Mad men never die. They just change their business card.

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Bill Bernbach

Recently there have been a whole lot of articles in the trade about the demise of Mad Men. They relate to the television show and allude to the end of advertising as we know it. The argument is that advertising used to be about charisma and persuasion. It was an art practised by salesmen with a Scotch in one hand and a crazy idea in the other. They are now in the past. The world has changed.

Now, the world is about programmatic buying, experience management platforms and realtime optimisation technology. And you know what, it probably is. There is no doubt there has been more innovation in our industry in the last 10 years than in the 100 years preceding it. We now have access to massive amounts of data which can tell us all sorts of things about consumers. This has given many the impression that advertising can be a science. This is an attempt to create certainty in the most uncertain of worlds, the future. Just ask a weatherman.

My response to that is what happens when you know where the consumer is and what they like and how many times they want it? What are you going to say that is different to everybody else who will also have this data? Many believe all you have to do is find the consumer. I disagree. You will need to differentiate yourself. You will need an idea. You will need creativity.

So, as much as I have no doubt that the industry is going to get a lot better at finding consumers at the right time and at the right place we still better have something to say. We will still need creativity to persuade more than the next guy who has just as much data as you. I have no doubt job titles may change but those that practice the art of persuasion will remain in this business.

There is also another reason mad men will remain. Let me talk about a strange quirk that happens in our business hundreds of times a day around the world. Despite all the innovation that has happened this dance hasn’t changed one bit since advertising began. And I can’t imagine it ever will. The reason it hasn’t changed is because of a simple fact that many in our industry forget. Our business is made of people. And people are made up of opinions, feelings and beliefs. Even if you have great data different people will have different opinions about what should be done with it. And, there is one event that happens daily that shows this better than any other. So, what is this strange dance I speak of?

The pitch. This is why the strong persuaders, the mad men of today, will survive.

Pitches. Ah the agony and the ecstasy. While I am writing this, there is a slightly sweaty somebody with the faint aroma of Red Bull running into a room with a lap top or some white boards that are sticky because the studio only finished them 30 seconds before our hero had to get in the cab. He or she will have to stand there and in 60 minutes present and persuade the audience that the idea they are presenting is the best.

In 60 minutes, you have to talk about the clients business for perhaps the next 3 years. You have to show them something that doesn’t exist. Invisible architecture. A vision so obvious, nobody in the room saw it. You have to replace their worry with a way. You have to make them nod. You have to make them feel. You have to make them fucking believe. In 60 minutes.

That is a skill. If you don’t believe me, try it.

The uncomfortable truth is for us to be able to sell to others we need to be sold to as well. We need to believe in something to take a risk.The data might take you to the edge. Mad men convince you to jump. And these days jumping has never been more important.

From Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, or if you prefer advertising greats, Bill Bernbach to Dan Wieden, the greatest creatives are great salesmen. They understand the power of vision, creativity and hope. They understand we are talking to people not machines.

In the future, you might argue what kind of ideas being sold might change. True. But ideas still need to be sold. And, if it needs to be sold, mad men will still exist. Whatever their business card says.


A conversation worth having.


“A line is a dot that went for a walk.”

Paul Klee

I am standing on a black beach in a small fishing town called Ngawi. It is about as far South as you can go on New Zealand’s North Island. Only 22 people live here. It is beautiful and brutal. The rain poured down and the sea raged on day 1 of a shoot that was supposed to begin with beautiful weather. They should rent out shoots to countries that have droughts, I guarantee it would rain the day the shoot started.

There is a funny moment when what was on a piece of paper becomes real. A white piece of paper suddenly becomes a black beach in the middle of nowhere. The journey begins with one idea. Yet, for the journey to continue and for that idea to survive you need to have many conversations. These conversations are about tiny details and new sparks. Quality and craft. Many think they are not necessary. They are wrong, now more than ever.

