Has the Age of the Amateur arrived?

Sound of MusicAs a young backpacker many years ago, I found myself at the Yoho Hostel in Salzburg, Austria. After perhaps enjoying one too many european beers, I woke the next morning to discover that I’d agreed to go on The Sound of Music tour with some other backpackers who I’d met.

Anyway, apart from visiting sites from the film, singing the odd Julie Andrews song and twirling across clover-covered meadows, we pulled into a beautiful village called St. Gilgen on the shores of the lake Wolfgangsee.

The guide explained that many carpenters lived in the village. As such, many of the homes featured amazing carvings and ornate woodwork. The craftsmanship was amazing but, sadly, it’s something that’s often missing from today’s world.

This lack of craftsmanship is pandemic across many industries. That’s because craft takes time, plus using a professional can be expensive – two things that many now view as being poisonous.
So we’re left with a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach. People have become immune to mediocrity. In rushing to ‘get stuff out’, we’ve lost sight of the fact that  it’s a waste of time if it’s actually the wrong stuff, or if the stuff is crap.

We simply don’t appreciate professional skill sets anymore. Ones that have been learned and honed with experience and time.
Watching a few episodes of MasterChef and knowing what a Croquembouche is, doesn’t make you a chef.
Being able to Google ‘How to fix a leaking tap’ doesn’t make me a plumber.

But perhaps the age of expertise is a thing of the past.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a former boss. He recalled when he was a Junior Art Director in London. Back then, once you chose a Director to work on your TV commercial, it was ‘hands off’. The Director would take complete control of the project.
He then said, “But these days, everyone’s a Director. Everyone carries a camera around in their pocket, so they think they can direct.”

So, as mentioned, we’ve devalued expertise because it takes time and it can be expensive. But perhaps even worse, is that many people can’t even identify quality anymore.
A house in St Gilgen may as well be a DIY project for anyone who can pick up a hammer. And the result just isn’t the same.

Are ad agencies and creativity getting a divorce?

I look at the advertising industry these days and it often looks like the side of a spanner is being used as a hammer. Or to put it simply, it’s not the right tool for the job, but we’re trying to make it work.
But before we discuss that, it’s probably worth a quick look at how we got here (but if you want to skip the history lesson, just scroll down):

1841 – A chap named Volney B. Palmer sets up what is believed to be the first ad agency in Philadelphia. His clients create the ads and he places them in newspapers. (So these days, we’d probably refer to him as a Media Agency).
Ultimately, it was this media placing that gave birth to  a commission-based remuneration model for the advertising world.

Early 1900s – The Industrial Age arrives and with it comes mass-produced products. With mass production, manufacturers began to differentiate their products through branding and packaging.

1922 – Broadcast radio realises that it can fund its existence through advertising.

1929 – The Stock Market crash puts greater pressure on advertising to prove its effectiveness, so research becomes a player.

1938 – Radio ad revenue surpasses that of magazines.

1941 – The first TV commercial for Bulova Clocks airs. At this stage there are only 4,000 television sets, but by 1954 CBS becomes the largest advertising medium in the world.

1960 – The creative team of Copywriter and Art Director is born at DDB.

The 1980s – Personal computers make desktop publishing easier.

2000 – The Internet has 400 million users, making it the fastest growing medium ever.

So history shows that ad agencies were born to allow marketers to communicate with their customers. They did this through interrupting media that the customers were already reading/watching / listening to. To negate this ‘interruption’, creativity was engaged to make the message seem more informative or more emotive, or a point of difference.

However for many marketers, the relationship with creativity has always been an uneasy one. That’s because, understandably, marketers seek certainty. Creativity, by its very nature, isn’t certain. Creativity is unpredictable. At times, it can be erratic and wild.

And sometimes, creativity simply isn’t the answer.
Just recently I had lunch with a friend who left the agency world a few years ago to go client-side. He’s now National Head of Managing Something Or Other. He said that with a lot of the work they do, creativity just tends to get in the way.

This kind of thinking is happening in a lot of places.

It also reminded me of a recent article about former advertising creative, Yanni Pounartzis. In that article, Yanni suggests that creatives won’t exist in agencies in the near future.
I’ve seen this first hand. There are agencies out there that simply don’t have a creative department or ‘creatives’. In many ways, it does seem that ‘advertising’, as we know it, will simply become the management of data.

