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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.

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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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Stardate June 28th 2554*

Mind reading seems to be part of an account exec’s job description these days. So many of them seem know exactly what their clients want, and have an innate ability to double guess their reactions.

Except they don’t.

Most people have a hard time reading the minds of their partners, who they actually live with.

We learned this unpredictability in a rather dramatic way in the early days of dfgw, when we won Independent Television Commission as a client. The ITC were the official body to oversee (and vet) content on all commercial TV and TV advertising. ‘Censors’ in the old language.

The first thing they wanted us to promote was the ‘9pm watershed’, this being the time when more sensitive subject matter could be aired, on the assumption young kids weren’t watching.

So me and my partner Dave Waters came up with this idea of a young kid (8 or 9 yrs old) being seduced by a woman in her twenties, who was suggestively (!) undressing. We cut back and forth between the two, building up the tension. But the pay-off would be we pull out wide and see that it was clever editing and he was actually just watching her on telly. We naively thought it quite a provocative way to make the point.

The ITC were apoplectic. They were supposed to be seen as responsible. (The accompanying gag about them actually being responsible for the uproar if we ran it met with frozen smiles.)

They were too nice a bunch of people to actually say, “get the fuck out of our office and go and play on some railway tracks” but you could see that’s what their expressions said.

Undeterred, me and Dave argued with them for days that even the ITC needs to get noticed and remembered.

We’d have had more luck arguing with the electronic voice in their posh elevator.

Eventually we decided some drama queen behaviour was called for, so we, along with our MD and brilliant head suit Michael Finn, trudged around the corner to the ITC’s office, Dave carrying an A2 layout pad and some pens, me carrying a small typewriter (like I said this was early pre-laptop days, and we’d have looked even sillier storming in with a massive desktop computer), and Finn, like all the best suits, carrying nothing but an open mind.

They looked a little surprised, clearly not used to such prima donna antics inside their conservative establishment.

We sat down combatively across the table from them and said, right, we’re going to sort this out, here, now. Raised eyebrows all round but no one raised any objections, so we gave it one last shot, trying to write around their problems with the idea.

The outer brick walls of the building budged further. They were having none of it. The Boss said, “let me make it clear to you, we WILL NOT sanction any film that implies, infers, indicates, or any other ‘i’s for that matter, sex with a minor, even though it’s not.”

We’d reached a Mexican standoff (in Soho).

Then in a moment of pure anger and frustration, one of us said “well…what if we shot him then…?”

Complete silence as tumbleweeds rolled through the room (still in Soho).

The Boss sighed, shoulders sagged, and said “well, of course we can SHOOT him, that’s not a problem” as the rest of his side of the table came to life in agreement, wondering why we didn’t think of that in the first place.

So in front of them, I typed a script where the kid witnesses a brutal murder and then gets threatened and shot himself, Dave drew a quick storyboard and 30 minutes later we had a signed script to go into production. It also got into D&AD.

Who would’ve guessed that then?

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Stardate June 13th 2554*

 

Nearly every meeting I’ve ever been to about creative work has included a discussion about ‘branding’.

At some point during the many negotiations over ‘size of branding’ I realised we were actually having completely different discussions. Because the size or prominence of the logo has nothing to do with branding.

 

I learnt a lot in the ten years I worked for Dave Trott, but one of the very first things he ever taught me (and it defined a lot of the successful campaigns I’ve been involved with) was that branding is where your product is inextricably linked to the message – take the product name away and the line doesn’t work anymore. Or remove the product itself and the idea doesn’t work anymore. Could you replace your product with a competitor product for example?

 

He’d just done a campaign for an, apparently, unbreakable umbrella called Knirps.

 

Ker-what? Exactly.

 

He came up with a line “You can break a brolly but you can’t k-nacker a K-nirps” which I thought was bloody brilliant because suddenly I knew how to actually say the bloody name. (Bit of a barrier to purchase if you don’t even know how to say the name of the product, I’d say.)

 

Then we won the Toshiba tellys account. Another name problem. Back then, they were unheard of, and the few people that were aware of them would pronounce it “Tobisha” and say it was an inferior product to the well known Sony’s, JVC’s and Philips’s.

 

These weren’t bars of chocolate you’d try out on a whim, they were expensive kit, and the fact was, Toshiba was actually superior technology to the competitors, but at those prices no-one was buying something they’d never heard of.  In John Hegarty’s book he says “your brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world – it occupies a corner of someone’s mind.” And sure enough, people would go shopping with the aforementioned top-of-mind list and they were not buying Toshiba’s in droves.

 

Dave came to me and played this wacky novelty song by Alexei Sayle “Hello John, got a new motor” and was going to change it to “Allo Tosh, Gotta a Toshiba” and what did I think? I thought he was fucking nuts, but he was my boss so I was polite: “with all due respect, Sir…”. Actually, that’s not true, I was a cocky bastard so I said “nah Dave, don’t be daft – tosh means rubbish, everyone will call it a load of tosh”

 

He ignored me and went and did it anyway.

