Illustration Courtesy Minky Stapleton
This beautiful description comes from a speech Leo Burnett did many years ago. He spoke about those lonely people that work into the night pushing themselves. When everybody else has left, they stay.Their solitary, unobserved greatness is based on satisfying themselves before they satisfy anybody else. They are advertising’s invisible heroes.
The truth is, without these magical mad men and women, who have this need to go beyond an impossible, invisible line in their heads, advertising would be a simple, unsatisfying business.
And the impossible invisible line is never larger than when the great migration begins. It is a mad migration. For a few weeks, creatives get the fever and they become a strange hybrid. They are half crack addict, half Olympic Champion. Addiction meets desire. Or perhaps, for once, we just want to have the best outfit at the party.
I have seen creatives do the impossible year after year in the weeks that will follow. And when I say impossible I mean a Red-Bull fuelled, staring at the ceiling at 4am, I will show you I am not shit, shark frenzy kind of impossible.
Right now, the planet could be covered twice over in the amount of white board being cut and used for entries into Cannes. And Hollywood films have probably been halted because somebody is using the edit suite to make one final change to a case study.
Cannes. I can never work out if it is a small town or large set in the South of France. First, they have a film festival, then a porn festival and then finally, an advertising festival. As you can imagine, there are many jokes about the fact that we are third. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a plumbers award show that follows us. Cannes is a town that is like a beautiful frame. Each week the frame remains the same but the picture changes.
I have done the pilgrimage at least ten times. Each time what always strikes me is that Cannes has this amazing ability to absorb an entire global industry. This small French town seems to swell but never burst. I have always wondered if there are secret underground hotels.
It is a beautiful place with beautiful people who seem to spend the week only eating food you can hold in two fingers. There is the glitz of the large boats, the big boys holding court at the Carlton and the tasty Burgundy inspired stories of last night. There are the soulless wankers who wear mirrored sunglasses so they can look over your shoulder as they speak to you. The 15 minute meeting people who have done so much networking they look like they are on medical grade acid while trying to drive a car. The frightening East European bouncers presiding over champagne soaked parties full of white linen strangers who eventually all go and lie down in the gutter bar.
Above it all, though, for me at least, there is this very strange feeling of belonging to something. Or perhaps more accurately, being in something together. If you look hard enough past the new outfits and old routines, you will see the lonely men and women meandering down one of those perfectly aged French streets.
Cannes is for those crazy bastards. And they deserve every moment of it. It is for those long lonely nights when they tried to find something shiny and new without a signpost. It is for those that were brave enough to try again and again.
More importantly, for the lonely men and women, it brings those long nights to an end. A moment in the sun.
And then we begin again.
Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.
Average advertising agencies and great advertising agencies are often like country clubs and football clubs. You join a country club but you belong to a football club. You join a country club because of status and perhaps the amenities. You belong to a football club because of the people, passion and belief. And that belief in a promise stays with you and becomes a part of you.
I suppose the question we have to ask ourselves every day is are we part of a country club agency or a football club agency?
If you look at the great agencies around the world they have uncorrupted DNA. Others would say they have a strong brand. And what is a brand? A promise.
Isn’t it odd how many companies want advertising agencies to shape their brand while many of those agencies have no concept or understanding of their own.
Now,with great agencies you will normally find a few things. The founders had very strong beliefs and are often still very involved. This is the magic energy of start-ups. It is often why in the beginning independent agencies have so much success. Also, with these agencies the environment shapes you as a creative. There is always a strong belief that is set in stone. It is not just a slogan or packaging, it is how things are. If you work there, you believe it. It is what I call spiritual consistency. This is the most important and underrated condition you need for creativity to thrive over long periods. People often discount the soul of an agency thinking it’s a nice to have or worse still window dressing. Well, try doing that to a football club. Manchester United. Great facilities, good players but we take away the passion and belief. Doesn’t really work does it? Agencies are the same.
Think about this for a second, the great illusion about agencies is the passion and belief remains the same inside them because they remain in the same building with the same logo on the side of them.
