advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The illusion of control.

 

 

Unknown

Kintsugi. The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold.

 

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

Carl Jung

Recently, I was in Sydney at an award show conveniently called AWARD. A young creative started chatting to me before the show about good and bad agencies. He asked me what the difference was between a good agency and a bad agency. I had written a piece about this before, so I used what I had written. I said the difference was that most agencies have similar ideas but great agencies make their ideas, average ones don’t.

He sort of nodded and wandered off to get another beer. I felt a bit weird. I had given this nice little answer. A neat little one liner. But, it felt insufficient. Maybe even bullshit.

Now, it is true that average agencies don’t make their best ideas. However, the real question is why don’t they make their best ideas.

So, imagine having an idea. Perhaps, even a great idea. It is precious and fragile. It is not perfect but could be powerful. It is new and you believe in it but have no data to back up your gut instinct.  Now, take that idea and put it into an environment where there is a process. This process has many boxes that all have to be ticked. This means a new thought meets an existing blueprint. This mitigates risk. It also creates work that has been made many times before. So, the idea dies. Also, the idea cannot have any imperfections according to the existing blueprint. So, round after round of alterations occur. We are now no longer looking at the idea because it is interesting, we are trying to make sure it isn’t incorrect. So, the idea dies.

What happens in a bad agency is that the process becomes more important than the idea. Not being wrong is far more important than being right. And by right, I mean interesting.  This is not an earth shattering problem except for the fact that it kills creativity. Stone dead. Although, at a painfully slow pace.

Creativity is used to break patterns and create new ways of moving forward. Whereas a process is a pattern designed to give consistency. You could not have two more fundamentally different ways of thinking if you tried.

Creativity does not happen in a consistent timeline, a process does. Take the Japanese art of Kintsugi pictured above for example. Process would give you the bowl and discard any broken pieces in a timely fashion. Whereas creativity arrives fashionably late and takes the broken pieces and creates something even more beautiful. Creativity has made something new. Something different. Process creates what exists consistently with an unerring accuracy.

Creativity also needs madness and a fair bit of chaos. Process is all about control. One of the strangest phrases in the English language is ‘the creative process.’ In essence, they are opposing forces. Control and chaos.

A great agency has the ability to harness both of these qualities. This balance lets ideas live a little longer.  It is an alchemy that creates a measured madness. They make a space for insanity and instil an unyielding understanding for why discipline is required.

An agency often starts to go into decline when one of these forces overwhelms the other.

When an agency is ruled by chaos the decline is often sadly spectacular and pretty quick. It is literally like somebody jumping off a building.

When an agency is paralysed by control the death is a far stranger one. The agency doesn’t know it is dead. Often for years everything works. Everybody knows what their job is. There is great comfort in the precision of process. This comfort is what is sold to clients. Not the work. And then, one day, the client says the work you are making is boring. It’s kind of a bit shit. Game over.

Average agencies like the comfort of making bowl after consistent bowl until one day they get smashed and nobody knows what to do with the broken pieces.

Great agencies are able to have both structure and chaos. They can make bowls but they can do so much more.

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, they understand that it’s the cracks that let the light in.

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

What if you could change the world?

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You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

George Bernard Shaw

I will get to the picture above a bit later.

First, let me give you a scenario. Imagine there is a job you have dreamed of your whole life. It is all you have ever wanted to do. You spend every day trying to make it happen. You are passionate and diligent. You work hard. This job is all you care about.

And then one day, a couple of years later, you realise something fairly bleak. You are not good enough. And what’s worse is that in your heart you know that you will never be good enough. You have the dedication but you don’t have the ability. You have limitations that you can’t conquer. You have to give up the dream. Think about how you would feel and what you would do if you were in that situation. What do you think the solution could be?

Now, what if I told you the solution and the way forward for you was in the fact that you were limited. That this limitation would make you incredibly successful and a worldwide phenomenon.

I know it sounds far-fetched. Except it is true.

I am with my wife, son Jamie and 2000 screaming kids at the Auckland Writers Festival. Jeff Kinney is the author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and he telling his story. He has sold over 150 million copies of his books. There has been 4 movies. And he has his own bookstore in his hometown which has the perfect name. Plainville, Massachusetts.

