advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The rise of the internet class.

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“First you make people believe they have a problem, and then you sell them the solution.That is how advertising works. Every snake oil salesman knows that.”

Oliver Markus Malloy

Lately, I have been followed.

The man who is following me has good hair and dead eyes. It would seem wherever I go on the internet he pops up. He is young, very young, but is constantly telling me that he has the wisdom and the secret stuff that can help me. He keeps telling me he is very rich and desperately wants to help people. This is why he will help me become very rich too. He always seems to be at a mansion with a couple of Ferrari’s in the background. The snake-oil gospel of success. P.T Barnum without a real circus.

I have a name for these people. I call them the internet class. My definition of the internet class is people who have no discernible skills but seem to make money by claiming they can explain things. They don’t make anything tangible but have loads of information and answers they claim makes them experts. They repackage what exists and explain what is already known to people who are desperate for answers. They promise everything but deliver very little.

I think our industry is starting to have its own internet class. Now, I know, advertising has always been full of hustlers. But, the hustle, for creatives at least, has always been about trying to make things. The hustle, was the way, never the end goal.

One of the great comforts of being a creative is that you know, in the end, after all the talk, something will have to be made. There will be evidence of industry. The process will lead to something other than itself. This simple fact guarded against words being more important than things. The result is what counted.

For many that is still true. However, in my travels I have started to meet a certain type of person. Other creatives have described them to me as well. They have good hair, the right trainers and a fixed smile. The know all the work. They know all the buzzwords. In the first meeting, they are very impressive. In the second one, less so. Their gift is they can explain everything and anything. They just don’t know how to make anything. They have vague titles and even vaguer skills. You find them everywhere. They are spread across the advertising universe like the black space between stars.

The internet has given them the information, the platform and the words. They don’t think. They don’t have to. They just explain. They tell you that you don’t understand but they have the formula. They know the secret. It is very seductive and very palatable in a world where things are getting faster and faster. The danger is as an industry we could end up drinking our own snake oil and wondering why we are still not feeling well.

There is a simple solution. Call me old-fashioned but there was a time when your portfolio mattered more than anything. It was proof in a world of puffery.

Look at what the person has made. Look at their ideas. Not what they say. Not their process. What have they done? Their work should speak for itself. Words are not things.

The industry needs to remember being able to explain something is not the same as being able to do it. It is the difference between a critic and a creator. The difference between a commentator and a competitor.

And that, is a very big difference.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The Tango of Donald Trump and Nike.

“Heat sells better than light.”

Jen Lawrence

Outrage. Hatred. These are not normally words you would say are the way forward for a brand. In the past, a brand has always tried to have a position that was not controversial. A position where you attacked your competitors and nobody else. You stayed in your lane. Stuck to your knitting.

I was interviewed last week about the new Nike ad and what I thought would happen. I believed that it had been thoroughly thought through and was going to be very good for business. It has been. In the last 72 hours online sales of Nike have gone up 31% globally. So it has worked so far. But time will tell.

Nike understands who is buying their shoes incredibly well. Nobody was burning their shoes in Compton or the streets of New York. They understand who creates street culture in America. I would guess nobody under the age of 30 is burning their shoes. They understand where growth will come from in the future and the present. They also know that it is highly unlikely that anybody is burning their shoes outside of America. They understand how to be a global brand.

All of these things are interesting. However, there are literally thousands of articles that have been written in the last 4 days about these facts.

I decided to go somewhere else. I started to think about the similarities between the combatants of this story. The similarities between the outrage Nike was experiencing and the outrage Donald Trump created every day. It almost felt like a new blueprint. A blueprint, the public and the media seem to adhere to in terms of time and attention. The 24 hour news cycle has a lot to answer for. But perhaps, it is a new way to connect. Could outrage be a new structure to reach people that are saturated by the endless stream of mundane information that is fired towards them?

I started to wonder if Donald Trump had created a new rhythm in the media. Is this why he has succeeded so far? He harvests outrage. He creates emotion.

It would seem every week Mr Trump would have a new controversy and about a week later the world moved on to the next thing. I also wondered in the modern media landscape how long outrage lasts. I wondered how long it would last in Nike’s case.

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As it turns out about 4 days. On the 4th of September, the share price dropped when the campaign started to run. Ever since then, the price has slowly risen. Think about that for a minute. A brand takes a position that is definitely unliked by the President of the United States and many people in the country. Now 10 and maybe even 5 years ago this would have been corporate suicide. Today, not so much.