I do think creativity will live on. That’s what it does. It will find a new home.
But if you were unencumbered by history and were building a business today for the purpose of communicating with customers, I doubt that an ‘ad agency’ is what you would end up with.

Are Creative Directors actually creative?

Recently I was reading Simon Veksner’s blog. It was a story about Matt Eastwood and discussed the idea of how one’s appearance might affect their career progression. Amongst the comments was this:

Anonymous said…

I’ve been a ‘creative’ for a very long time and your article solved what has been a continuing mystery for me.

Many people have said over the years ‘why don’t you become a creative director?’
And I’ve always replied ‘why would you?’. The thrill of being in creative is thinking of an idea. Sure the money drugs and babes are cool too, but creating ideas is what defines ‘creatives’.

The moment you become a ‘creative director’ is the moment you stop being creative.
You become an inspirer. A seller. A buffer.
In other words you become a suit. And this was obviously Matt’s goal.

I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Great suits are as valuable as great creatives, often more so.
If work doesn’t get sold it may as well not have been conceived.

But it always bugs me when those who have chosen to don the literal or metaphorical suit continue to pretend they are still part of the creative department, or creative brotherhood.
They are not.
When you stop doing ideas yourself, you stop being a creator.

Worldwide CDs like Matt are the epitome of this. He doesn’t create anything himself. He doesn’t even see any work before it goes to clients let alone influence it.

He travels the world raising the profile of the network by chairing awards, then he chairs meetings of selected ECDs where everyone agrees to be much better, then he sacks some ECDs who didn’t get much better even though their clients won’t allow it.

This is not being creative. It’s being a suit.

If the role of worldwide creative director actually involved being the most creative person in the network, wouldn’t you expect such a demi-god to actually think of stuff when there’s a world-wide pitch?

Why hire someone who used to think of things, to not think of things?
It’s silly.
I hope Matt reads this. Because I now know how he became a CD, I just don’t know why.

This got me thinking. It reminded me of a book that came out a few years ago called Creative Director: Year Zero. It’s a collection of thoughts from CDs about their role.

I think there were two main things to come out of that book.
The first was that the term ‘Creative Director’ has taken on a whole new meaning. With the advent of so many new titles, a Creative Director these days is what a ‘Creative Group Head’ used to be (i.e. they’re like a deputy, and they’re usually responsible for a particular client). They still have to answer to a CD (who is now called an ‘Executive Creative Director’, or ECD). In some instances, there’s even a ‘Chief Creative Officer’, but that usually only happens when there’s a real pissing competition going on.

What it all comes down to is this: if you’re not the one making the final creative calls on work before it leaves the agency or if you have to show someone else, you’re not really the Creative Director (actually, these days, many of the people making creative calls aren’t actually from the Creative Dept, but that’s a blog for another time).

The other point is that a Creative Director’s job is not an extension of being a Copywriter or Art Director. It’s not like the ‘Suit side of things’ where you have Account Executive, Account Manager, Account Director, Group Account Director and Managing Director, with each role being an extension of the one prior.

By moving from Copywriter or Art Director to Creative Director, you go from making or creating ideas to suddenly reviewing or presenting them.
Or in other words, you go from playing to coaching.

In a way, this is a very weird situation. Imagine pulling one of your best players from the field so he or she can yell advice from the sideline.
It gives rise to the question, ‘do you have to have been a good player to be a good coach?’

Logic says you don’t. There are plenty of great coaches who weren’t great players.
However, a General leading his troops into battle will almost always have greater respect from his soldiers if they know that he’s spent time in the trenches too.

For example, Vince Lombardi played gridiron on a college scholarship. Sir Alex Ferguson was top goal-scorer in the Scottish league for 1965-6. And Sir Graham Henry played for the highly respected New Zealand provincial side, Canterbury, before coaching the All-Blacks and being named IRB International Coach of the year 5 times.

The Problem with Digital Brand Building

Originally posted on Marius on Strategy and Communication:

The current seismic shift in marketing budgets away from traditional media and towards digital reflects the fact that  people spend more time online and less in front of the TV. This is predominantly a channel issue: how to best reach a target audience. But rather than playing to the strengths of each channel, we now seem to attribute digital with superior abilities across all aspects of marketing. And the biggest loser is brand building as we adapt our theories and practices on this to comply with the inherent properties of digital. 

