advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Respect the Pain.

nike-nothing-beats-a-londoner-index(Image from Nike Nothing beats a Londoner commercial)

‘Jealousy is just love and hate at the same time.’

Drake

I would like to talk about a feeling. A very strange and specific feeling that you can get being a creative in advertising. To explain it I will take you back a few years to a job interview I had in London.

It was at the Ivy. Now, for anybody in London this restaurant is an institution. If London was a restaurant it would be the Ivy. At the time, I didn’t know any of this as I had just arrived from the colonies. I walked past the famous stain-glassed windows, opened the door and with as much fake confidence as I could muster announced to the maitre d’ that I was here for lunch at the Ivy. The maitre d’ that I decided was called Jean-Claude was impeccable. He wore a suit so well that I was convinced it was airbrushed. Neat was not the word. He displayed a level of flawlessness that I am incapable of matching. His faultless hair alone could make you feel like you were wearing brown shoes with a black tuxedo for the rest of your life. It had the allure and symmetry you will only ever see looking down through the clouds at vineyards somewhere in Burgundy. The comb he used was probably handed down in a mystical ceremony, deep in the Black Forest where Europe’s finest headwaiters meet in cloaks exchanging stolen bottles of wine, wheels of cheese and closely guarded neat secrets, that I am sure very few mortals can understand. But I digress.

As I said, I had announced that I was here for lunch at the Ivy.

Jean-Claude without really looking up from a wine list that seemed to list every wine ever made simply and instantly added a word to my sentence.

Club.

I was a bit confused. He informed me the Ivy ‘Club’ was next door and that is where I was having lunch. And to be clear, The Ivy Club might be next door but it is a very long way from The Ivy Restaurant.

This encounter gave me a strange feeling. A mixture of anger, awe and respect. He hadn’t asked my name. He never knew who I was. But, Jean-Claude was so good at his job and knew his customers so well that he was certain I wasn’t eating there that day.

My backpacking attire may also have been a clue.

The reason I mention this story is that I happened to watch a documentary about the refurbishment of The Ivy in the same week I watched the brilliant Nike commercial called ‘Nothing beats a Londoner’. Here is a link https://youtu.be/n0j_CX1S2es

For some reason I didn’t write about it instantly. And, as it happens, I fortuitously saw the Ivy documentary the following day.

I guess for me the connection between my story about The Ivy and the Nike commercial is that feeling that is a mixture of anger or perhaps jealousy, awe and respect. It is a weird feeling you only have as a creative when you experience something great.

I could be a fan-boy and say what I liked about the commercial. What made me laugh, what was slick or what was new or fresh. But, the more I thought about it what made me like the commercial was the pain. The truth is what separates that commercial from many was the sweating of details. The appreciation of craft. The millions of tiny choices that won’t let you sleep. Not taking shortcuts. Trying to make sure every second had some love. And remember, for those who think ads are getting shorter, it’s three minutes long. That is a lot of love.

You could see the creatives had given everything. You could see how hard it must have been. They bled to make something look easy and effortless. They endured pain, lost battles and did not give up.

I don’t know if the ad is perfect. I do know however that the creatives could not have tried harder.

Perhaps, that is what real perfection is.

It made me think of Jean-Claude. The millions of hours learning. The infinite detail. The crazy fucking chefs. The stupid requests and impossible guests. Smiling through the pain. Taking it, pushing through and winning. You have to respect that pain because that is how great work happens.

You have to respect that pain because it is what makes you better. It is what separates you from the rest.

Anyway, I like to think when Jean-Claude told me to go to the Ivy Club his feet were hurting from yesterday’s service. And, it was just the beginning of today’s shift. But, I also know, you could be bloody sure he would there tomorrow with perfect hair.

Nothing beats a Londoner or Jean-Claude. They both respect the pain and painfully, yet happily, remind me to do the same.

(Image Nike Nothing beats a Londoner).

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising was never supposed to be a generic medicine.

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”

Pablo Picasso

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 12.05.52 PM

The first thing advertising has to do is be noticed. It would seem right now many are forgetting this. If an ad isn’t noticed the rest doesn’t matter, does it?

Making an impact is the job. Which is why I have always thought it odd that creatives will take a hit if they do something that is deemed strange. However, if a piece work is vanilla, boring and unnoticed there are often very few consequences.