Today, perhaps a brand needs an enemy. A target. A strong purpose and voice. Maybe a strong perspective is required in a world where we move onto the next thing every 24 hours. A point of view that might not be universally loved might come in handy because it forces people to have an opinion and pick a side. At the very least, it makes them care.

So, is there a place for outrage and anger when it comes to brands? Perhaps not for everybody. But, I do believe that in the modern media landscape if you are in the middle of the road you will get run over. I think Nike gave us a glimpse of the future. A future where being noticed is going to be very difficult. Brands will have to say something or do something of considerable consequence. Or, at the very least, make you feel a whole lot.

Many believe what Nike did was incredibly risky. I think a far greater risk is not having a point of view or perspective. Outrage is a risk. So is invisibility.

Being noticed in this world is getting harder and harder. And if there is one thing you can say about Donald Trump and Nike is they both get noticed. You might not like one of them but you know about both of them.

The beliefs that Nike espouses might be very different to those of Donald Trump. They are the antithesis of each other in almost every way. However, how they communicate those beliefs are far closer. They both focus on their base. They both say things and do things others won’t. They both say they are the best. They both choose to have enemies and are also adored. They are both willing to outrage many. They are both brands that are selling very different visions of the future.

They are both doing the same dance.

They are just listening to very different types of music.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. What do you want creativity to do?

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“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Erich Fromm

What can creativity do?

Last week, I was asked this simple question. I have been asked this four word puzzle a few times in my career. It is a strange question. You intuitively know the answer but find it hard to be particularly articulate. I started to give it some thought. Creativity is many things. It also has a few levels of risk and reward.

I think perhaps a better question would be, what do we want creativity to do?

I think it is a question that is becoming more important to answer because it will determine the future and structure of advertising.

Personally, I think creativity is a bridge that breaks patterns. It is a bridge that can take the new, the different and the interesting across that little river called risk to the shores of success. Nothing else can do this without it becoming a repetitive formula.

I think creativity makes this alchemy in three pretty special ways.

On a basic level, it can take the mundane and what exists and improve it. It can make things beautiful or change perspective and make something feel new.

On a higher level, it can solve problems by thinking about them laterally.

And at its very best, the clues in the name. It can create things that were not there before. From nothing, suddenly there is something. This magical quality comes with the most reward and the most risk. This is what causes a lot of friction and trouble. It is also what everybody wants.

The reasons these different levels are important is because if we look at the industry going forward, the danger exists that we will not embrace all the levels and start to make the same thing over and over. And don’t just take my word for it. Read this article by Samuel Scott. Seriously read it.

https://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2018/08/06/optimisation-the-enemy-creativity-marketing-and-music

It shows what happens to creativity when optimisation is used as the ultimate filter. What happens is an ever tightening consensus of what is good and popular. There is a right answer. Not an interesting one. Just a correct one. So, as the article shows, you are not imagining it, a lot of popular music begins to sound very similar. Or as Mr Scott says, songs are becoming stupider. More Bieber. Less Rolling Stones.

Now, short-term this probably is not a big deal. However, longer term what this does is it gets rid of creativity’s greatest power. The ability to create new things. The ability to experiment. The ability to be like nobody else.

In essence, you start to get about 50% of what creativity can do. Creativity loses its true value. You also start to look like everybody else. You become the same as the next guy. And ultimately, you become boring.

Accuracy and precision are very valuable. However, they are far more valuable if what they are delivering is attractive and desirable.

I think this paragraph from the article sums it up well.

“When everyone optimises for everything, it is no longer a competitive advantage. The only true competitive advantage that people will have is what rests in their brains – creativity. Without that, you will only be as good as everyone else.”

This becomes the conundrum we all face every day.

Should we be safe and quite good? Should we push the boat out and try to be brilliant?

Perhaps, the answer lies in looking at creativity very differently. Instead of seeing it as a scary risk we all begin to see it as a necessary bridge.

A bridge that takes us from the illusion of certainty to the opportunity of something far better.

This is what creativity alone can do. If you want it to.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The love story of an engine and a compass.

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Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

“A flower is basically a weed with an advertising budget.”

Rory Sutherland

Years ago, I was lucky enough to work with two giants in the advertising industry. Out of respect, I am not going to name them because they would want it that way. One was a suit, the other a creative. They were both very impressive. They liked each other. They also used to fight a lot. Invariably, the argument would be a clash about research and proof on the one hand and the power of imagination on the other.

This created a strange tension in the agency. At any time, there could be two answers for any situation or problem. This tension made the agency work. It created a bizarre and slightly uncomfortable equilibrium. It also gave the agency energy and the idea that there were always multiple solutions to any brief.