With the rise of digital followed the view that online conversations, word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer recommendations are the superior means by which brand are built. At the same time, one of the most important and proven aspects of building a brand, fame, is neglected and has come to be viewed with contempt and suspicion.

Here are some thoughts on why the…

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You can’t be right but you can be interesting.

dingo's breakfast:

Some wise words…

Originally posted on Damon's Brain:

“You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

George Orwell,1984

There seems to be a belief that we are about to find an answer in our business. Our industry is looking for certainty even perhaps comfort. There is a tendency to hold onto the latest technology or system like it is some sort of panacea for all our ills. This is something that happens in an uncertain world. It is natural to crave certainty. Certainty and creativity however are not a great mix.

So I thought with the help of a Tinder, Tesla and a 15 year old physics geniusI would try to demonstrate my belief in embracing uncertainty.

My belief has always been creativity is not a thing, it is a way. Or to put it another way, creativity is not an answer it is an endless series of answers. In an uncertain…

View original 743 more words

Energy trumps talent: tips from Lord Jeffrey Archer

The other weekend, a TV show called The Bottom Line featured a good interview with Lord Jeffrey Archer. You can see a video of the interview here.
It’s a useful way to spend 22 minutes. But if you haven’t got 22 minutes to spend, please take away these words of his (from around the 8:22 mark):

If you have energy and no talent, you’ll still be alright.
If you have energy and talent, then you’re really lucky.
If you have no energy, but you have talent, you could be in a lot of trouble.

Getting typecast while working in advertising.

Bond_-_Timothy_Dalton_-_Profile_(2)When I think of the word ‘typecast’, I think of the actor, Timothy Dalton. See, in my opinion, Timothy Dalton was the worst actor to ever play the role of James Bond. I don’t say this because of the guy’s acting ability. Instead, it’s because I was simply unable to see him as ‘the good guy’. In my mind, I’d seen him in so many movies playing ‘a bad guy’, it just didn’t work for me to see him any other way.

So what’s this got to do with advertising? Well, it happens in advertising, and one of my friends experienced it the other day.

My friend was contacted about the prospect of taking a freelance gig as an art director. However, he didn’t get the job because, while he had experience working in the automotive category, he didn’t have experience working on a particular brand of car. It wasn’t considered, even though he was a senior person in the industry, that he would be able to adapt to the requirements of that particular car brand.

This is interesting because any creative person worth their salt is able to adapt to the requirements of a brand. Isn’t that their job? Sure, those more familiar with it might be able to grasp it a little quicker, but that’s comparable to one actor knowing the lines because he’s been given a copy of the script and the other one hasn’t.

Likewise, last year I had a person ask me if I had any B2B experience. I answered, ‘Yes’, but then reminded them that it was still a person, rather than a business, reading the communication at the other end. I don’t think they liked that.

See, people like to pigeonhole things. They like to give them titles and tuck them away in neat little places.
And when you’re working in advertising, you can get typecast by the type of clients you work on, or by a type of medium or advertising style (e.g. digital, direct, retail etc)
However, in my experience, the best art directors and copywriters aren’t bound by those things. They’re chameleons. They’re like Tom Hanks or Kevin Spacey – able to play any role, and make it their own.

The difference between an idea and an execution.

A friend, and one of Australia’s leading advertising recruiters, Esther Clerehan, often answers questions from aspiring art directors and copywriters on her blog. Recently, she was asked, ‘What is the difference between an idea and an execution?’

This question does come up a lot, and a lot of people still wrestle with it. So, for what it’s worth, this is how I use to explain it to AWARD School students:

Before you learn about advertising ideas, it’s easy to jump straight into the execution. After all, the execution is usually the tangible part that we see or hear. It’s the finished ad.
But a big step forward in your understanding of advertising comes when you learn to divorce the execution from the idea. You can look behind the shiny surface and see the thinking to how the ad was actually constructed.

When people refer to ‘the execution’, they’re referring to the more detailed specifics of an ad. However, when you take a step back and ask yourself, ‘what is the idea behind this execution?’, you’re able to get a broader view of what it is you’re saying.

