advertising, Uncategorized

I don’t care if you read this.

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“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” William Bruce Cameron

I couldn’t buy a camera for about twenty years.

I was a photographer when I was younger. I had done everything from being a photo-journalist in the townships of South Africa as apartheid ended, fashion shoots and portraiture for magazines as well as having to do awful weddings including being mistakenly hired for a right wing wedding and being paid in biltong (A dried meat delicacy). As you can see, it was a pretty mixed bag. But, I had made a living.

Over the years, it was always a scramble to make ends meet. And then, one day, the ends didn’t meet. So, I had to find something else to do. I had to put photography away. It is a strange thing when you make money from being creative. You become professional don’t you. You forget about joy and what it was that made you love your craft in the first place. I had this strange block that taking photographs as a hobby or for fun was a step backwards. Doing something for a living had baked in the idea of measurement and money. I had lost the ability to take a photograph for no reason.

Cut to fifteen years later. I started writing this blog. Just for fun. I enjoyed it. I liked people sending me messages and their stories. I just enjoyed the process. And then, I noticed a change within myself. As it became more successful I started to worry about likes. I started to think about how many blogs were publishing what I was writing. I started to worry about measurement and what other people thought. I started to lose the ability to write for myself.

If creativity and vanity are strange bedfellows, advertising is definitely the bed.

At this point, you may be saying go and see a therapist. An excellent suggestion. However, before I book a standing appointment I will try an make the inkling of a point.

Our business counts creativity. It measures it. I understand why it happens and the purpose of doing it, however, think about the insanity of trying to measure creativity and creatives. To use an idea from an old Saturday Night Live Skit, it’s a bit like saying you are the World Champion at Meditation. You are missing the point.

Compare that kind of mad measuring tape to the joy and honesty of seeing a young teams book and finding the most insane, unexpected idea. An idea they did because it made them laugh or they thought was beautiful.

In my own life, and the advertising business, I have seen what happens when measurement becomes more important than what is being measured. It makes you professional. It makes you efficient. It gives you a clear goal. However, I think it also makes you think about the wrong things. It makes you think of the picture frame rather than the picture. It makes you think of the outcome not the process. This is a very brittle mindset that seldom gives you anything new.

I can’t quantify or prove the following but I believe it to be true. For real creativity to exist there has to be a space for joy. There has to be a space for randomness and the unproven. There has to be a gap for chance and the unknown. There has to be a place for something intuitively just feeling good.

When it comes to real creativity, the messy and inconvenient truth is it often all begins with doing something for no reason.

So, I tried out my theory. After twenty years I got over myself and bought a camera. The picture above is the first picture I took as I was unwrapping the camera. It is of my dog Scooby. It isn’t great but it made me fucking laugh.

And then, I wrote this blog. And for the first time in a while I really didn’t give a shit if anybody read it. I felt like I was being creative again, rather than being involved in some strange vanity project or inane popularity contest.

I guess that is the problem with trying to mix numbers and creativity. For me, it is an unending lesson I keep trying to learn.

How do you measure the value of freedom?

How do you measure the value of doing something for no reason?

 

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The human pattern.

 

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“But, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover, life gives us something we can hardly imagine.”

Marcel Proust

Saturday night. My wife, Minky, had informed me we were going to a cabaret with some friends. The cabaret was called ‘The Sound of Falling Stars’. It was about the music of rock stars that had died young. A cabaret about dead rock stars. My mind had this swirling vision of a sequinned Jim Morrison or a very theatrical Elvis covered in fishnet stockings. What could go wrong?

Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting much. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect. Here’s the thing though, the show was bloody good. The ability of the main actor to sing like a multitude of stars ranging from Elvis, Kurt Cobain, Syd Vicious and Sam Cooke was truly astounding.

I was left with two thoughts. Firstly, there was this strange novelty in having a direct experience. No screen. No list. No barrier of any kind. Just an actor by the name of Cameron Goodall , singing his heart out and occasionally having to incorporate a drunk patron into the act. This unfortunate occurrence would throw the timing of the performance out and you could see the band working with him to get things back on track. By the end of the show, he was covered in sweat from the effort of making a thousand things look effortless. He deservedly received a standing ovation for a performance that made you feel like time had stopped. We had been there for 90 minutes but it felt like just a couple of minutes. The power of his performance had made you focus. The emotion he had generated had us in the palm of his hand. There was nothing else to look at or connect to, he had our total attention because he demanded we feel something. How many pieces of very expensive communication achieve that these days?

My other thought was that the whole experience had been better because I had no idea of what was going to happen. We had done something pretty random and somehow that had made it better.

Random.

It is not a word people in our business particularly like. Right now, our business is enthralled with personalisation and accuracy. With knowing what you like and when you want it. In essence, the object is to create a curated life. As this happens, you will create data. This will create a pattern. This pattern will give you more of what you like. It will be very efficient at doing this. In theory, this should make human beings very happy.