I am often asked why so much advertising is so shit. This tends to happen at barbecues where I smile sheepishly, shrug my shoulders and have some more lamb. However, when I saw the new Leeds logo and the new Diet Coke work I started to think about it a bit more. If you think about how much time and process is involved in advertising why is the output often so banal?

The first reason I would put out there is that many brands have literally no clear or unique perspective and vision. With brands like this, there is often a fear of emotion and new ideas and a reliance on generic information that is singlehandedly supposed to create impact. When this happens the internal processes can often be an obsessive attempt at making sure the information is correct rather than interesting. This happens a lot and there are certain brands that have made the same ineffective ad over and over for the last 20 years. And just to be clear, I didn’t say the same idea, I said the same ad.

The second reason I would put out there is that many of these processes are about mitigation of risk as opposed to magnification of impact. Once again, this is about being correct rather than being interesting. And, when you look at what is happening in advertising right now most advances are all about being correct rather than impactful.

All this can often lead to the strategy becoming the actual work as is the case in the new Diet Coke work. It is work without any leap. No risk, no magic, no point of view, just platitudes and generalities that mean nothing and have very little impact. Ask any creative if a manifesto in a pitch has ended up becoming the ad and you will see them sadly nod their heads. The reason this happens is information very rarely causes trouble internally. What always causes trouble is emotion, execution and ideas because they cannot be measured empirically. The moment somebody says that’s not how I pictured it, you have problems inside a company. This is why there are so many vignette ads that show every demographic doing all sorts of lifestyle type things with a stirring voiceover. There is no risk in this approach apart from nobody remembering the work.

There are a couple of other reasons I think work can be poor. They are the usual suspects but worth mentioning. Time and money. You get what you pay for. Many people in our industry don’t believe this. They think talent is a myth. And craft, makes no difference to the bottom line. This line of thinking is one of the easiest ways to absolutely guarantee your brand looks and sounds just like your competitors. The Leeds logo is a great example of this. The work looks like something you would see in a stock library if you searched for football badge. It is generic, corporate, cold and has no meaning. It the antithesis of what a badge over your heart should be. This is something 50 000 fans made very clear to management the day after the logo was released by signing a petition. The management responded by saying they consulted 10 000 people. For me, this proves there is not much wisdom or vision in crowds. What crowds do is make things safe, inoffensive and generic. They find the middle not the edge.

As I said, what causes all the trouble is not information but ideas, emotion and execution. Ideas, emotion and execution are dangerous things. It is understandable for some to try to steer clear of them and just stick to the certainty of information.

The problem with that is we live in an age of information. All we are surrounded with is information. Doing that, is like pouring salt water into the sea. It doesn’t make much difference.

Advertising has always been about breaking through. To make a huge impact. To be fucking noticed. When they zig, we zag. Emotion, ideas and execution are our medicine and we should never stop taking it.

Otherwise, the patient might become very boring.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Aloha, porn, missiles and the unchanging human race.

Unknown

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

Bill Bernbach

So, it’s a balmy morning on the 13th of January 2018 in Hawaii. You can smell the Hibiscus and you can see the early morning light dancing off those over-sized waves only the Pacific Ocean can bring. Life is good. As you stroll along the beach your phone makes a strange noise. You look down and squint a little to read the screen. It says that there are incoming missiles about to hit and the alarm is not a drill.

Now, of course the question is what the fuck do you do. Do you find shelter? Perhaps, look for an underground bunker or quickly commandeer a small boat so that you can be out to sea when the mushroom cloud obliterates every golf course, resort and spa within 1000 miles of Magnum P.I’s home.

This is what people were probably doing and thinking at 8:07 am when the alarm came in. At 8:45 am the all clear signal was given. I am sure many people were relieved to find out they were not going to die. At 9:01 there was a 48% surge online with people looking for one thing.

You are probably thinking searches for how to build a bomb shelter or how to survive a nuclear explosion. You would be wrong. They were looking for porn. At 9 in the morning.

Pornhub reported at 48% surge in views. (http://themindunleashed.com/2018/01/false-missile-alarm-data-shows-hawaiians-flooded-pornhub.html)

I suppose when it comes to releasing tension, porn is as good a tool as any.

So, what does this says about this strange thing called the human race. Are we very predictable or very unpredictable?