I know this can be a bit confusing so to illustrate what I’m talking about, here are some examples below:

jason donovanJason Donovan billboard

If you’re not familiar with this campaign, you can take a look at a brief case study here.
Here is what the proposition on the brief probably was:
Virgin Mobile has low-cost call and text rates.

Here’s what the idea is:
These rates are so low, you can even afford to waste your phone credit by making prank calls.

The execution is:
Create a situation where Jason Donovan’s mobile phone number is leaked to the public.

bic pen Jimi Hendrix

The proposition on the brief probably was:
With Bic Permanent Markers, the writing never comes off.

The idea is:
Let’s simply show writing that has been around for a long, long time.

The execution is:
A Jimi Hendrix fan who once had her breast autographed by the now-deceased musician.


The proposition on the brief probably was:
The new Golf GTi  has loads of new features.

The idea is:
The GTi is an iconic car, and now it’s even better. Let’s illustrate that by showing how great things can be improved on.

The execution is:
A classic film scene, re-made to feature more modern music and dance styles.

Why is it important to distinguish between an idea and an execution, anyway?
If you can show that your idea is not just a one-off execution, it’s more valuable.
You can show that it can be executed a number of different ways. That’s important if you want to run a campaign idea for an extended time, which in turn helps build equity into a brand.
An idea is also important because it means you’re not back to ‘square one’ if something in the execution goes wrong.
For example, if the Virgin client absolutely hated Jason Donovan, you could find another celebrity. Or if the use of a celebrity is beyond the budget, you could execute the idea as cab drivers or pizza delivery guys protesting against prank calls. You could have the entire campaign look like a public service announcement, if you wished.

The important thing is that ‘big ideas’ can usually be executed in a number of different ways.
Depending on who you’re presenting to will dictate how much you have to execute the idea to illustrate what it is you’re talking about. Some people tend to see ideas better than others. Many people get caught up on executional stuff (like someone saying, ‘I don’t like the colour of the guy’s shirt’ or ‘Can we make the logo bigger?’).

Creativity is not linear. Actually, it’s like bacteria.

The ad below screened on TV years ago, but the other day it popped into my mind again.

In particular, it was the part that says, “in the last five metres of braking, you wipe off half your speed”.
See, I’d just taken a brief with very tight timings and the accounts person was trying to schedule a review. They suggested that they check in at the half-time mark and see how the work was looking. I told them that wouldn’t work (in fact, I knew it would only make them panic).

Put simply, at the half-way mark, you’re not going to have half the ideas done. It just doesn’t work that way. That’s why most pitches come together right at the last minute (usually over cold pizza, at 3am, while sitting in the agency wondering how you can function on so little sleep).

Instead, the creative process can be a little bit like bacteria, like this video below shows. (After 91% of the time had passed, bacteria fills only 3% of the bottle)

So, don’t stress when a lot of the allocated time has passed and there’s not much work to show yet. It’s normal.

Talk has always been cheap. But now it’s even cheaper.

It seems that almost every day, I hear stories or read articles about how the digital world is killing various businesses. However, in my opinion, it’s not the digital age that is causing grief for many organisations. It’s actually their inability to be authentic.

In marketing, there once was a methodology that if you told people your message enough times, they’d ultimately believe it (or as some would say, ‘throw enough shit, and some of it will stick’).

But, as we all know, mass communication is no longer the sole domain of commercial media channels. Anyone with a Twitter account, or access to an online forum can reach a large audience. That means that brands can’t rely on simply talking a good game, they now  have to actually play a good game.
Or, as one marketing quote puts it, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It’s what consumers tell each other it is.”

But the most successful brands have always set out to ‘do’ rather than ‘say’.
After all, a good comedian doesn’t tell you he’s funny. He simply is funny.
Good brands live their values. They don’t just put them together in a Powerpoint presentation and then subscribe to the ‘throw enough shit’ model.

And ads are simply an extension of this. It’s ads that ‘do’ rather the ‘say’ that are the most powerful. For example:

Apple, with their grammatically-challenged line, actually were different.





Likewise, Tesco didn’t talk about making cuts. With it’s tagline, they did.




Nike doesn’t just talk about getting out there and doing it.
nike bench





And Kit Kat doesn’t just lecture people to take a break. They take one themselves.
kit kat





It’s when you  say you do one thing, and you actually do another, that brands run into trouble. The digital age has merely exposed it.