Except, my Saturday night disproved that.

I did something I wouldn’t have normally done. No bit of data or any algorithm would have suggested I do this based on my previous behaviour or history.

Human beings are weird and quite tricky on a good day and this fact makes me wonder how correct the prevailing beliefs in our business really are. In a couple of years, when everything is effective and efficient will the quirky human beings of Earth value the most unexpected, slightly wrong or the pure joy of surprise more than endless predictability and complete ease?

Life is often about the need for comfort and routine. This is a pattern. A pattern we all desire. However, what makes life worth living is often about surprise and delight. That is what breaks patterns. And, I think we want that more than just about anything.

We want the unexpected. We want what we cannot imagine. And yes, we want safety and routine. But, we also want things that will blow our minds.

In the end, we want things we didn’t know we wanted.

I suppose you could call that a very human pattern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

The preachers and the busker.

 

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Bob Marley

A couple of days ago I was walking down a windy Queen Street, the main street in Auckland. It is a street every port city has. It is heady mix of high-end fashion stores, tourists that have just stumbled off a massive, impossibly white cruise liner plus a few people from the streets that are so high, they are angrily arguing with a bus stop.

It was a Saturday afternoon and the street wasn’t that busy. As I made my way through the shuffling shoppers, I began to notice different religious groups every hundred metres or so. They had many pamphlets and a variety of magnificent beards. Cheap megaphones were distorting the precious words coming from a strange combination of angry, smiling mouths just below unflinching, unfocused eyes. To me, the information did not match the delivery. The what had nothing to do with the how.

Each group was stridently espousing their beliefs. Strangely, there was even an anti-religious group doing exactly the same thing as the religious groups next to them. They even looked the same. The people passing by would noticeably increase their pace as they were verbally assaulted by each torrent of vital information. It became comical to watch. The speed of the walking would increase as the preachers volume increased.

I kept walking and I noticed a small crowd. I thought perhaps it would be another preacher. It wasn’t.

It was a young busker. He was singing and playing a bashed up guitar and had his guitar case open. He was relaxed and looked pretty happy. He was having a good time. There were a couple of notes and coins from his playing. The difference was stark. Quite a few people stopped but even those who didn’t, slowed down. And they listened. And they laughed. And they gave that busker their time.

In the space of a couple of hundred metres, I had seen a fantastic argument as to why creativity makes all the difference. In a single city block, I saw how it can take information and transform it into a gift. A gift, that makes you want to listen and understand.

The fire and brimstone preachers and remarkably similar anti-preachers incorrectly thought people would listen to their messages because they thought the message was important. They thought the very important information they had would be enough. If they spoke, everybody would listen. But they didn’t. They walked faster.

On the other hand, the busker didn’t say you have to listen to me. He said, would you like to feel something. He said, can we share something together. He said, would you like to dance. And then, those windswept shoppers listened to every word.

The preachers were saying what they felt was important.

The busker was saying that what you felt was important.

It might explain why you find so much music in churches.

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Creativity. How to make a Neo-Nazi sad.

“Are you a communist?”
“No I am an anti-fascist”
“For a long time?”
“Since I have understood fascism.” 

Ernest Hemingway. For whom the bell tolls.

With the tragedy of Charlottesville only a couple of days old I came across something from all that sadness that made me smile.

Some KKK members were marching down a street. On the sidewalk was a man keeping pace with them. In the video below he has a large tuba. Perhaps, the most humorous of instruments in the brass section. He is playing musical themes from cartoons and films that are in time with their marching. I particularly like the Star Wars Stormtrooper theme. So, there you have all these angry men with shaved heads trying to intimidate and look threatening being rendered ridiculous and powerless by one man playing a cartoon theme tune. This is what creativity can do.

 

Here is another fantastic example of what creativity can do to change the game. A couple of years ago, I remember seeing a case study from Germany (Video below) about a town of around 10 000 people called Wunsiedel.  The residents were fed up with Neo-Nazis marching through their town. You see, it was the birth place of Rudolf Hess, the deputy to Adolf Hitler. And because of this, the Neo-Nazis had been making an annual pilgrimage to the burial site for over 25 years.

The towns solution was ingenious. In 2014, Wunsiedel residents created Germany’s most involuntary charity walk. The idea of the walk, labeled “Nazis against Nazis,” was to make the neo-Nazis’ march the trigger for an anti-Nazi fundraiser. For every meter the Neo-Nazis walked, donors agreed to give €10 to an organisation that helps Neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists escape radicalism. In essence, the Neo-Nazis were marching against themselves. So simple, so perfect.