I would argue after seeing the stats above, human beings are quite predictable, especially if you wipe away all the jargon and double talk you hear these days. We are definitely more emotional than rational. There is an honesty to this data that might make some uncomfortable. The fact that we are animals. That we are feeling beings that occasionally think.

What it really does prove is what Bill Bernbach said over 50 years ago. We are in a world that is obsessed with change and nuance. I have had many stupid conversations in advertising about people and plotting their intricate emotions over the years. There is one event in particular that I remember, where a complicated matrix was created and one of our jobs was to decide what emotions people have on Wednesday mornings. This went on until we had decided what emotions people had for every day of the week. An utter waste of time. Fucking ridiculous.

We create more and more information which in turn creates more and more complexity. This complexity has to be explained and this creates even more jargon. This noise and fury creates the impression that human beings are very layered and hard to understand. It creates a well crafted argument that makes lots of money. It creates the idea people are constantly changing.

However, in a life and death scenario, where there are a few nuclear warheads above our heads, our needs and motives become quite simple and perhaps some might argue unfashionably basic. You see the truth. You see the unchanging human race.

Survive, succeed, take care of your own, be admired and out of respect to Mr Bernbach I will use the word procreate.

Or, in Hawaii’s case, I guess, whatever is close at hand.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Maybe we should try fun this year.

DSCF1744 2(Picture taken at Yayoi Kusama exhibition)

“I have a fun clause in my contract. If I’m not having fun I can leave.”

James Burrows

Last year, was a very serious year. People were very serious. They were serious about where advertising is going. There were lots of serious conversations about the new models of advertising. There were serious predictions about the industry ending. Even the work seemed to be about very serious things.

I had reached December 2017 and my overwhelming feeling was the business had become a bit strange. A lot of doom and gloom. A lack of confidence. Perhaps, I had read too many blogs and articles, but you could feel people trying to come up with processes and models to solve the issue of where advertising was going.

Nobody mentioned the word fun in any of these articles.

Now, a lot of this has to do with money. As an old friend of mine used to say, advertising isn’t rocket science, but a lot of people make money pretending it is. And, as Mae West once said, the last word in show business is business. Trust me, I get it.

However, we only get money, if we have creativity to give. That’s why I would like to talk about creativity and how to protect it. In this instance, creativity is more important than money, because creativity is the solution. And many forget, without creativity, there is nothing at the heart of our business. In fact, there is no business.

Perhaps, all the things I have mentioned have created a certain amount of fear in our industry. The fear of making a mistake. What if I do something wrong?

Now, if there is one thing I know it is that fear and creativity cannot live in the same place. And making mistakes is part of the creative process. Tricky.

So, the danger that exists in our business is the possibility that as we try to eradicate mistakes and create more efficient, streamlined perfect processes we start to embrace formulas instead of discovery. We start to make the same work over and over. Something that I believe is already happening on a massive scale. We are finding it harder to try new things. We don’t make mistakes, but we don’t get it right either. We become boring, at a time, when it has never more important to be unboring.

You may have heard the saying, you cannot cut your way to growth.

I think many in our business are doing this. It is a short-term solution. And, it might not be a solution at all.

The only way to grow is to have new ideas. And for that you need creativity.

And that is the one thing we have.

So, my fervent prayer for 2018 is we remember this fact. We replace the word fear with fun. Because, although this might seem counter-intuitive, enjoying what you do is the way you get to better ideas.

Better ideas, bigger ideas and ideas that change everything is what we need.

And to get them, there are certain ingredients that are required. They have never changed and never will.

You need smart, talented people who care.

You need the right amount of time.

Lastly, the third and most vital ingredient. No matter how stressful it all is you should laugh your ass off together. It should be fun.

And what many don’t understand is that without fun, you will never have the first two ingredients. Ever. Creativity in your business will slowly die. The one thing your business needs to exist.

Fun is not a nice to have. It is the oxygen creativity needs. It is what creates our confidence. It is something we take for granted. We shouldn’t.

I hope 2018 is the year we as an industry realise that we will never defend our way to victory.

We need to laugh again.

It is how we will grow.

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advertising, Uncategorized

The magic of Coltrane and the farm.

DSCF1473 2

“Architecture is frozen music.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Its been an interesting week. The creative department got to visit Gibbs farm. It is a sprawling Willy-Wonka type meadow filled with exotic animals and dotted with some of the most gigantic and beautiful sculptures the world has ever seen. It was also full of hundreds of people in sensible shoes and fashion-free hats staring. Just staring. They had driven 90 minutes to look at stuff. Why were they here? Why do people need creativity? What does it do?

