advertising, Uncategorized

The DNA of Lego

Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.
Coco Chanel

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.


Judging the ADC. Before jargon there was craft.


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.



Critics don’t make mistakes because they don’t make anything.

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.
Brendan Behan

Mistakes. Lately, many people are asking about mistakes.

It’s funny how this happens. As the world becomes obsessed with data and certainty we all start to crave madness and surprises. Contradiction makes the world go round. The only thing we love more than patterns is breaking them. Critics understand patterns. Creatives understand how to break them. With apologies to Kierkegaard, critics see life backwards, creatives have to live life forwards.

Watch any endeavour and you will see this. Let’s take sport.Take Rugby. The ball goes down the back line. A bad pass happens. The ball misses the player hits the ground and goes to the next player. This mistake freezes the defence and disrupts their pattern. The player goes through to score. A critic will say it was a bad pass. A player will say it was an opportunity. The critic works with the pattern. A great player works with the new. He works with what is. The great ones understand that nothing makes you focus on the present like a mistake.

You will see this over and over in art, science, music, in fact, anywhere you have to get your hands dirty and take a risk. This is where you find the space for random events and combinations to create something new. From the many attempts to create a light bulb, Fijians playing rugby,Bobby Fischer playing chess or the work of Marcel Duchamp or Basquiat you see the flow of working with what is there. Not what should be there but what is right in front of you.

The problem is that it is a messy business and sometimes it doesn’t work. As I said in a previous blog, most people don’t want creativity they want the result of creativity.

This is why a critic is so dangerous. He works with what he thinks should be there. He cuts off the oxygen and kills potential. So, what you get is an acceptable answer but not a new one.

Inside an agency this is very dangerous. I have seen people have entire careers built on being averagely right rather than imaginatively interesting. It is a strong defendable position that can kill the creative space because it creates fear. And fear and true creativity don’t mix.

To use the rugby analogy again, if you are terrified of what the other players will say or what the coach says if you make a mistake, you won’t throw that pass.

You will not do what is inside you. You will do what is outside of you. This is the end.

Right now, many believe the answers are out there, somewhere.They are not. The great answers are still inside us.

And they often begin with great mistakes. Go make one.