This is why creativity is so powerful. Creativity is made up of many things but at its core lies humour and humanity. This allows you to change the rules of the game without confrontation. In both examples, nobody asked the Neo-Nazis to do anything different. And there was no opposition or violence.  Creativity simply changed the context and the purpose. This mischief and alchemy gives you the ability to create the reality you want rather than one others want to impose on you. It lets you write the script no matter what the circumstances.

This is the power creativity has. It loves difference and every reality. It laughs at life and uncertainty.  It celebrates mischief and imperfection. It is made of freedom and the ability to change.

It is what those marchers will never understand and if you look at history, it is what often becomes an authoritarian movements achilles heel.

A group of people with a narrow, dogmatic set of rules can and will always eventually be beaten by a single human being who can create his or her own.

And has a tuba.

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Ideas. They are not for everyone.

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“Ideas are easy. It’s the execution that really separates the sheep from the goats.”

Sue Grafton

Narratives that don’t make sense. If you have been in advertising for more than 10 minutes you will have seen this before.

Invariably over time you find these narratives have far more to do with making or saving money than anything coming close to the truth. Look what was said 5 years ago about digital advertising and you will see what I mean.

Right now, there are two narratives floating around advertising that are diametrically opposed to each other.

The first one goes like this. Nothing is more important than creativity. It is our secret weapon. We need it. It is what separates us from the rest.

The other is creative should not be left up to the creatives. Ideas can come from anywhere. Anybody can come up with an idea. We should be open to everybody having ideas.

Now, I would agree that anybody can have an idea. Any Creative Director worth his salt will look at the idea, not where it came from. I also understand that a lot of these conversations come from dealing with how many puzzle pieces there are these days. And, how little time exists to make that pretty picture on the box.

However, when I look at these competing narratives I have some issues about the misconceptions many in our industry have about creatives and why they are so necessary. For me, these problems begin with two words. Creative and idea.

Creative is not a job description it a vague, undefined ability. I have told people I am a creative and they have responded by saying they are also creative, they love to cook or are quite keen on gardening.

So, what you often have is the erroneous thought by many in our industry that anybody can be a creative because the job description of being an advertising creative is undefined. This description also erodes the value of what we do. However, there is a far bigger problem.

The second word I mentioned is the word idea. What is an idea? Seriously, think about it for a second. For those that aren’t sure I can put your mind at rest by telling you it is far more than a couple of words on a bloody post-it.

For many, the perception exists that having an idea is hard. The truth is that the hard part is actually caring about an idea. Everybody can have an idea but, selling, making and caring about an idea that leads to potentially hundreds of executions often over a couple of years needs a person with special qualities. That blend of talent and dedication is very hard to find.

Creatives are often described as rock stars but the truth is really great creatives are far more like shepherds . They are there when an idea is born. They try to keep it safe and moving in the right direction. They try and make sure it doesn’t die. To use a comparison from the other end of the job spectrum, I often think it feels similar to being an actor in L.A. going to auditions every day and being rejected for being too short, too tall, too fat, too boring etc. Talent is important but so is toughness. It’s not for everyone.

The other tricky thing about ideas is that everybody thinks their own ideas are great. This is fine if you don’t have to make one. It can just be a nice theory. Nobody gets hurt. But, if you are actually making an idea which can often cost millions of dollars somebody has to be responsible for the end product. Who decides? And to be clear, if it is a committee or involves brainstorming you are already in deep shit. Somebody has to make a call. And not just one decision but hundreds of tiny unglamorous decisions.

Paul Klee once said that a line is a dot that went for a walk. It is one of my favourite quotes because it perfectly describes the difference between having an idea and the endless process of making an idea.

Many at the moment are making the mistake of thinking that having an idea is the same as making an idea. Whether it is the disaster of an event like the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, the infamous Pepsi ad or the hundreds of ads that all look like each other because people have cut corners, we need to remember in the end it is the making that matters. This is why creatives matter, they make ideas real. They understand more than anybody that an idea means nothing if it isn’t made. It is what drives them. It is why they push further. It is why they are different. It is why they are valuable.

The truth is having an average idea is pretty painless and can be done by many. On the other hand, making a truly great idea needs a person or people that have a lot of courage, passion and a very high pain threshold.

Despite what some may think, it’s not for everyone.

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. What if the right answer is wrong?

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

H.L Mencken

The thing about process is that it leaves very little room for madness, obsession and mistakes. To be human. My fear is that our business at the moment is having a lot of conversations about ways to get to huge quantities of acceptable, average answers. Creativity is not at the forefront of our business right now. The ability to make a lot of average stuff quickly is.

The desire for vast amounts of content by its very nature means a process has to be created. A pipeline. A conveyor belt. A factory. If you look at those last 3 words you don’t get to unique, memorable and human. You get to continual, consistent and sterile.

To some, this may sound pretty good. The problem will be when everybody has a conveyor belt. Then a lot of things are going to look the same. What then?