I have been a creative for 20 years. In those 20 years I have learnt any great piece of work happens because of conversations. It might begin with one in a room full of small bits of paper on a wall. Or, the idea gets sold because one person speaks and enough people believe after looking into the whites of the speaker’s eyes. If the project is dying, it will only be revived if the right people talk. And perhaps, more importantly, it is these and hundreds of other conversations that makes the idea better than when it was born. Conversations can take an idea to greatness if you are brave enough to have them.

Bill Bernbach was a genius for putting the art director and the copywriter together. And, I believe the most important part of this was they probably really started talking for the first time. This would have given birth to ideas neither could have had alone. Today is no different, the best work happens when a creative actually talks to a creative, planner, suit or technologist. In fact, with the complexity of modern campaigns conversations have never been more essential. So, although our industry is always trying to create a straight line to an answer. It is the conversation, the dot, that starts it all. It is also the dot that creates quality.

Now, you might say, so what’s the problem?

Think about your career. How many times have you been told you can’t talk to so and so because you haven’t spoken to so and so? Think about the time you have and the time you want. Think about our business and ask yourself does it encourage conversation or process? How easy is it to talk to people in your agency? How easy is it to talk to your clients? The answers to those two questions will tell you if you should leave your job.

That may sound harsh but I believe that. I cannot tell you how many creatives have spoken to me around the world about how they have to go with their first idea because of time. No little conversations and zero craft. If you work in an environment where it becomes impossible to have those conversations and little ideas you will never do great work. Fear and creativity can never live in the same place. A few words face to face can kill fear and create time. Without that conversation you will never sell and make an idea. And I have personally seen a project take 18 months longer to happen because marketers in a certain company didn’t want to get in a room and talk.

More importantly, it is the tiny ideas that happen during the process that make something better that will die if you can’t have the right conversations. These are the most important conversations of all because they make work rise above the ordinary. They are also the hardest to have. So, why are they so hard to have?

The reason is that our business pretends that ideas are solid things. They pretend they are solid lines. Creatives know they are just a series of dots. Creatives know creativity is not a thing but a way. Creatives know ideas are constantly evolving depending on what magic they rub against. This is why you need the right environment to have those conversations. If you don’t, what you make will be only half of what it could have been. It falls into the good enough pile.

Conversation is another word for craft. Details matter. A black beach matters. The tiny details that take work to another level. The stuff that makes something great. These days our business is under increasing financial pressure to be faster and to find a new methodology. To do things in less time and perhaps to have less conversations. Maybe the work will happen faster but we will sacrifice quality and it will not build trust. And just to be clear, I am not some dinosaur talking about the good old days. I am talking about right now.

I sometimes think advertising at the moment has some similarities with the beginning of reality television in 2006. It was quick and cheap to make. You didn’t need all those pesky writers who had all gone on strike in Hollywood. And for a couple of years it pretty much took over our screens. 9 years later, what is the world obsessed with on its screens? What has massive followings and communities? Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and House of Cards. Quality, time and talent is a hard combination to beat. And the question is should we be trying to beat it?

Think of the millions of choices and conversations that were had to create these television shows. People will always want the best. And make no mistake, in this age of entertainment, that is advertising’s competition. That is our benchmark.

Yet, many in our industry believe we can cut corners or just make sure advertising is everywhere and that it reaches you really quickly. Dangerous.

David Abbott said it doesn’t matter how fast shit reaches you, it’s still shit.

Now, that is a conversation worth having.


Why we should listen to the beat of simplicity’s heart.


For the creatives. A piece about why we need simplicity now more than ever.

Originally posted on Damon's Brain:

Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

Many years ago I was in a terrible team. We didn’t get on and because of this we would have these long, stupid philosophical discussions about the right way to have ideas. We would talk about structure and what things should be called and how we should approach a project. We literally did everything besides have an idea. Even now, I can remember the ball tightening, paralysed fear, I felt every day as we tried to surf yet another semantic Tsunami.

We never agreed on anything and more importantly, never had any ideas worth talking about. It was a pretty dark moment in my career but it taught me one thing.Talking about having ideas, having theories about ideas, espousing a philosophy about creating ideas is not the fucking same as having one. And it taught me one…

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