DSCF1466 2

The next day I happened to watch a documentary on John Coltrane called ‘Chasing Trane’. It is fantastic. I knew very little about him. What I enjoyed the most was that he wasn’t particularly brilliant when he was young but through dedication and using the pain in his life he became a genius. I think becoming a genius is far more impressive than just being one. However, there was a small part of his story that really got me thinking.

When he was 12, Coltrane’s aunt, grandparents and father all died within a few months of each other. You can imagine the amount of pain he was enduring. A year or so after that he started saxophone lessons. According to the documentary he held onto playing music with his whole being. The art was his life raft. He held on and it saved him. So, perhaps for some, creativity is about holding onto something.

DSCF1486 2

Back at the farm I passed a small boy with his parents. While I was thinking about what it all meant he answered the question for me. He was looking at the Richard Serra sculpture above. He raised his hands up and did a funny little dance. He let go in the way only kids can and shouted three words that answered my question.

It’s like magic.

Creativity can help you hold on like Coltrane in one of his darkest moments. But, at Gibbs Farm, creativity can also compel people to drive 90 minutes and just let go. Those people with water bottles and sensible shoes went somewhere else in their heads. They left their lives for a brief moment and were totally in the moment. There were less words and more thoughts. There was a sense of wonder.

It would seem creativity is something that can help you hold on. And, strangely also let go. Something, that takes you out of your life but keeps you in the moment. Something that makes you feel things you didn’t know you could feel.

I would say that’s about as close as you get to magic.

And who doesn’t want magic?

Merry Xmas everybody this is my last blog of 2017.

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Like chicken soup for a dead man. It can’t hurt.

IMG_0052-2

 “There’s something about being a comedian that means you have to not be scared of failing because failing is part of the process.”

David Walliams

I have been a creative for 25 years. It is all I have ever done to make a living. First as a photographer and then as a creative in advertising. So, after a quarter of a century I thought this would be a good time to write to my younger creative self about what I believe are the rules for successful creative living. I hope this helps a creative out there. And if it doesn’t, well, let me steal a joke from the great comic Jackie Mason. It’s like giving chicken soup to a dead man. It can’t hurt.

Beginning. How to begin? Where to start? A blank piece of paper or screen. The clean space of potential and the emptiness of beginning. The fear never goes away. The excitement never goes away. What you do in that moment is everything. What is your intention? The truth is without an idea everything that happens afterwards cannot help.

Ideas. You cannot go to an idea; it has to come to you. As you do this more and more, you realise the ideas are right in front of you. They are already there. The problem is the more you look for them the less you can see them. It’s hard to put this process into words. But, the first time you have an effortless idea, and you won’t have many, you will understand this.

Craft. A beautiful, painful and unfortunately necessary circus. Once you have an idea, execution becomes everything. This is the torture a creative loves and nobody else understands. This is what makes the average brilliant. This is what separates the many from the few. This is where talent is not enough and dedication is required.

Energy. Sir John Hegarty said that if you are the Rolling Stones you can still play Brown Sugar and get a standing ovation. That is a 40-year-old idea. We cannot do that. A creative must come up with a brand-new idea every day. Cheeky, but definitely food for thought.

Comparison. Do not compare yourself to others. It is a waste of time. You cannot do what they do. They cannot do what you can do. All this does is breed insecurity and fear. And fear kills ideas and creativity instantly. If you don’t believe me watch a comedian who is afraid. He will always suck.

 “When I was a boy of fourteenmy father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Mark Twain

Listen. It is how you learn anything. Mr Twain’s quote says it all. If there was a piece of advice I wish I had learnt earlier it would be to listen. There are millions of opinions in our business. But you must listen to hear the answer. Listening, is the first thing you must do to let an idea come to you.

People. You will meet people in this business who will inspire you to jump without a net into the unknown. You will do more than you thought you could because of them. Surround yourself with these people.

You will also meet massive arseholes. They take many forms. Liars, psychopaths, narcissists and those with super nova sized egos. The ones that think that only they can be right. Eventually, you will find out that most are deeply insecure. And hey, aren’t we all.