The scenario I painted earlier was Jeff Kinney’s story. He wanted to be a cartoonist for a daily paper. He wanted to have a strip like Calvin and Hobbes. But, after trying for a long time he realised he wasn’t good enough. He was not a fine artist, he didn’t have the skills.

I would imagine that was a dark day. For most of us we would have given up, right? Jeff did something different.

He said to himself, perhaps I am not good enough to be an adult cartoonist but what if I re-imagine myself as a 12-year-old boy who likes to draw.

This simple thought changed Jeff Kinney’s life and millions of children’s lives forever.

People often ask me what creativity can do. If this example is anything to go by, the answer is it can change the world.

Jeff was faced by limitations and obstacles. He used them to create a new reality for himself and the world. There are very few things that can change the world and create a different reality. In fact, creativity might be the only thing that can do this. And to be clear, not measure reality, or confirm reality, but alter reality. It is a form of alchemy that is as close as we can get to magic. It can create opportunities beyond all measure. It is also something we should value far more.

You are probably wondering about the photograph. Jeff Kinney’s story reminded me of it. I took it on a street corner in Chicago a week before I saw him speak.

Here is how it happened. There was a slightly unenthusiastic band going through the motions being watched by an equally unenthusiastic crowd. The gentleman with his feet in the air appeared from nowhere. And like Jeff Kinney, he asked himself a simple question.

His question was what if I wasn’t a homeless guy but I became James Brown and this band was here to support me and make me look like a star?

Now granted, he may have been high. But, by asking this one question he changed his reality. He began to dance and perform. He began to play with and to the crowd. He became Mr Entertainment. This made his pasty backing band look boring as hell. What’s more he made a lot of cash. The now backing band wasn’t happy but he was. He had in a small way changed the, or at least his, world.

This is what creativity does. It does not accept what is. It pays no attention to limitations or rules. Because of this it makes a leap. This is what makes creativity different from all other things. The leap. Almost everything else is an orderly process or at least has some steps. There are rules. There is a beginning, a middle and an end. There is a pattern.

Creativity says bullshit. It breaks the pattern. That is why it is priceless. It just comes along and says reality was like this and now it is like this. And off we go.

In a single moment, the world can be changed forever.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Two Lessons From The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.

Unknown

“Man, if you gotta ask you’ll never know.”

Louis Armstrong

Chicago. It’s almost midnight and it’s cold. But not too cold. It’s the kind of cold that makes you alert. It gives the evening a crispness and makes the neon signs a little sharper.

I stepped out of the cab onto the green glowing pavement with my partner in crime for the evening, Mr Justin Mowday. He is the CEO of DDB New Zealand and, this is just hearsay and vicious rumour, might like the occasional party. He had come up with the fine idea to find a jazz club and by chance we had found Al Capone’s favourite haunt, now called the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. Later on, by sheer good fortune, we would also sit in his favourite booth. However, this gangster themed evening would take a gentler turn because of two events.

As we sat down with our very weak beers, the band was about to be introduced. The clubs owner was an older, slightly balding gentleman in what looked like a Hawaiian shirt. He looked like somebody who had flown helicopters in Vietnam or had to leave Florida very quickly. Either way, somebody who was wearing a thin Hawaiian garment in less than tropical conditions was not to be trifled with under any circumstances.

This was confirmed when he explained the house rules. When the band plays you shut up. You listen. You don’t use your phone. You listen. You don’t use flash photography. You listen.

And then, the band came out. Most of them were at least 75. The lead singer was Sheila Jordan. She is 89 years old.

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Charlie Parker described her as the singer with the million dollar ears. She was fantastic. She was funny. She could tell a story with her songs. Her age and frailty somehow amplified her talent. Her phrasing was surprising and the band that supported her knew each other so well, that you felt safe inside the beautiful, improvised experiment that is jazz.

