advertising, Uncategorized

I don’t care if you read this.

DSCF1053

“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?

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The human pattern.

 

img_1249

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
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.

 

 

 

Standard
advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The wisdom of taxi drivers.

file

“All the stories I’ll ever need are right here on Main Street.”  Robert Cormier

Many years ago, I was in New York for the first time. I was in a yellow cab I had seen in a hundred movies. It was like cinematic deja vu. From the journey, I remember two things. The first thing was that the suspension of yellow cabs in New York often make you feel like you are driving in a large swimming pool. The second thing I remember was the answer the cab driver gave me to my first question.

I was a little overwhelmed. We had driven for a while from JFK International Airport and the first time you arrive in New York there is a lot to take in. The skyscrapers, the poverty, the wealth and the unmissable perfume of potential.

My cab driver was an older Jamaican gentleman and he was listening to talk radio. The discussion on the radio was about wearing a weave and if that made you a fake. It was just one more detail I strangely still remember.

I leaned forward and asked him this question. What is the difference between New York and Los Angeles? He looked into the mirror and instantly responded.

New York is theatre. L.A is T.V. Yes, sir.

The perfection and simplicity of the answer hit me between the eyes. 20 years later, I still think it might be one of the best answers I have ever heard.

Since that day, I have always had conversations with taxi drivers. Recently, I was in San Francisco and I wasn’t disappointed. The first guy, Ahmed, told me what it was like to be a Muslim in America right now. How people are frightened of him and how he sometimes pretends to be Mexican. The second was a Nigerian man who you can see in the photo above. He told me about moving to America in 1979 and how there was a large Nigerian community in of all places Dallas. When I asked why, he said because there was a direct flight from Lagos to Dallas. It was the first city you reached, so people stayed there.

I mention these stories because in each one there are fragments and details that make them interesting, specific and very human.

Interesting. Specific. Human.

I think about these words a lot at the moment. There are many articles and discussions about data, personalisation and process at the moment. We use the word insight in just about every presentation we ever make. We talk about storytelling and its importance.

A lot of words. A lot of questions.

My feeling is that instead of all this making the work more interesting and specific, it is making it more generic.

Now, it would seem other things are more important than quality right now. Cost and the ability to make a lot of stuff very quickly. Fair enough. But I can’t help but wonder. Where does this go? Let’s fast forward as an industry 5 years into the future.

We make content cheaper; we make more of it and we put it everywhere. This very process will make what is made more generic and boring. Mark my words. There will be a sameness that will grow into an epidemic. What will be made will become less and less memorable. We are talking about a lot of work that nobody will notice despite all the measurement saying otherwise. It will also not sell anything to anybody. And when that happens, there will be three questions that will have to be answered. Firstly, is making thousands of things of average quality really the answer? Secondly, does memorability and distinctiveness matter anymore? Thirdly, if it does, what can be done to fix the situation?

It will be interesting to see what the answers will be. Things are pretty uncertain in this industry right now but if there is one thing I do know it is that clients never just want parity with competitors.

So, the first lever that can be pulled makes something cheaper. The second will make more of it. The question is what happens when everybody can pull these levers? The answer is you have to change the game. And creativity, is always the answer to that question. You only have to look at history to see this seemingly new paradigm has happened over and over.

Be distinctive. Be interesting. Be noticed. Have something to say. And say it well. Those things don’t change.

A memorable Rastafarian taxi driver I will never forget taught me that 20 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
advertising, Uncategorized

Perhaps a little more Roger Moore?

roger-moore

“Some are blessed with musical ability, others with good looks. Myself, I was blessed with modesty.”

Roger Moore 

Ok, so this one isn’t really about advertising. Let me explain.

I had been thinking a lot about inspiration lately. What it can do. Where it can take you. And the fact that these moments last and linger. Sometimes, for a lifetime.

So, I was all set to write about the topic when Sir Roger Moore died. This changed things for me. He had had been a big part of my childhood. My brain got a bit frazzled. I couldn’t write anything for a bit. James Bond had given me writer’s block. I was in an unending loop of Live and Let Die followed by Octopussy. And every time I began to write, boom, 007 in the house. I know it’s very weird. So, I must write this down to get Roger Moore out of my head. Also, I am not sleeping well. So, think of reading this as a favour to me or a bizarre form of online therapy.

