Here’s the trailer for a great documentary I first saw at The Sydney Film Festival back in 2009.
I’ve posted it here because I’d like to talk about the opening lines delivered by the gravelly-voiced Hal Riney:
“The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls ‘a creative person’ is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from really. And, especially, you don’t have any idea about where they’re going to come from tomorrow.”
But hey, hang on a minute! That’s not what most agencies would have you believe. Just look at any agency credentials document, presentation, or website. They nearly always put up some sort of diagram or chart and proclaim it to be their ‘magic formula’ for producing great ideas.
Well, as a person who has spent plenty of years in the creative department tasked with coming up with those ideas, I can say that there is no magic formula.
A few years ago at Cannes, John Hegarty broached the subject while on stage. He said that he understood there were a lot of marketers in the audience who were desperately seeking a formula for creating great advertising. He then told them there wasn’t one.
So why do so many agencies pretend there is?
Well, I reckon there are a few reasons. First, many clients have an easier time buying an idea if there’s the perception of science behind it, rather than art. That’s because science is predictable – two plus two will always equal four.
Second, the process and operations of an agency may help facilitate an environment for ideas but if you’ve ever been an art director or copywriter, you’ll know that the real process actually happens inside a person’s head. And if agencies were to admit that, they would be putting the equity of their business in the hands (or in this case, heads) of individuals. Instead, their ‘magic formula’ is something they can own regardless of staff turnover. Sure, some agencies do have a certain style of work. But that’s usually influenced by the Creative Director (again, an individual).
Whichever way you look at it, pretending there’s a 100% fool-proof recipe for creating successful advertising is a bit like measuring poetry.