 

Blueprint Man + catchy re-record by Ian Dury + name pronunciation = shitloads of Toshiba tellies disappearing out the stores (and this was before the days when looting became a trendy pastime).

 

Abject lesson. Never forgotten.

 

At dfgw, we used the principle very successfully when we launched the unheard of and unpronounceable Daewoo Cars in the UK, with “…that’ll be the Daewoo”. The fact that it was the most successful car launch ever in the UK, and got 95% unprompted recall after three months (more than GM Vauxhall, the biggest spender at the time, got after many years) didn’t surprise us.

 

Branding’s become slightly more sophisticated since then. But only slightly.

 

So it’s refreshing when you get a client that doesn’t see the words ‘logo’ and ‘size’ in the same sentence. Last year, me and my team did a campaign for Cornetto for our clients Tommy Wattimena and Nicole Sparshott at Unilever. I promised them a campaign that could only be for Cornetto, that wouldn’t work if you removed the product, that couldn’t be done for another product. There were no discussions about size (well not to do with the logo anyway).

The campaign is built around the ritual of unwrapping the product (you may say the ‘pain of’ or the ‘irritation of’ but the fact is it’s the only way you can get to eat the thing).

 

It’s the most successful Cornetto campaign ever in Thailand.
People remember the campaign and they remember the product because you can’t take the product out of the campaign. THAT’S branding.
Pretty basic stuff. But this is advertising, and under all the bullshit and powerpoints, it’s a pretty basic business.

 

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SOCIAL NOTWORKING

Stardate January 14th 2554 *

Social Notwork?

Following Pepsi’s spectacular social media fail, it’s probably time to stop and think. We used to do that before the age of don’t think just do. When advertising was about sales, not clicks.

Facebook is the current Big Daddy and is a phenomenal advertising channel. But let’s face it (har-har) people are using it to advertise themselves, not Coffeemate. You may even be reading this from the blatant self-promoting link on my fb page.

We used to factor in people’s state of mind during media consumption – in the cinema you have a captive audience; on tv they’re likely to go to the toilet during the break, and so on. Apply that to your personal experience on facebook. People are looking at their mate’s pictures, their mate’s holiday pictures, their mate’s cool links, and their mate’s pictures of lunch. And Boo.

As of today, 1,040,280 people follow Boo. Boo is a cute Pomeranian dog with posts like “I’ve just had a bath” (that post alone got 25,000 ‘likes’, almost half of Pepsi’s total).

I’m sure a million people following Boo are not looking for a deep immersion experience with anyone’s toothpaste brand.

Come on, how often do you look at that stuff on the right-hand side of your fb page? Never, right – it’s shite.
The now tiresome debate has been that social media has been killing traditional creative. But social media or not, creative is still required. If social media were the only way forward, the obsolete component is not creative, but in fact the media company itself.

Am I in danger of sounding ‘old-school’? Well, my 12 year old daughter Minnie, she’s your future consumer. She doesn’t distinguish between traditional and non-traditional media. She’s grown up watching telly and at the same time using facebook on her i-pad. She’s never known a world without either. Don’t try and engage her with channels, but with some content that grabs her attention.

Now in the new media language you can call her a collaborator, a co-creator, an advocate, whatever, but the ultimate goal is usually to get her to buy your product, ie a good old-fashioned consumer.
In spite of Pepsi’s fail, the Internet can still be an effective COMPONENT of a marketing mix. But the Internet at it’s best is essentially a subversive medium, which is why Droga5’s Ecko work is still one of the prime examples of how to market a cool brand, between the standing cats and skateboarding bulldogs. Reality is though, some brands are simply cool, and some are not. Some brands you desire, some you don’t want at all, but need.

I recently got a brief for a pitch where the requirement was to use social media. But hang on a minute, is social media even right for this brand?  That’s as bad as a brief where the requirement is a 30 second tv ad. In the same way as the start point shouldn’t be a 30 second tv spot, it shouldn’t be digital either. The start point should be “what’s the objective, and what do we need to do to reach that”

I can see a client’s motivation – FREE media! But it’s not free is it. The actual media is of course, but Pepsi blew millions of dollars…

So after all these years maybe we finally have the answer to Lord Leverhulme’s famous question – “half of my advertising budget is wasted – I just don’t know which half?”

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For Damon

Stardate February 13th 2554

RON COLLINS

Damon, I just heard.

Of course, condolences, and I just want to give you a personal anecdote:

Back when I was teenager looking for a job with those old magic marker scribbles, our dear mentor Dave Trott had just started GGT and had no money to hire anyone, so he picked up the phone, had a chat with your dad and ten minutes later I was round the corner in Ron’s office.

Now WCRS was flying at the time, and Ron had a reputation as a fearful and brutal critic of student work. So I was nervous to say the least, especially since he’d been coerced by Trotty into seeing me at a time when he most definitely had better things to do.

He couldn’t have been (to me anyway) more different from his reputation.

He was delightful, incredibly helpful, kept me there about an hour and a half, giving invaluable advice and opinions (the legendary Sooty was not present that day so I’m never sure if that was apocryphal). He then brought in Andrew Rutherford to go through my work and then Robin, then showed me round his amazing agency and introduced me to Peter Scott.