It instilled in me this idea of being open to solutions. Answers are not pre-ordained and can come from anywhere. Ideas can semi belong to one person and half belong to another. Ideas are not very fond of rules and restrictions.

I mention this because lately, I have noticed two strange things in our business.

Firstly, rules, have begun to crop up before there is even an idea to judge. I will hear conversations about how something is going to happen long before we even know what is going to happen. It has to be mobile, digital or if you are doing a film it has to be this long or that way. And we still have no idea of what we are doing yet. It is what I call putting the accuracy before the horse. The idea should come first.

Secondly, right now, advertising seems to be made up of absolute entrenched positions. Advertising’s strength has always been about being able to look at a problem from multiple perspectives. Like the suit and the creative I mentioned earlier, the different points of view created friction but also made the work better. When it comes to the messy business of having ideas, deciding there is only one right way is the easiest and fastest way to be wrong. The trick is to stay open to ideas and possibilities. That is what a creative should do. That is his or her job.  Trying to have some ironclad formula, or methodology, will only give you what you already have. There are some very polarised views at the moment. It feels like many believe they have to back just one horse.

The horses names are accuracy and attraction. And my money is on a dead heat.

Before you place your bets, do yourself a favour and read Ian Leslie’s brilliant article in the New Statesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/internet/2018/07/death-don-draper.

It shows the schism that is emerging in our business far more eloquently than I ever could.

From a creative perspective it really does feel like this thinking is pushing meaningless choices or creating filters and channels long before there is an idea. There is often a large discussion about accuracy and very little about attraction. To use Rory Sutherland’s analogy, these days we talk a lot about where the weeds should go because that can be measured. Speaking to many creatives, the flower can often be an afterthought.

I guess the issue is a beautiful flower is a lot like charm. Desirable, yet hard to measure.

Imagine somebody, let’s call him Sven. He has a well paid job making things more streamlined, measurable and efficient. One day he pops into his favourite french bistro after work with one of his work mates called Doug. Sven likes going there because of the foreign music, the old school posters on the walls and the slightly mad ambiance. He enjoys the crazy chef who shouts a lot. The host has loads of funny stories, is effortlessly charming and always remembers Sven’s name. While all this pleasantness is washing over him Doug says to him – why do you like coming here, the tables are too bloody small. He had never noticed. That’s the thing about radiant beauty, a good yarn and a dollop of charm, in the right hands, they are way more powerful than being correct and accurate.

Some in our industry might want to discard or minimise these things because they are hard to measure, yet they have never been needed more than now.

There is a simple reason for this.

People like them. People want them. People need them.

Take Tinder. You can create an efficient service that gives you lots of data and measurement. But where the technology ends, people begin. You might be able to get them that date very efficiently. But, it is those pesky humans who are going to have the date. So, the next day the story isn’t about Tinder and efficiency. It’s about the date Jenny had with the weird guy who had a mullet and a very large goldfish collection. Or, perhaps, how she just met the love of her life. It is not just about what we efficiently give. It is also about what people want. And, what people often want is immeasurable. Charm, beauty, seduction, surprise, love and new stories. Human experience. The things that make life worth living.

We need what can be measured. Time and distance. This is the compass. However, we also need what can’t be measured. The story of what happened on the journey. This is the engine.

And we need to quickly realise, one is very pointless, without the other.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Stranger Things. The Cannes Edition.

“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.”

Lou Reed

I had been looking for a sign for a couple of days. And there it was.

I was walking down a little back street in Cannes. I reached one of those fashion outlets that always make me think they are a front for something else. In my head, it was the Marseilles mafia smuggling huge wheels of cheese, fake wine and millions of questionable Moroccan cigarettes. You know those stores. They never have any customers but somehow always remain open. I stared at the faceless and lonely mannequins and on the window was the quote that perfectly summed up Cannes this year.

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For years, Cannes had been a place where for a week, it felt like a million oracles had all been parachuted onto the Carlton Terrace. They would take a sip of their mystical Rose’, adjust their newly bought scarves, look you in the eye and say, I can explain everything.

Now, they normally couldn’t. But, they could vaguely steer you in the right direction. You could get a read of things. I have written before, that for me, Cannes was like a compass and an engine. It could get you through all the waves of opinion with a little inspiration and sometimes it could even point you in the right direction.

That is no longer the case. Cannes is now like that weird swimming pool in Stranger Things. The Upside Down.

Whatever you hear in Cannes, you will also hear and see the exact opposite.

