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

Advertising. Ideas. They are not for everyone.

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“Ideas are easy. It’s the execution that really separates the sheep from the goats.”

Sue Grafton

Narratives that don’t make sense. If you have been in advertising for more than 10 minutes you will have seen this before.

Invariably over time you find these narratives have far more to do with making or saving money than anything coming close to the truth. Look what was said 5 years ago about digital advertising and you will see what I mean.

Right now, there are two narratives floating around advertising that are diametrically opposed to each other.

The first one goes like this. Nothing is more important than creativity. It is our secret weapon. We need it. It is what separates us from the rest.

The other is creative should not be left up to the creatives. Ideas can come from anywhere. Anybody can come up with an idea. We should be open to everybody having ideas.

Now, I would agree that anybody can have an idea. Any Creative Director worth his salt will look at the idea, not where it came from. I also understand that a lot of these conversations come from dealing with how many puzzle pieces there are these days. And, how little time exists to make that pretty picture on the box.

However, when I look at these competing narratives I have some issues about the misconceptions many in our industry have about creatives and why they are so necessary. For me, these problems begin with two words. Creative and idea.

Creative is not a job description it a vague, undefined ability. I have told people I am a creative and they have responded by saying they are also creative, they love to cook or are quite keen on gardening.

So, what you often have is the erroneous thought by many in our industry that anybody can be a creative because the job description of being an advertising creative is undefined. This description also erodes the value of what we do. However, there is a far bigger problem.

The second word I mentioned is the word idea. What is an idea? Seriously, think about it for a second. For those that aren’t sure I can put your mind at rest by telling you it is far more than a couple of words on a bloody post-it.

For many, the perception exists that having an idea is hard. The truth is that the hard part is actually caring about an idea. Everybody can have an idea but, selling, making and caring about an idea that leads to potentially hundreds of executions often over a couple of years needs a person with special qualities. That blend of talent and dedication is very hard to find.

Creatives are often described as rock stars but the truth is really great creatives are far more like shepherds . They are there when an idea is born. They try to keep it safe and moving in the right direction. They try and make sure it doesn’t die. To use a comparison from the other end of the job spectrum, I often think it feels similar to being an actor in L.A. going to auditions every day and being rejected for being too short, too tall, too fat, too boring etc. Talent is important but so is toughness. It’s not for everyone.

The other tricky thing about ideas is that everybody thinks their own ideas are great. This is fine if you don’t have to make one. It can just be a nice theory. Nobody gets hurt. But, if you are actually making an idea which can often cost millions of dollars somebody has to be responsible for the end product. Who decides? And to be clear, if it is a committee or involves brainstorming you are already in deep shit. Somebody has to make a call. And not just one decision but hundreds of tiny unglamorous decisions.

Paul Klee once said that a line is a dot that went for a walk. It is one of my favourite quotes because it perfectly describes the difference between having an idea and the endless process of making an idea.

Many at the moment are making the mistake of thinking that having an idea is the same as making an idea. Whether it is the disaster of an event like the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, the infamous Pepsi ad or the hundreds of ads that all look like each other because people have cut corners, we need to remember in the end it is the making that matters. This is why creatives matter, they make ideas real. They understand more than anybody that an idea means nothing if it isn’t made. It is what drives them. It is why they push further. It is why they are different. It is why they are valuable.

The truth is having an average idea is pretty painless and can be done by many. On the other hand, making a truly great idea needs a person or people that have a lot of courage, passion and a very high pain threshold.

Despite what some may think, it’s not for everyone.

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Advertising. What if the right answer is wrong?

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

H.L Mencken

The thing about process is that it leaves very little room for madness, obsession and mistakes. To be human. My fear is that our business at the moment is having a lot of conversations about ways to get to huge quantities of acceptable, average answers. Creativity is not at the forefront of our business right now. The ability to make a lot of average stuff quickly is.

The desire for vast amounts of content by its very nature means a process has to be created. A pipeline. A conveyor belt. A factory. If you look at those last 3 words you don’t get to unique, memorable and human. You get to continual, consistent and sterile.

To some, this may sound pretty good. The problem will be when everybody has a conveyor belt. Then a lot of things are going to look the same. What then?

The question is will accuracy and frequency be enough? There is a very strong desire to create order and patterns in our business right now. Creativity by its very nature breaks patterns. For it to survive it has to be able to make mistakes and take risks. It cannot be content with an average answer. If creativity can’t have those things it will give you the answers you already have. And then it has no value.

