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I was chatting with my mentor, Dave Trott the other day.

It’s always an enjoyable refresher course in many things.

In June 1980, he opened Gold Greenlees Trott.

Very shortly afterwards, I was fortunate enough to be the first creative bod Trotty hired (it was a serendipitous event but that’s a story in itself).

I worked for him until late 1989.

He taught me pretty much everything I know about advertising.

But only a fraction of what he knows.

However, he also taught me about many other things.

If you read his brilliant blog or equally brilliant books, you can’t fault his unerring logic and common sense.

They relate to advertising, for sure, but they’re lessons in life, ways of being.

I soaked all this up for almost ten years.

But he was never my boss.

He reminded me of that the other day – “I wasn’t a boss, I was a coach, that’s why it worked for you. I didn’t make you do anything, just showed you how to do what you wanted to do – the rest was all you.”

A big distinction, and I’ve experienced ‘bosses’ subsequently.

They boss people around, tell them what to do and what not to do, bollock them if they do something wrong (and are usually stingy with praise if they do something right).

Trotty never did that.

He didn’t FORCE any of us to do ANYTHING.

Instead he hired people who wanted to do what he wanted, and showed them the way.

If anyone, for a second, doubts the validity of that management style, the GGT he created went on to be voted by USA’s Ad Age magazine as ‘The Most Creative Agency In The World’.

I’m incredibly proud and blessed to have played a part in that, and it’s a lesson I’ve tried to live by as a manager of people.

It sure beats trying to bully people into doing things they simply don’t want to.

So maybe the expression shouldn’t be “Like A Boss”.

But “Like A Coach”. (more…)

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Stardate August 7th 2558

There’s a growing realisation, finally, that brand interaction on digital is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Like the rest of us, I’ve been consuming messages (including ads) on sites like YouTube for a decade, as well as the ever-increasing number of commercial messages on the ever-increasing number of social media sites.

And for most of that period, Digital Ninja Turtles were trying to convince us that the Holy Grail was ‘likes’ and click-throughs, but you know, us that have been around a little longer than the advent of the i-phone had suspicions that this just may be, to use a technical term, bollocks.

The outing of Click Farms pretty much confirmed that was the case and it was easy to scam the whole system. So the King’s New Clothes were revealed and that puts paid to all digital advertising, now, let’s get back to normal.

In all those years of absorbing digital messages, I don’t remember ever clicking on one, ‘liking’ one, or interacting with any. And I haven’t become a ‘brand ambassador’ or ‘brand advocate’ for any brand, unless they pay me. Why should I?

But does the fact that I chose not to get involved with digital brand messages mean that I don’t actually like any? Do we have to rely on actual interaction data to measure the success or failure of our digital advertising? I don’t think so.
Plenty have logged in my brain and left an impression. Just like the tv ads I grew up with.

Of course there’s a role for digital advertising and I think we’re just starting to get the hang of it. As we’ve said all along, the medium is not the message, the message is the message. And Facebook has started advising advertisers to create messages that are interesting enough to pique people’s…well, interest. Sound familiar?

We used to say people were bombarded with hundreds of advertising messages every day and because of that we have to do something special to attract their attention. Not much as changed with that principle except that now we are bombarded with tens of thousands of messages per day, on smartphones, i-pads, laptops, on top of all the ambient stuff that assaults our eyeballs in our daily commute.

So the current generation, including my 16-year-old daughter, has evolved an amazing mental capacity. Not for accepting all this information, but for filtering it.

Yes, some digital coms require click-throughs, if they’re competitions or offers but even then, if the main message is interesting and engaging enough, it will still register the brand in people’s consciousness. And after all, isn’t that what advertising is about. What goes around comes around.

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Stardate December 9th 2555

It’s that prediction time of year again.

Ad agencies are especially adept at producing overblown documents (often for sale believe it or not!!!!) trying to prove how cutting edge they are by telling us How We Will All Live In 2013.

Well, the Mayans predicted there won’t actually BE a 2013, so let’s get over that minor hump first.

It’s really, really, REALLY difficult to predict the future, so I won’t even try.

I’ll leave that to the hyper-intellectual planners, social media analysts and Trendistas who’ll tell us with great authority what we’ll all be doing for the next decade.

