advertising, Uncategorized

Mind the gap. The advertising tango.

“Music is what happens between the notes.”
Claude Debussy

I went to see Birdman the other night. It is a beautiful film.

One of the central themes for me is the gap between the internal and external reality we all have. What you think you are and what you think you should be. Where you are and where you want to go. What you are willing to risk? Everybody telling you something is a shit idea but you still believing in it. The film plays with this idea of human spaces and gaps and shows how they are necessary to create anything of creative value.

Great work does not happen without some sort of risk. There has to be a leap. And there is only a leap, if there is a gap.

Our business is all about gaps. The gap between a good idea and a great idea. The gap between what is in your head and a clients. The gap between having an idea and being able to sell it. The gap between thinking and the making of an idea. I could go on. But lets just say crossing all these gaps takes a fair amount of courage and persuasion. It is a tango our business dances every day.

And this will not change, no matter how much data you have. There is a simple reason for this. Gaps are where data ends and judgement, trust and relationships begin.

It is strange how very little is said or written about the human aspect of our business. Read about how any great piece of work is made and there will always be a paragraph about how somebody persuaded somebody or somebody was brave enough to buy the work. In the end, this is what creates the space between the notes.

Scary stuff.

So, it is understandable there are many who don’t like gaps or risks because there is a huge amount of money involved if something does not work.

And because of this, an entire industry has been spawned to explain away the gaps. I am constantly meeting people who have never made a single piece of communication who have the answer or a formula for how things should be done. They always talk about the value of creativity without knowing what it is like to try and have an idea.

They are slick presenters with cool trainers selling the idea that creativity is too important to be left to the creatives. They package and curate. They do not originate. They risk very little and they talk very often.

To use a quote from Birdman allegedly first said by Susan Sontag: “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

The truth is they provide the illusion of safety. Their solutions have a lot of context with very little substance. It might sound good in a presentation but it won’t get the job done.

There is a simple reason for this. These professional soothsayers are in the business of creating certainty in a business that is becoming more confusing for many.

True creativity is the business of exploring uncertainty. Many might not like that but that is how it works.

And because of this, judgement, persuasion and belief will always be why great work gets across the line.

It has to be this way if you want to do something new.

And for that, you need people that believe in an idea and are willing to take a risk. Look at the great work over the last couple of years and you will see that. When you do, you will see that despite what many say, the centre of our business hasn’t changed that much. You need great ideas. You have to sell those great ideas. You have to execute them bloody well.

What surrounds the centre, however, has changed a lot. This is why many are unsure or baffled.

This is why there is a lot of fear in our business right now and many are making a living trying to pretend like they have some new answer.

Creativity works a certain way. It always has and always will. It cannot be smoothed over and made more palatable with pie charts and snappy aphorisms. It has to have gaps.

Just like music.


Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever.


Defence is not an option.

Originally posted on Damon's Brain:


A great quote from Napoleon Bonaparte. Admittedly, it all ended pretty badly for him on a godforsaken island in the South Atlantic but I am sure on a clear day the views were almost spectacular.

The reason I use this quote is I was recently reading Dave Trott’s remarkable and excellent book Predatory Thinking.

In one of the chapters he talks about how marketing departments always want to grow and to do that they need to take somebody else’s lunch. To survive they have to win.

Advertising agencies are no different.

And to win, you have to attack. You have to beat the opposition. You have to have a better plan of battle otherwise you die.

Many don’t like to talk about this because it is brutal. But this is the truth of our business. And those that succeed, fundamentally understand that unless you attack at some point you will…

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Bounce. What does a score mean if there is no game?


For the creatives. What is a punch line without the joke?

Originally posted on Damon's Brain:


I was watching Tina Fey the other night and she was talking about the two main rules of improvisation on stage.

The first is that if there are two of you on stage, you have to agree. In other words, if I say I am holding an imaginary apple, you don’t say no you’re not. You have to agree.

The second rule is yes and. This means that you build on what has been said or created to move the scene forward. For example, I say I am holding an apple. And you say yes and I will inject it with poison to kill the king. Yes and.

Two simple rules to create something out of nothing. This is how great comics create.

Strangely, it is also how children create. I have been watching mine over the holidays. One of them will say, hey we are Batman and Robin. The…

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