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