The fact that not a single one of these smug self-important Nostradamus’s (is the plural Nostradami?) predicted, er… The Internet – the single biggest thing to happen to communications since the invention of television – shows how much notice you should take of them.

I mean, if it’s your job predicting things, how could you miss predicting the biggest fucking thing to happen to our business in our lifetime?

I’m reading killer pearls of prescience such as Mobile communications is going to get bigger! Well duh! I really need an i-crystal ball to see that coming. Surely that doesn’t count as a prediction so much as a blindingly obvious evolution of what’s been happening?

You can’t predict the future. It just kind of happens around you with trillions of variables (actually probably a bigger unit of ‘illions) .

Who predicted a moronic dance from a South Korean ‘burb would become the number one YouTube hit EVER?

Who predicted the rise and wobble of Facebook?

Creative people learn to adapt to and deal with things happening around them and are generally cool with a chaotic, unpredictable environment.

Whereas a certain insecure faction feels the need to try and turn advertising into a science, and spend millions of dollars on incredibly bright people to waste a lot of time trying to mitigate errors.

But they’ll always get fucked over by the sheer unpredictability of human beings.

No-one really knows what people will like next. And I mean ‘like’ in the original sense, not the ‘thumbs-up facebook like’ or the ‘double-tap heart Instagram like’ sense.

And THAT’S what makes the ad-business stay so interesting.

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Stardate November 1st 2555

I read an interesting article in The Guardian the other day by George Prest of RGA.

One of many, recently, claiming the death of advertising.

He was saying how the brand design, and how the total brand experience is designed is more important now than a superficial advert, and he used soap as his hypothetical brand.

Now I agree with a lot of what he wrote.

But he’s really not talking about soap. He’s describing a company like Apple.

And here’s where the ad community (agencies and clients alike) have been slowly slitting their wrists.

Apple is often held up as the way to go, marketing-wise. Hardly surprising given it’s the world’s most valuable company, selling products at a massive premium over its competitors.

But it makes products people actively desire.

Whereas, the two biggest advertisers in the world, P&G and Unilever, for example, don’t.

They make products that people perceive they need. To prevent body odour, dandruff, tooth decay, skin blemishes and so on…

BIG difference.

So whilst an Apple-style brand experience works across all levels and people genuinely do become advocates of the brand, because they love the products, most people don’t give a toss about armpit anti-perspirants.

So it’s extremely unlikely too many people will be getting involved and having conversations about these brands.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Because people will still buy them if they work, if they serve a purpose.

Brand owners just need to face up to the fact that it’s ok to be a ‘not desirable but necessary’ product.

Getting back to reality is one of the reasons we started red pill.
Every product has a reason to exist. Or it simply wouldn’t exist.

If advertising is to survive it has to return to that basic premise – why would anyone spend their cash on this?

Yes, yes, I’ve heard so often that many products are me-too and it’s only the advertising that differentiates them. But be honest most of the time it doesn’t even do that, with wind-tunnel research.

However that’s no excuse for producing campaigns that are totally irrelevant to the product categories.

Using XBrand WILL NOT make you a hero, sorry (unless I’m out of touch and the Colombian drug cartels have been allowed to advertise).

It’s our job to take what is often a generic product with a generic proposition and create a genuinely different idea based on the reason the product exists.

The business has tried to turn itself into rocket science and failed miserably.

Let’s get back to doing the right thing.

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Stardate March 1st 2555

 

 

I’ve been in the enviable position of doing not very much at all for the last 6 months.

 

Although trying to train two Bull Terriers is tougher than any advertising project.

 

But during that period I’ve also wasted an inordinate amount of time on social media – facebook, instagram, pinterest, of course the old favourite youtube etc.  More time, in fact, than anyone else in advertising.

 

And if you dispute that, then you ought to be fired for not doing your day job (interestingly, facebook is most active during working hours, weekends are dead because people have a life to live!)

 

It’s been for me a big social experiment because I’m fascinated (and dismayed) with the way the advertising industry is killing itself in its rush to embrace everything new and ditch everything that made it the great business it is.

 

Some companies are even hiring ‘digital guys’ to replace ‘traditional’ creatives.