Let me give you what I heard and wrote down from discussions around me in a single Cannes hour to demonstrate what I mean. All this, in one hour. User experience is everything in the future, emotional storytelling is what is really important, why being human is the way forward, the efficiency of programmatic will set you free, consultancies are so much more/less, Agencies, what is the new model, Blockchain is off the chain, dog (Yes, somebody actually said that), television isn’t dying, it’s having babies. I really could go on for a couple of pages.

Let’s take stuff that you have read over and over. So, perhaps you think it is true. Take the often said line that advertising is dying. My creative partner Shane Bradnick made the wry observation while we were lining up to register on day one that if advertising is dying there sure are a lot of people at the funeral. Cannes was packed but everybody kept saying or asking if advertising was dying. The weirdness was industrial strength this year.

Or, you will be walking behind two men wearing identical pairs of chinos talking about the genius of A.I between the Martinez and the Carlton. I counted them saying the word optimisation 12 times within the length of a single Dior store. You will then walk into the Palais and hear somebody else in a Panama hat saying A.I is bullshit. It is just this years buzzword like big data was a couple of years ago.

The phrase I remember overhearing at breakfast was somebody saying replace the letters A.I with the words computer programme and it’s not so sexy is it.

And, I am sure both conversations are 100 percent valid, or not. That is how it was every day. Literally, think of any topic or perspective and the opposite was right next to it poking it in the ribs.

This created a type of madness in some people. They were wrestling with an unending anaconda of ambiguity. They developed a strange form of Tourette’s and kept asking what the bloody trends were this year. Like this, would keep them safe and give them a map. There is no map.

Those questions were questions Cannes used to be able to answer. In the past, Cannes could create an order for the coming year and those old buildings could take new ideas and create a pattern we could all see. The reality is there are no more patterns or perhaps there are millions of them. Either way, things are moving too quickly for a compass. Cannes can still give you an engine fuelled with inspiration but you will have to figure out where to go. And that might all change tomorrow.

My friend Ari Weiss and CCO for DDB North America explains the issue very well in his article for Campaign. https://www.campaignlive.com/article/cannes-future-just-unpredictable-future-advertising/1486489.

What has changed is time. We don’t have any. And strangely, I am not even sure how valuable it is anymore. I mean what the hell is a trend in advertising? Two of the biggest winners in the last couple of years were sculptures. Fearless Girl and Graham. Is that a trend? Should we all be taking sculpture classes? I am being facetious but you get the idea. The simple answer Cannes gave me this year is don’t worry about trends and where things are going just deal with what is right in front of you.

Just deal with today because today is far longer than it used to be.

In amongst all the weirdness and confusion, I found that thought quite liberating.

Stop looking for signs.

Do what is in front of you.

It’s going to be O.K.

Just read to the damn pony.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. Do you speak creativity?

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

Albert Einstein

Doing stand-up in Poland. This is a phrase that we used to say at an agency I use to work at many years ago. It referred to a bad meeting with a client that involved a creative presentation.

It would feel like you were in the middle of Warsaw in a comedy club trying to do your routine. The only problem was nobody understood what you were saying because nobody in the audience spoke English.

I had always wondered about these meetings. It was like I had done exactly the wrong thing by presenting ideas that had pushed the boat out. Yet, there it was on the brief. Give the client big, bold out of the box ideas.

In these meetings, the general response was like why are you showing us this stuff. It could create a lot of trouble for us.

While I was thinking about all this I stumbled on this interview with Jordan Peterson. Now, I know he polarises opinion but for the moment I would ask you to focus on what he says in this interview. For me, it makes a lot of sense when I think of the experiences I have had in my career. He speaks with real clarity about the problem with creativity inside corporations. Essentially, his point is that creative types are difficult to manage, don’t like routine and hate working inside a system, so they are normally weeded out fairly quickly. They don’t conform, so they don’t rise up the ranks. He then makes a second very important point. Creatives, or if you prefer, entrepreneurial types are desperately needed at the top of businesses because although they are high risk they are also high reward. They are the ones that makes growth happen. Yet, they are often not there.

So, it would seem there is a real disconnect when it comes to creativity and business. On the one hand, you hear how important it is for growth. You hear it is how a business moves forward. Insert Steve Job’s lesson or snappy slogan here.

On the other hand, it would seem it is very hard for a creative person to make it to the top in many businesses.

From a personal perspective, you will never see this more clearly than when you pitch on a piece of business. The brief will say the business wants radical transformation, real out of the box thinking. You will be told they want ideas that scare them.

And sometimes, that is all true. You will have an amazing client who wants creativity. They are open to new ideas. They are trying to go somewhere. They have a vision and are excited by new thinking. They want to go on a journey with you.