About halfway through the set, a couple started talking. They were almost in the front row. Now this is a club. There is going to be a bit of background noise right? Wrong. Hawaiian shirt man gets up from his booth. We watch from the safety of Al Capone’s booth as he in about ten seconds eviscerated them. I imagined him saying something along the lines of if you value your life and don’t want to die in a nameless Chicago alley you will shut the fuck up. They stopped talking. I also noticed a bouncer the size of a large land mass, say Madagascar, gliding like a supertanker through the club looking for people who were talking. They were not joking around. They were saying shut the fuck up and listen. They were saying respect the artists. There was a reverence for the musicians that I had never really seen before.

So, Justin and I really started to listen. Now, if I am honest I don’t know if I really have ever understood jazz. And I suspect, there are many more like me. Sure, I know the names and have listened to a few albums. But perhaps, I have never really listened.

The drummer began to do a solo. I realised as he started his improvised journey that the whole club was listening the way I was. It’s a strange concept to feel other human beings listening. We were all giving our whole attention to what he was doing. We were in sync with him. We went on the journey with him. Every variation, or new rhythm he created was a joy for the whole club.

We were able to hear ideas being born. And maybe, for a moment, we kind of understood the jazz thing.

We were witnessing the absolute freedom to create. However, what’s more important is the audience had created the space and the understanding for the drummer to be that free simply by listening.

Learn to listen, so the artist can do what they do. Learn to listen, so that you can hear something new.

Two lessons from The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.

Photo: Source allaboutjazz.com

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Be somewhere.

 

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 I want you to imagine I am telling you the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. In your head, run it through. Picture all the details, the twists and turns and the big ending.

Right, now take the same story and tell it in half the time. Now halve the time again. And again. Eventually, your story would be something like Girl, bear and porridge. This process happens in advertising a lot these days. You only have to look at the vast majority of advertising to see this. There is a reduction of elements which is why so much online advertising looks like 1950’s print ads. A visual, a headline, a payoff line.

What this often leads to is information with no emotion. We know from the studies of Les Binet and Peter Field this is not the way forward. So, that’s a problem. However, a far larger problem is that the kind of ideas that are now being made are often selected on flexibility rather than impact.

The only thing in advertising that is worse than being invisible is being invisible everywhere.

The criteria for how a great idea is chosen today is often about how many hats it can wear rather than its impact as a single form of communication.

In essence, an integrated campaign today seems to be far more about counting impressions as opposed to making one. I would say that when measurement becomes more important than what is being measured there is a problem.

An integrated campaign, was always supposed to be multiple elements that worked together. It is supposed to be many Lego blocks that build something bigger and better. It was never supposed to be every Lego block and more importantly, it was never supposed to be one Lego block sliced to within an inch of its life. Today, integrated campaigns as a concept are often replaced with a single asset chopped up to be spread across as many communication channels as possible. Every time I go to a conference, there is somebody saying you shouldn’t just put your television ad online. Well, go online and tell me what most brands are doing.

There are many reasons for this happening. A budget that has not grown while the amount of communication channels has. A lazy agency or marketer. The inability to think long term. The lack of a brand platform that allows you to have multiple executions that are relevant to their channels yet all contribute to the same idea. These reasons and many others have resulted in this now often being a blueprint for a modern campaign.

Sadly, you can see the ramifications of this when you look at portfolios of advertising students. You see an average idea repeated across multiple channels with very little thinking about each channel or how the separate assets work together. And the students always say the same thing. You see it’s a great idea, it works everywhere.  This is learnt behaviour and they are learning it from our industry. They are learning, incorrectly, that picture frames are more important and valuable than the picture.

I think we as an industry must be very careful that our quest for flexibility and pragmatism don’t lead us down a road of utilitarian mediocrity.

We need to remember being everywhere, averagely, is just another way of saying you are nowhere.

We have never needed brilliance in our industry more than we do now.  For that you need great ideas. Ideas that blow your mind and demand your attention. Ideas that are exciting, audacious and very unboring. Ideas that have impact. Ideas you won’t forget.

We need to have the kind of ideas that paint a memorable picture people want to look at rather than have ideas that are a frame for an endless procession of bland and instantly forgettable whitewashed walls, we hope, people might remember.

Because hope, is not a strategy.

 

 

 

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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 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. 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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