When I was about ten I used to walk to the movies every Saturday. I can remember ambling along trying to imagine what the film was going to be like. We lived in a small suburb in Cape Town called Kenilworth. It was about as far from the magic of Hollywood or Pinewood Studios as you could get. And that, was what made those films so magical every Saturday. Westerns, comedies and action movies all blurred into the perfect Saturday. However, there was one film that always stood out. A James Bond film. We waited for those and acted them out for weeks afterwards. I can vividly remember seeing Moonraker for the first time. I remember thinking I want more of those stories. It made me think of doing impossible things.

A couple of decades later, I had the amazingly surreal opportunity to shake Sir Roger Moore’s hand at the annual La Colombe d’Or lunch in Cannes. I had seen him there a year or so before but was too shy to walk up to him. When I did, I instantly turned into my 10-year-old self. All I could muster was the word, thanks. I was trying to say thanks for the movies but all that came out was, thanks. Fuck. He simply said, you are welcome. I went to the bathroom mortified and stared with a self-loathing intensity at a real Picasso while feeling like a real, bloody idiot. I still cringe writing this.

What I had wanted to say was thanks for the inspiration. Thanks for showing a kid that dreams can be made. Thanks for making me think stuff was possible. Thanks, for making me imagine.

Oh well, at least I got to say thanks.

Thanks for giving me that I can do anything feeling Sir Roger.

Goodbye Mr Bond.

Standard
advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The postcard is never the place.

Attachment-1[2]

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde

“Maybe that’s what life is….a wink of the eye and winking stars.” Jack Kerouac

I had been walking with my new friend Alexander Kalchev through Chinatown in San Francisco. I had visited these streets before in my head.

As a young man I used to read Kerouac on the Greyhound bus between Durban and Johannesburg in South Africa trying to make being broke a romantic pursuit. Today, I was visiting Beatnik Central.  We stumbled onto the City Lights Bookstore where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and all the others had spent a lot of time.

FullSizeRender

It is a strange feeling when you see something for real that’s been in your head for years. There are little gems you find in reality. Hidden details that fill in gaps or give you new insight into the stories you have read. Direct experience. There was a time where we got our inspiration from going out there and finding stories, ideas and things. Today, of course those things come to us. They are piped in. The information comes to us on a screen but I am not sure the experience does. And the reason that is important is that information needs experience to become a story. Experience interprets information. Experience transforms information.

We walked down the road and we found the American Zoetrope Building. The Godfather and Apocalypse Now were edited there.

 FullSizeRender[1]
I looked at the building with it’s bright green facade created by time. I saw a younger George Lucas drinking coffee on the street and Francis Ford Coppola with a half smoked cigar in his mouth looking out of one of the windows with a very harassed editor behind him drowning in the pieces of Apocalypse Now still to be edited. The place and the building had given me a feeling. A feeling I would not have had if I had just Googled the address. A feeling and a story that information alone would not have supplied. The direct experience of things it would seem has a strange side-effect. Inspiration.
Attachment-1[1]
 Inspiration was something I had experienced the day before. Keith Reinhard is Chairman Emeritus of DDB and has been in advertising for six decades. Let’s just say he has forgotten stuff you will never know. He had been kind enough to come and speak to a few of us about advertising and his journey through it. There was a joy in his stories and I found his talk really inspirational. And, I believe I felt the way I did because I was in the same room as him. If I had watched him on a screen I would not have experienced his gentle warmth, intelligence and sense of humour. I got a sense of him as a person and that made what he said better.
Inspiration and direct experience of life are vital ingredients for creativity. We need both to do anything interesting. Advertising is taking these qualities for granted. Without them, you will reach the sea of sameness very quickly.
Fortunately, over a two day period I was given two very large doses to point me in the right direction. First from a great man who had better stories than me. Second from a great place that had better stories than me. And now, their stories have become my story.
The lesson I learnt from San Francisco and Keith Reinhard is that being there is everything. It is how inspiration happens. That’s how stories begin. The postcard is never the place.
It’s a lesson our business should never forget.
Standard
advertising, Uncategorized