 

What’s a Digital Guy or Gal?

 

Someone who understands the technology, the ones and zeros? That’s not me.

 

Or someone who simply understands how people USE the digital space? Well I certainly know quite a bit about that now!

 

And whilst agencies and some clients love the idea that people will be ‘having conversations’ about your brand, become ‘advocates’ or ‘brand ambassadors’ selling your brand for free, WAKE UP!

 

People aren’t so freaking sad they’re going to waste too much time ‘engaging’ with most brands out there. The majority of brands aren’t ‘loved’, they’re a necessity, and that’s ok.

 

Dave Dye nailed it recently when he said (I paraphrase) “people respect brands that understand the role they play in our life.”

 

Tell me your margarine is humanitarian and doing great for causes and I’ll say “fuck off, you’re saturated fat and I like you on my bread, end of story”. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE these digital domains, they’re bloody addictive (which is why Pinterest has gone from 2 million users to around 12 million in just the last three months).

 

But here’s the thing:

 

THEY ARE BROADCAST MEDIA.

 

By and large, they’re used by individuals to advertise themselves, their lives, their loves and passions – “look at me”; “look at what my dog can do”; “check my new wheels/heels”; “this is me, with so and so”; “look where I am today” and so on…

 

There aren’t too many ‘conversations’ going on about the relative merits of your average everyday brand.

 

Facebook should be called ME-ME-ME-BOOK.

 

Nothing wrong with all that.

 

And people get ‘likes’ too (our bullies have got thousands on the dedicated sites, BUT WE’RE NOT SELLING ANYTHING).

 

And yes, Starbucks has 28.7 million ‘likes’ which by it’s own admission is partly down to a steady stream of promotions, special offers, coupons and discounts (although there were only 290 thousand ‘active’ last time I looked)

 

By the way, for your comparative reference, Texas Hold’em Poker has 35 million followers.

 

Point is, the Holy Grail of unpaid-for media doesn’t exist.

 

How can you say to a client, in all honesty (yeah I know that sounds like an oxymoron) that “this idea will go viral”?

 

You can’t.

 

And by ditching the classic broadcast media in favour of the ‘new, multi-million individual-channel broadcast media’, you’ll be taking the biggest gamble with your brand it’s possible to take.

 

Even BBH’s wonderful Yeo Valley work, which generated millions of youtube clicks, did so after a 9 million-plus tv exposure during the X-Factor finals. I suspect it would have struggled to generate anything like that amount without the massive tv-kickstart.

 

There’s no such thing as a free media.

 

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Stardate January 5th 2555 *

(*it really IS 2555 according to the Thai calendar)

Did you see that amazing pit stop by Sebastian Vettel last year? The one where he was leading the race with 10 laps to go…?

He came in, stopped perfectly on his spot, surrounded by his seventeen (yes, seventeen) pit-crew team, and they went to work.

Except that the lollipop “brake” board holder at the front dropped the lollipop and grabbed the wheel-nut gun from one of front-wheel guys and shouted “nah mate, you wanna hold it like this, much more efficient”

At the same time, one of the rear-wheel guys dropped his spare wheel and took the refueling rig from the refueler, telling him where he was going wrong, just as the guy holding the rear jack let the car back down so he could explain to one of the other rear-wheel guys how best to prepare the wheel to attach.

Meanwhile, Vettel decided he didn’t like how the front-jack was holding up the car so he unbuckled his seatbelt, detached his steering wheel and got out to put him right. Just as…

…just as his Crew Chief Adrian Newey ran up, throwing his Red Bull headphones to the floor, pulling a helmet on and leaping in the cockpit, telling Vettel how he should be driving.

Eventually, Newey got all four tyres changed, and refueled, in 5 minutes and 37 seconds, joining the race they were previously leading, at the back of the field. He came last and was lapped by all but two tail enders.

Madness.

But this is how advertising seems to view collaboration.

Collaboration is good, make no mistake. When a team of people work together, each one doing their job to the best of their abilities and trusting everyone else to do theirs.

In fact, genuine collaboration is SO good, that actual pit-stop to refuel and change all four of Vettel’s tyres in reality took a mere 3.1 seconds, and of course he won the race.

