crucified.

The great fear in our industry is that something will be weird.That seems to be a far greater sin than something being average. I humbly suggest that this attitude is what gets us to a massive 15 percent hit rate at the Superbowl.

Bravery and courage. Words used in our industry on a daily basis like verbal confetti. I think we have to make those words mean something again. We need to inspire. We need to persuade. That is how you overcome fear. And fear will always be what we have to conquer to do great work.

The second reason the Superbowl ads were so average is Newton’s first law of creative success. A creative ideas success is inversely proportional to the amount of people who decide if it will be successful. And I can only imagine how many people were involved.

Once you have the dubious pleasure of presenting globally to 50 people around the world using tele-presence you realise you are no longer in the business of creativity but crowd control.

There is a silver lining in all this. The flip side for me is how it confirms my belief in a very simple formula for great work. The great Superbowl ads were made up of three things. A great idea. A great relationship. A great execution.

Our industry probably lost its confidence over the last couple of years because so much was changing. And there are people out there who have definitely drunk the wrong cool-aid and stopped looking at what is real.

The truth is we should take great comfort from the Superbowl ratio because it’s probably true for all advertising. 15 percent. Why? Because it’s bloody hard to make a great ad. The comfort comes from knowing in 2015 the three ingredients have not changed. No matter how much money, people or process you have, they do not guarantee success.

What does however, is the perfect balance of creativity, trust and craft. Always has. Always will.

And that will always be more of an art than a science.