And sometimes, it isn’t true. You see pure fear as you begin to present. The client looks at you like you are real trouble. You are speaking a foreign language. You have given them a big headache. Invariably this leads to work that is average.

I write about this because although there is a lot of talk about technology and data and how advertising is changing. However, what hasn’t changed is a ritual that happens every day across the world. People that smell of Red Bull and spray glue, stare with fixed smiles to hide a lack of sleep, at other people across a boardroom table to win their business.

The pitch. The most human moment in advertising. The one thing that has changed very little in our business and depends on one human being understanding the ideas of another.

A pitch is such a simple process but it really is amazing how different each one can be.

There are many reasons for this. Politics, personalities, an agency getting it wrong and the brief not being clear are just a few that I can mention. However, what Professor Peterson says makes a lot of sense and has to be one of the main variables.

The truth is there are many companies where there are not any people across the table who speak creativity. And by definition, don’t actually want any creativity. I get the fact that it may be hard to sell internally. Or, the company won’t buy out there work. The problem is there is still a need for new ideas. You cannot have lateral thinking while being perpendicular. There is always going to be some risk to get any reward.

This is going to become a bigger problem moving forward. Think of how the job landscape will change in the future. Jobs that can be replicated by an algorithm or A.I will disappear.  Creativity is a vocabulary many more people and companies are going to have to learn to understand. And perhaps, more importantly, value.

Yes, creativity may mean risk to many.

However, if you speak the language you can create and shape the world you want.

Or, you can choose not to understand, stand still and wait for the world to shape you.

I think we all know how that one ends.

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. The worst laugh is at the back of the room.

 

Unknown

“An egg is funny, an orange is not.”

Fred Allen

One of the most painful things you can ever see is a comic bombing. It is like watching somebody else being kicked in the balls but somehow you feel the pain. This was happening to me about a week ago.

It was late at the comedy club. There is a beautiful, opaque, intoxicating sadness about a comedy club. Comics loudly telling stories about past glories. Human beings trying to withstand it all by making other human beings laugh. A boulevard of broken dreams that occasionally glitters so brightly, you are willing to keep walking as the rain falls.

The comic I was watching had been on for a very long nine minutes. He had another six to go. This was when he got his first laugh. It was from the other comics at the back of the room. It was both brutal and merciful. Sort of like having to shoot your horse after it had stumbled into a ravine only a mile from reaching home. At night. And it’s snowing.

The reality was he didn’t have the craft. And without craft, his jokes became vague. His perspective was no longer specific. He stopped connecting with the audience. He had committed the cardinal sin. His point of view was generic. Death for a comic.

An hour earlier, I had watched a great comic in action. Jim Gaffigan. He did an hour. He had the audience in the palm of his hand. He took mundane subjects and made them funny because of his perspective. He has his own voice. He was specific and that’s why he connected.

It was hard not to think of the two comics major differences after seeing them straight after each other. Why one worked and one didn’t. It was also hard not to think of which one is more like our approach in advertising. Of course, we don’t have the luxury of saying whatever we want in our business. However, it struck me that the greatest advertising in the world is normally idiosyncratic and specific. It has a perspective. A point of view.  Whether you like Cadbury Gorilla, Fearless Girl, Volvo’s Epic Split etc there is a strong point of view that gives the work value. And just as importantly, there is a level of craft in the way it is executed that makes it bold, fresh and brave.

This may seem obvious but the reality is the vast amount of advertising does not follow this path. It is often generic and inoffensive. And forgettable.

The advertising process is often about trying to do something everybody will like. It is often a form of risk management. Great advertising is about doing something people will love. The name of the gap between like and love is risk.

Lately, we have been trying to bridge that gap with personalisation, data and information. Relevance is the word you hear a lot in terms of placement. But hardly ever about execution.

A recent stat that came out of America is that 66% of adults don’t want advertising that is tailored to their interests. And when researchers explained how adtech can target ads to them that number hit 80%.

It is a complicated world. On the one hand, if you are generic, you are often forgettable. If you are highly targeted, you are unwelcome and thought of as a little creepy.

However, if you go to a comedy club and watch a great comic, the answer becomes a little clearer.

For a comic to reach an audience and really connect they have to be specific. To be specific, they have to take a risk to get any reward. It can’t just be accurate information, or relevance, there has to be a leap made of hard earned skill and perspective. They have to give the audience something of value and the audience will give the comic their most valuable possession. Their time. This is an exchange that will never change.

Otherwise, the only laughs will be from the back of the room.

And they are not real.

 

 

 

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