I left, as inspired as I’d ever been in my life, thinking THIS is the business I want to be in, and he called Trotty, and the following day Dave hired me as the first GGT creative, even though he couldn’t afford my measly tuppence a week. Ron called him back and said “Tuppence?!?! You could have got him for a farthing!!!”.

And work-wise he was one of the true talents – his simple radio commercial for Bergasol taught me (and many others) how visual a medium radio can be. To this day I cannot think of a better spot.

I suppose the best we can all hope for is to leave some kind of legacy behind.

Your Dad, Ron, created one of the most dynamic and successful agencies of the era, during THE most creative period in advertising.

Best wishes Damon.

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Thorny Issue

Stardate February 12th 2554

Advertising Age

Let’s be absolutely clear from the off – I’m the wrong side of 20.

Therefore you might say my views are biased (but surely if a point of view is not biased, it’s not a point of view).

Why are there so few experienced people in creative departments?

Agencies love to been seen as cool and trendy so let’s hire some far-out digital dude who rolls with the kids.

Not CEOs mind, oh no, because THEY need to be responsible. For example Michael Roth was almost 60 when he GOT the top job at IPG. Was there no 25-year-old financial whizz-kid that could’ve done Roth’s job?

Can you imagine an agency hiring a 60-year-old ECD?

I think there’s a sense that in order to be creative in advertising you need to be childishly irresponsible, but personally, I’ve never met a client that would happily put his or her millions in the hands of someone they thought irresponsible.
And I always thought it was smart to listen to and learn from people who had more experience than me.

I’m not entirely alone – I recall a rumour that Mother, one of London’s best agencies hardly in need of help, put in an audacious bid to hire the late great John Webster, at the time in his 60s. They obviously recognized that, if you retain your enthusiasm for the business, experience only adds to it.

But by and large, advertising is one of the few creative industries I can think of that doesn’t always respect experience, at least in the creative department.

Looking at other creative businesses, the current biggest grossing music act is not this year’s Jimmy Osmond, Justin Bieber (thank God) but The Rolling Stones, and Madonna is the biggest female still.

I recently read a great response to a reader’s whingeing letter about Sir Paul McCartney in Q magazine. It said, “he wrote Paperback Writer, he made St Pepper and The White Album. He was in the chuffing Beatles! He can look as foolish as he damn well pleases.” Lovely.

But gosh, I still read…magazines???  How passé…

Don’t get me wrong – I love my i-pad. But I love magazines too (and I’d think twice before swatting the bloody mosquitoes here with my i-pad)

Ricky Gervais has become a global *fill in adjective here* in his mid-40s and said recently on CNN “why didn’t I do this when I was younger?” To which his missus Jane replied, “Because you wouldn’t have been any good at it”. It takes a good deal of experience to insult everyone in Hollywood in 3 hrs.

In publishing: apart from the short brat-pack period where it seemed the only people getting book deals were people who’d never written a book before, the best selling authors continue to be the ones with a proven track record.

Scorsese, Pacino and DeNiro et al still seem to be doing ok in the movies too.

So it’s clear creativity is not the preserve of youth.

I may be wrong, but from the outside, age doesn’t seem to be such an issue in those creative industries.

My dear ex once said to me “age is a privilege not everyone is fortunate enough to attain” (I wasn’t sure whether it was a threat but it sounded profound, so I assume she stole it!).

But, the very few obvious exceptions aside, where do the experienced and talented creatives in advertising go to?

Be careful before you disagree – you’ll be posting your own sell-by date.

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The Decision

Stardate February 7th 2554 *

Year Of The Frightened Rabbit

“People might call themselves perfectionists, but at the bottom of pedantry is an abiding laziness. Raise enough objections and you never have to accomplish anything.”

A beautiful phrase from Paul Theroux’s Blinding Light. But doesn’t it sound familiar?

It reminds me of a client who could talk me out of the room with dazzling marketing wisdom. He’s a delightful guy, incredibly bright, and has never made a bad decision in his life.

Unfortunately he’s never made a good one either.

It’s all too easy to use the excuse of “it’s not quite there yet” to postpone the most important thing – The Decision.

Somebody clever called it ‘analysis paralysis’. So much information you freeze like a rabbit in the headlights, and do nothing.

For the first 18 months of dfgw, we did a simple tracking chart: We plotted every time we DID something (mail outs, cold-calls etc), and every time something HAPPENED (invitation to pitch etc…). The resulting chart was emphatic – every time something happened correlated perfectly with every time we did something.

Except for one small detail…the things we actually did never seemed to have any obvious relation to what actually happened.

So we simply deduced that Do Something And Something Will Happen.

Don’t obfuscate, ruminate, cogitate or any other kind of ‘ate, just do stuff. Make decisions, and even if you only get 80% of them right you’ll be going in the right direction.

We’re not deciding which slimy wiggly bit to remove in surgery, it’s just advertising. And most of us are good enough to intuitively know when to get it out there. You can always do Version 2.1.1 later.

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