advertising, Uncategorized

Two Lessons From The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.

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“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, Uncategorized

Advertising. Maybe we should try fun this year.

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“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.

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“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?

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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.

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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.

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 “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.

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“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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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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