But the comedic version is fairly typical of how many advertising campaigns are created.

Everyone seems to know how to do everyone else’s job better than they do.

Of course everyone has an opinion (just like Vettel’s rear-wheel guy will have an opinion on his driving). But true, real, harmonious collaboration is when you respect the other people enough to let them do their jobs, EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE WITH HOW THEY’RE DOING IT.

That’s tough. I didn’t like everything that came out of my own agency – it wasn’t all designed for me, I wasn’t the target market every time. But I respected everything we did. Because I trusted the people we had, to make the correct decisions about any particular campaign.

Of course I could have done it all myself. But it really would’ve been the pits.

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Stardate November 15th 2554

 

THE ART OF ADVERTISING ISN’T ABOUT COMING UP WITH IDEAS

Most creatives have spent hours, days, months even, looking through D&AD, One Show and American Art Directors annuals.

Seeing a brilliant idea can be incredibly inspiring.

But way back at GGT there was one book we used to pore over more than any other: The Art Of Advertising by George Lois.

It’s a big hardback mutha, bigger than an LP cover (those things that pre-dated CDs, you know, those things that pre-dated downloads) and about 2 inches thick. I just managed to get a copy from an Amazon reseller – it’s been out of print for years – but they’re not cheap at around 160 USD. Absolutely worth every cent though, because Lois did some truly groundbreaking stuff that any current creative genius would be proud of.

Before I’m accused of backward looking, check out the example here. The ad itself is no great shakes, but fuck, what a brilliant IDEA the entire concept is – read the description – every bit as good, and relevant as anything, anywhere out there now. The media is irrelevant; it could quite easily be promoted on social network sites.

.

Could your agency sell this idea?

I can envisage many excuses why it shouldn’t be done. But the only thing that truly matters is the result, surely?
It got me thinking, because I was chatting with an art director friend the other day and he was saying how he couldn’t be bothered to try anymore because, well, the big agency he works at couldn’t sell anything decent anyway, they just do what the clients tell them.

The culture of ‘collaboration’ has allowed everyone to have an ‘input’, so junior suits and planners would be changing the ideas. By the time it reached the client it was barely recognizable as the idea he started with. And then various ranks of clients have input. This is why, he was saying, so many creatives (in Asia especially) resort to scam.

The truth is, a lot of Lois’ genius was being able to sell some of his ideas. Even almost 50 years later (yes, 50 years, for those who think advertising has progressed) some would still be seen as too challenging for a lot of today’s networks.

And there’s that overused sound byte “there’s no such thing as a bad client”. Er…of course there is. Just as there are bad bank managers, bad taxi drivers, bad manufacturers, bad politicians and yes, even bad creatives. This is a myth perpetuated by some agency managers to whip creatives and cover up the fact that THEIR AGENCY IS INCAPABLE OF GETTING GREAT WORK MADE.

It’s about honesty.

Clients on agency rosters serve different purposes.

Some are there because they do great work but pay little money (sometimes none).

Some are there because they do poor work but pay LOTS of money (and therefore keep the agency doors open)

And best of all, some are there because they do great work and pay lots of money.

I remember Dave Trott once complaining to Mike Greenlees that a particular (high paying) client wouldn’t buy any good work, and in the words of Dave, was “also a cunt”. Mike replied “yes Dave, but he’s OUR cunt.” Dave understood and the client kept his place on the roster and GGT produced genius work for other clients. GGT were honest enough to realize that particular client was vitally important to the agency, but not for great work, so they didn’t kid themselves or anyone else.

Most creatives come up with good ideas at one time or another, maybe not as good as Lois, but certainly better than the general dire output the public gets subjected to.

Sadly, very few agencies are actually run by creative people anymore (it’s no coincidence that the ones that are, are doing the best work btw). So the first scapegoat when there’s a problem is the creative guy or gal.

It’s worth remembering one thing that hasn’t changed about our business – for all the meetings and powerpoints, the only thing that really matters is the end product, what people actually get to see.

And given that we’re unlikely to change the culture of collaboration, it’s only right that the business partners take an equal stake in the successes and failures.

Because no matter how great an idea is, it isn’t a great idea until it actually runs.

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