Kindness. If you can help someone, do it. If you can’t, don’t make it worse. You see it every day on advertising blogs in the comments section. Nastiness masquerading as high standards. My theory is that this is a bit like people who suffer abuse becoming abusers. My life is shit, so I will make yours shit too. Why creatives do this to each other beats me. And I doubt they feel any better afterwards. If there is anybody we should help, it is another creative.

Bravery. An old CD once told a friend of mine, if you have balls you can roll far.

You need bravery in this business. When you are the only person in the room that believes in an idea, those are the moments you must speak up. Speaking up for yourself and what you believe always involves risk. But, the alternative is far riskier.

You begin the creative voyage with enthusiasm and try to acquire wisdom. And later, you must make sure your wisdom doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm.

It is the journey every creative has to take.

It is the riddle we all have to solve.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Listen to the dead man talking.

gary-gilmore-11730320-1-402

“You have to choose the move that feels right sometimes; that’s what intuition is.”
Magnus Carlsen. World Chess Champion. Grandmaster at the age of 13 and 148 days. 
 

On January 17, 1977 Gary Gilmore (pictured above) was executed by firing squad for two murders he committed in Utah. His final words. Let’s do it.

In 1988 Dan Wieden read these final words in a newspaper and said if we changed that to ‘Just Do It’, it would work perfectly for that little running shoe company we have as a client.

Nike. Just Do It. The most famous line in advertising came from a dying man’s final words.

This campaign helped Nike increase its share of the North American sport-shoe business from 18% to 43%, (From $877 million to $9.2 billion in worldwide sales) from 1988 to 1998.

All because a great creative saw something. He saw the connection. For me that is what creativity is. How you connect things. Things, that often don’t make sense.

This is what Steve Jobs had to say about the subject.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

I had stumbled on the Nike story and the Steve Jobs quote because I was putting a talk together about creativity. For me they show the power and the problem of intuition. The power is the gigantic leap it can make for a business. The problem is it is almost impossible to replicate. Just imagine a shoe company across town from Nike saying we want a ‘Just Do It’ line. And their solution is to try and copy the process. So, they get all the last words from every prisoner executed in America. I think you can see how this is going to end in tears. Yet, this is often what happens in advertising.

This is the problem with being a creative. You don’t always know how you did something. This makes you vulnerable, insecure and a little guilty. Because of this, most creatives I know on some level feel like a fraud. It is also why a great creative environment is so important. It allows creatives to play and most importantly try again.

I also watched a lot of other talks that were less interesting while I put my presentation together.

In many of these talks, given by so called marketing experts, there was a strange theme that ran through them all. They would talk about their process a lot. They would talk about how efficiently and quickly they got to ‘ideas.’ Many of them had foolproof ways and methods to get to these ideas. Step 1 led to step 2. Flowchart. Many people vote on the idea. Everybody agrees on the idea. Many post-its. Everybody high fives because the process worked so well. But here is the kicker. And in my world, it’s a pretty big kicker.

The work was shit.

And I don’t mean in a high-brow get off your high horse creative director way. I mean, in a generic, vanilla, bland, I have seen this a hundred times before kind of way.

I really found that strange. However, what I found even more strange was that nobody seemed to notice. The people at these conferences seemed far more interested in the process than the end result. The work didn’t really seemed to matter, as long as the process could be replicated.

My other thought was where does intuition fit into these processes? And perhaps, that is a stupid question. Intuition should never be inside a process, should it? An idea like ‘Just Do It’ would not survive a 15 step process. You would lose the edges and end up with some drivel like ‘Be all you can be.’ What nobody seems to be noticing is that a factory like process makes things very consistent but also very generic. Everything looks the same. Everything sounds the same.

In advertising not to be different is virtually suicidal.

This is a timeless quote from Bill Bernbach. It was made a long time ago. I believe it still holds true. And, I believe it is far more true than making generic work that looks and sounds like your competitor, putting it everywhere and hoping you get a massive return on your investment.

For creatives, the problem is and has always been that intuition, or that messy spark of inspiration is illusive and almost impossible to replicate.

The alternative is to create a smooth process that can be replicated and leads to something that often looks like everything else. This is a much bigger problem that is growing by the day.

A smooth process and a brilliant product are not the same thing. And despite what many say, one doesn’t lead to the other. Great work needs a space for intuition.

No matter how many people try and turn creativity into a matrix, true creativity will always be the glitch in the matrix.

That’s just how it works.

And why it is so valuable.

 

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