I tried to think of an example of doing something the wrong way but something marvellous and human coming out of it. I didn’t have to look far.

My youngest son Jamie (playing the piano in the video) is dyslexic. One of the ways we discovered this is that he took piano lessons and he would play a piece at a concert. We noticed that he wasn’t looking up at the sheet music. He was looking down at the keys He would play the whole piece out of his head. He coped my memorising a whole song. He is eight years old.

In essence, because one part of his brain struggled another part became almost superhuman. Dyslexia is often called the MIT disease because so many end up in these kinds of respected learning institutions. The reason for this is that dyslexics often develop the ability to make unique connections and come up with novel solutions to complex problems that are very different to typical minds.

Finding another way is one of the most important parts of creativity. It is also a very human quality that gets you somewhere new.

I am not sure it is a word but I think about humaness a lot. I would define it as the opposite of sterile. It is unexpectedness, delight, surprise and the other stuff that makes life worth living. And I don’t just mean those words on a poster. I mean what you feel.

In a couple of years, once we have created a hyper-personalised, hyper-conversational, cross channel, responsive, data unified, outcome based, always on, highly snackable, curated customer experience, how will human beings feel about it all?

Will research come back that they find it all a bit boring and predictable? Or, will it be that they don’t notice it at all because everything has become so seamless? After they have been chased around the internet will they feel like people do now when they get a machine instead of a human being at a call centre.

The truth is another word for creativity could be humanity. And, if we lose that, in a business that is all about talking to other human beings we will be in deep trouble.

No matter how accurate we are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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advertising, Uncategorized

Cannes. Strangers at the Circus.

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“Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.”

Victor Hugo

There were two boats in Cannes. They were part of the seemingly endless cavalcade of behemoth yachts moored in the South of France for the Cannes advertising festival of creativity. One belonged to some venture capitalists and was obscenely large. It had its own planet sized chandelier and a place to land a helicopter. The other was more modest by Cannes standards. It belonged to the advertising agency BBH. One of the great agencies in the world.

The venture capitalists had been on their deck staring with great intent at the BBH boat. In particular, they had been looking at the flag of BBH which is a black sheep. I believe it comes from one of Sir John Hegarty’s early ads for Levis. It shows a whole flock of white sheep and one black sheep and I think the line was when everybody zigs, zag.

The venture capitalists looked at this for a while and one of them shouted across to BBH.

“So what kind of business are you guys in? Livestock?”

Now, I don’t know if this story is true. I was told the story on two separate occasions while I was in Cannes. And after being there for the week, I can certainly believe it happened. The reason I mention it is that it is the perfect example of where Cannes and advertising is right now.

For years Cannes was the place where old buildings met new ideas. Strangely, it was a very consistent, predictable template that housed necessary madness and bleary eyed hedonism. It was a simple, crazy beautiful celebration of ideas and creativity that said we are the creators and the disruptors. It was about a tribe that believed in taking risks and finding ways to bring the new. There was a bit of schadenfreude mixed with joy and full frontal ambition. It was a place where your sputtering career and where the industry was at merged. This weird fusion gave you a pretty good read of the advertising landscape, a vague map and a way forward.

This Cannes was different.

There were many tribes. Venture Capitalists wanting to buy stuff. Tech companies wanting to sell stuff. Consultants. Entertainment. Gaming. Media. Facebook. Google. And Snapchat with a Ferris Wheel. I could go on and on. But it’s safe to say that there were many strangers at the circus. And even the ones you used to know were trying to re-invent themselves. They were all saying we used to be this, now we are that.

To me, we have reached a point where advertising no longer knows what it is because it has become everything. That’s a pretty big place. Believe me, a new world is forming that is both frightening and exciting in equal measure. You could see the tectonic plates shifting and the lava oozing out around your newly bought Espadrilles.

I have a love hate relationship with Cannes. It gives you the best and the worst of our industry in one place, in a single week. It can be overwhelming. I don’t know why but in a year where Cannes had maximum madness I felt quite serene. Maybe it’s because I had a North Star. I just looked at the ideas. And to be clear, they were pretty bloody good this year. For me creativity at Cannes was not a sideshow.

For many others, that were there, it was. And if I am honest, I found that a little sad.

Cannes felt like an eye desperately trying to look at itself. But there was too much to see.

However, if you can look past the insane circus of obscene boats, shiny people with mirrored ray-bans and far too much linen; if you can peer past the endless bullshit jargon and polished bravado there will always only ever be one ringmaster.

Ideas.

 

 

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