The question is will accuracy and frequency be enough? There is a very strong desire to create order and patterns in our business right now. Creativity by its very nature breaks patterns. For it to survive it has to be able to make mistakes and take risks. It cannot be content with an average answer. If creativity can’t have those things it will give you the answers you already have. And then it has no value.

I tried to think of an example of doing something the wrong way but something marvellous and human coming out of it. I didn’t have to look far.

My youngest son Jamie (playing the piano in the video) is dyslexic. One of the ways we discovered this is that he took piano lessons and he would play a piece at a concert. We noticed that he wasn’t looking up at the sheet music. He was looking down at the keys He would play the whole piece out of his head. He coped my memorising a whole song. He is eight years old.

In essence, because one part of his brain struggled another part became almost superhuman. Dyslexia is often called the MIT disease because so many end up in these kinds of respected learning institutions. The reason for this is that dyslexics often develop the ability to make unique connections and come up with novel solutions to complex problems that are very different to typical minds.

Finding another way is one of the most important parts of creativity. It is also a very human quality that gets you somewhere new.

I am not sure it is a word but I think about humaness a lot. I would define it as the opposite of sterile. It is unexpectedness, delight, surprise and the other stuff that makes life worth living. And I don’t just mean those words on a poster. I mean what you feel.

In a couple of years, once we have created a hyper-personalised, hyper-conversational, cross channel, responsive, data unified, outcome based, always on, highly snackable, curated customer experience, how will human beings feel about it all?

Will research come back that they find it all a bit boring and predictable? Or, will it be that they don’t notice it at all because everything has become so seamless? After they have been chased around the internet will they feel like people do now when they get a machine instead of a human being at a call centre.

The truth is another word for creativity could be humanity. And, if we lose that, in a business that is all about talking to other human beings we will be in deep trouble.

No matter how accurate we are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Cannes. Strangers at the Circus.

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“Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.”

Victor Hugo

There were two boats in Cannes. They were part of the seemingly endless cavalcade of behemoth yachts moored in the South of France for the Cannes advertising festival of creativity. One belonged to some venture capitalists and was obscenely large. It had its own planet sized chandelier and a place to land a helicopter. The other was more modest by Cannes standards. It belonged to the advertising agency BBH. One of the great agencies in the world.

The venture capitalists had been on their deck staring with great intent at the BBH boat. In particular, they had been looking at the flag of BBH which is a black sheep. I believe it comes from one of Sir John Hegarty’s early ads for Levis. It shows a whole flock of white sheep and one black sheep and I think the line was when everybody zigs, zag.

The venture capitalists looked at this for a while and one of them shouted across to BBH.

“So what kind of business are you guys in? Livestock?”

Now, I don’t know if this story is true. I was told the story on two separate occasions while I was in Cannes. And after being there for the week, I can certainly believe it happened. The reason I mention it is that it is the perfect example of where Cannes and advertising is right now.

For years Cannes was the place where old buildings met new ideas. Strangely, it was a very consistent, predictable template that housed necessary madness and bleary eyed hedonism. It was a simple, crazy beautiful celebration of ideas and creativity that said we are the creators and the disruptors. It was about a tribe that believed in taking risks and finding ways to bring the new. There was a bit of schadenfreude mixed with joy and full frontal ambition. It was a place where your sputtering career and where the industry was at merged. This weird fusion gave you a pretty good read of the advertising landscape, a vague map and a way forward.

This Cannes was different.

There were many tribes. Venture Capitalists wanting to buy stuff. Tech companies wanting to sell stuff. Consultants. Entertainment. Gaming. Media. Facebook. Google. And Snapchat with a Ferris Wheel. I could go on and on. But it’s safe to say that there were many strangers at the circus. And even the ones you used to know were trying to re-invent themselves. They were all saying we used to be this, now we are that.

To me, we have reached a point where advertising no longer knows what it is because it has become everything. That’s a pretty big place. Believe me, a new world is forming that is both frightening and exciting in equal measure. You could see the tectonic plates shifting and the lava oozing out around your newly bought Espadrilles.

I have a love hate relationship with Cannes. It gives you the best and the worst of our industry in one place, in a single week. It can be overwhelming. I don’t know why but in a year where Cannes had maximum madness I felt quite serene. Maybe it’s because I had a North Star. I just looked at the ideas. And to be clear, they were pretty bloody good this year. For me creativity at Cannes was not a sideshow.

For many others, that were there, it was. And if I am honest, I found that a little sad.

Cannes felt like an eye desperately trying to look at itself. But there was too much to see.

However, if you can look past the insane circus of obscene boats, shiny people with mirrored ray-bans and far too much linen; if you can peer past the endless bullshit jargon and polished bravado there will always only ever be one ringmaster.

Ideas.

 

 

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