The rise and fall of agencies is often about the smallest shifts. (I could give you many examples) And for the powers that be, remember this. I know conventional wisdom says everybody is replaceable. But, what you have after the person has left the building will never be the same. It might be better and it might be worse. Never the same. The agency has mutated ever so slightly. If your core DNA isn’t strong, you can become all sorts of wrong. Very quickly.
As an industry our primary resource is people. These people are like the most amazing lego blocks mankind has ever seen. When the agency DNA is right they can build the greatest agencies. And what’s more, these strange and crazy people can build things nobody has ever imagined. Most importantly, it is the combination of these people that create the secret sauce. Yet, average agencies often think whatever ingredients you use will give you the same secret sauce.
To take the example further they also try to do this without a recipe. They just hope it tastes good. And hope is not a strategy.
It is time we all remembered what an agency is. It is not a flashy logo. It is not a slick business card. It is not a big title. It is not a building. It is not a foyer with lots of awards. It is not a shiny boardroom table. It is not buzz words and jargon. It is not empty mantra’s and hollow slogans.
A great agency is a whole lot of people coming together for a brief moment in time and having the same belief. In the end, an agency is simply a promise to itself.
The people are the lego. The belief is the DNA. You have to have both. When you do, those amazing lego people can do anything.
And when you don’t you have a whole lot of pieces strewn across the carpet that somebody will have to pick up again.
After 30 hours of flying nothing wakes you up like your imminent death.
Costa Rica has night colours you feel you have never seen before. And the intoxicating smell of burnt sugar cane turn evenings into a cloak of potential. I was taking this all in as our driver (that’s him in the picture) was going through the Costa Rican jungle in our taxi panel van at speeds that would have given him poll at Monza. It was at this point he decided to fall asleep. As we veered off the road towards oblivion, 5 international creative directors discarded their world weary coolness for shear terror. One of them grabbed the wheel and we lived. I felt incredibly lucky to be judging the ADC the following day.
The ADC is the oldest ad show in the world. It was formed to show commercial art could be beautiful too. At its heart, the show has always been about craft. It has always been about ideas and things being well made. This core philosophy is even more relevant today than it was when the ADC started in 1920. And, I can’t stress this enough, will be critical to our industries survival in the future.
So, what is getting in the way? I think we are choking on our own jargon, packaging, explanation and case studies. We are lost in the description of things. We are constantly giving context and explaining the background. We use a lot of words like innovation, interactive, digital etc. We need to experience things directly. Not the word but the object or idea. Labels are not things.
The truth is simple.
Our future is not just about packaging things or thinking things. It is about making things.
The problem is every person on the planet now has the power to make things and broadcast them. So, there is only one thing that separates a creative from the other 6 billion people on the planet. Craft.
We have to use our craft to be better than anybody else on the planet to remain relevant. We have to care more.
To make an idea beautifully is one of the most satisfying parts of our business. It is through this lens we looked at the work at the ADC. And when we did, we noticed a few things.
Firstly, it is staggering what some agencies enter into ad shows. Absolute shit. What that tells me is some agencies no longer know what great is. There is not just a gap between average agencies and great ones, there is a chasm. When you look at the current advertising landscape this has serious implications to a lot of agencies surviving.
Secondly, I think case studies are the botox of advertising. There are certain entries that have more craft in the case study than the idea or execution. They make rubbish look better. This is going to become a big problem going forward.
Lastly, when you judge you look at a lot of work pretty quickly. You look at work like a consumer. And when you do, great work stands out. The work that’s going to win is pretty obvious. The formula hasn’t changed and never will. Clarity. Surprise. Craft.
In the end, whether you call it television, content, non broadcast, viral film or anything else is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you feel something when you see something memorable.
What has been interesting is looking at how craft is changing. It is reinventing itself. There are whole new sections of craft that didn’t exist 5 years ago which make judging challenging but the future exciting.
Seeing the work and the effort that has been put into it showed me a simple way this business can get it’s self-respect back. Be better than anybody else.
Judging the ADC reminds me of why I got into the business. It rewards people that have tried harder or pushed further. It rewards people that haven’t done things in the fastest way or the most efficient way. They have rewarded people that have done things the right way.
Craft. A simple word that reminds you that creativity is not a thing but a way.
Thanks for showing me that once again ADC.