The beautiful stone in your shoe.

fullsizerender

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Heraclitus

I am lying in the middle of the Noosa River an hour outside of Brisbane. After a pretty crazy year where we were working right up to Xmas I was suddenly on vacation. Holidays are strange, lovely things. They creep up on you with the best of intentions. It’s like a really weird neighbour who appears out of nowhere from behind a hedge only to give you some freshly baked Blueberry muffins.

Well, I find it hard to decompress anyway. You are working flat out and then suddenly you are supposed to do the opposite. It’s like you are going down the main straight of Monza at 300kms an hour and halfway down you are told to make a hard right turn. Tricky.

Anyway, there I was in the river trying to relax and appear like a normal human being who can actually blink and shit. The beautiful river had made me think about dealing with stress and relaxation in our business.

Creative agencies are a strange blend of these two opposite qualities. My old boss used to say you need equal parts tea-party and tantrums to make it all work. This is why great creative agencies are so hard to replicate.There is no blueprint or process. Just people. Many in the next couple of years who are looking for alternatives will find this out.

If an agency is too relaxed and always says yes and never pushes itself, you get a tea-party. Everybody is pretty happy and comfortable but the work invariably is shit. There is no drive and no desire. And an agency without desire, might be one of the saddest places to work in the world. For the simple reason that it is practically impossible to be creative without desire or passion. The creatives are doing colour by numbers because it makes everybody happy and their ideas which have real value sit in their bottom drawer

On the other hand, if an agency is too stressed you get tantrums. Too much tension strangely also kills good work because it creates the number one killer of creativity. Fear. And when creatives are afraid they stop trying and just do as they are told. There is no drive and no desire. And, a frightened agency might also be one of the saddest places to work in the world. For the simple reason that it is practically impossible to be creative when you are afraid of being wrong all the time. The creatives are doing colour by numbers because it makes everybody happy and their ideas which have real value sit in their bottom drawer.

So, if you only have one of these qualities in an agency you probably end up with a potential disaster.

Strangely, if you have both these qualities in the right amounts you might have something brilliant. Pretty weird. It is a strange equilibrium created by tense situations and huge amounts of laughter and fun because of those situations. If it proves anything it is that creating conditions for great ideas is far more an art than a science.

In my experience, the best agencies I have worked at were like a beautiful stone in my shoe. I was never completely comfortable but I seemed to happily walk a bit faster to get where I was going. The pain and pressure made me focus. And, it also quite often made me laugh my ass off at the absurdity of it all.

I looked at that last paragraph and wondered if it was different for other creatives. How had they handled stress, different agencies and this business called advertising.

So, I sent an email out on Boxing Day to some of my favourite creatives around the world to ask them how they see it. Fucking Boxing Day. Firstly, let me apologise for the email on Boxing Day. I think that proves I hadn’t really gotten the hang of the whole holiday thing.

Unbelievably, most answered and they will be part of a blog later in the year. However, I will leave you with two answers which I liked very much.

The first was from South African Chief Creative Officer, Chris Gotz.

“The advice I would give my younger self would be this: Good creative people move in straight lines, ignore the bullshit and chase the work. The only thing that changes the conversation is great work. And on any given day you can do that work. I’ve seen it happen to the people who chased it, who knew how to rise above the noise.”

The second answer was from Australian Creative Director, Louise Mahoney.

“The secret to surviving an advertising career is to keep falling in love. Everyone has crap ideas but if you keep searching for the one that excites you and you’re brave enough to share it, nurture it and defend it you can create something beautiful. Like all relationships, some ideas fail, some flourish but unless you put your whole self into them you’ll never be part of something memorable.”

In summary, try and lie in a river, find that beautiful stone in your shoe, move in a straight line, ignore the bullshit, rise above the noise, chase the work and keep falling in love.

Sounds about right.

Happy 2017 everybody.

 

 

Standard