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.

Waiting. You should try it sometime.

Nice words from Julian…


This isn’t a whinge or criticism. And if it is, I aim it at myself, not you.
You’re one of the good ones.

In some way or form, human demand has always driven evolution of user experience, design and innovation.
But now more than ever, I wonder if that demand is really based in real need and progress, or if it’s just following a trajectory of laze-driven convenience.
Or as it’s technically known, instant gratification.

The camera that can’t upload directly to Facebook is the olden days.
Yet that camera is still a wonder of convenience and technology and performs better optically than the faster alternative.
The smart phone is threatened by the smart watch. Yet both are less than a selfie stick away at any given time.
Newspapers can’t print fast enough for the dissemination of news.
So we’ve reduced news and our knowledge to democratically fed soundbytes.
E-mail is too…

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I am going to tell you how to make a lot of money.

Damon's Brain


Right now we are an industry that is in flux. There are many people who are trying to figure out where things are going. What to do next. We constantly read articles about what advertising will look like in the next 5 years.

There are many who claim they know.

Well, to quote Dan Weiden, nobody knows what’s going to happen next.

And I am with Dan on that one.

The problem with that is it creates a vacuum of uncertainty. And when you get uncertainty you get snake oil salesman.

And what are they selling? The future. Selling the future is the best business to be in because you are never wrong.

Workshops, masterclasses, weekends, ideation, brainstorms and talks. There are loads of them every day. All about the future of advertising. And in the next five years it’s only going to get worse. If you want to make…

View original post 424 more words

The 4 most common mistakes in creative briefs

I’m not the first person to write about creative briefs. Nor will I be the last.
But I still find it astounding how many bad creative briefs are written.
And briefs are important. They’re a linchpin for the work an agency does.
The brief largely dictates if the creative work that follows is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

I’ve seen planning departments and suits fall in love with briefs and celebrate them, almost as if they themselves are the final product or output of the agency. They’re not. I’ve never seen a brief appear on a billboard or a TV screen or any other medium. The brief isn’t the thing that’s seen by the consumer; it’s simply a map to help get there. It’s best thought of as a quasi-contract stating what we need to achieve, and what we need to say in order to achieve it.

Many times, a bad brief is put into the creative department in the hope that it will be sorted out there. And that’s fine, if the timelines and assignment of resources reflect that (they rarely do). Putting a problematic or unresolved brief into the creative department can be a bit like jumping into a taxi without knowing where you’re going – you just drive around aimlessly, hoping you arrive at a suitable destination. It can be highly inefficient and expensive.
More often than not, the quality of the creative work reflects the quality of the brief (or what some people may crudely refer to as ‘shit in = shit out’).

Here are the 4 most common mistakes I see on creative briefs:

1. They’re not ‘brief’.
A creative brief should be short and to the point. It isn’t a process of adding stuff; it’s a process of elimination. If the brief is long, you haven’t done enough work to remove stuff and distill it into a single thought or message. Longer briefs indicate that you’re trying to do too much, and you lack focus. Do one job. Do it well.

As the great Twitter feed @leeclowsbeard says, “‘Well, we got it all in’ should always be said with a great deal of sadness.”
Einstein simple

2. The Single-minded Proposition isn’t one.
I’ve written about propositions before. So has my friend, Simon Veksner.
The proposition is the most important part of the brief. It clarifies the message that you’re being asked to convey.
That communication is never going to be more clear and concise than when it sits within the ‘proposition’ section of a creative brief. It’s here that it’s most pure. It’s naked. It’s not dressed up with creativity. It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s as straight as it possibly can be.
The proposition isn’t a quasi-headline.
It’s not meant to be tricksy or clever (that’s the job of the creative work). It’s not meant to inspire; it’s meant to inform. Far too often, I see propositions that are trying to be headlines.
It needs to be single-minded.
Here’s a tip: if your proposition contains the word ‘and’ or a comma, it’s a good indication that it’s probably not single-minded.
Quite often you see people try and use weasel words to sneak extra stuff into a proposition.
For example, I once was given the following proposition for a tourism destination: “Adventure beyond your ordinary”.
I asked the planners and suits if they wrote ‘adventure’ as a verb or a noun. They replied, ‘That’s the beauty – you can interpret it both ways’.
Well done, you’ve just diluted your message by 50% and made it open to interpretation. Not the kind of foundation you want for great work.
A proposition is no place for double entendres.

3. The Support that doesn’t support anything.
The support points are the reasons to believe the proposition. You’re justifying the proposition by backing it up with facts.
However, I’ve often seen the ‘support’ section of a brief filled with stuff about the client that has nothing to do with the proposition – it’s irrelevant.
If you can’t back up your proposition with hard, believable facts, then the proposition is going to fall over.
Fix it now, rather than throw squillions of dollars and resource at it.

 4. Counter-claims.
When you write an ad, the legal department will be very quick to tell you if you’ve written something you can’t actually say. Sadly, it still happens in creative briefs.

For example, the proposition might say something like “we’re the fastest”, and somewhere else (support points, mandatories, considerations), the brief will say “we can’t actually say we’re the fastest”.
I’m not sure what the author of such a brief is expecting.
If you’re not allowed to say something, why is it in the brief as the very thing you should be saying?

Overall, briefs should be given a little more respect rather than seen as something that is churned out hastily in order to get the wheels turning.
They’re the foundation of ideas, and ideas are the foundation of our business.

Why all copywriters should be art directors

I’ve spent a large chunk of my career thus far working alongside one art director. He was a brilliant South African art director (on a side note, I only know 3 South African art directors and they’re all brilliant at their craft). However, we did tend to blur the line between ‘art director’ and ‘copywriter’. That’s not to say we interfered with each other’s craft, but we did offer each other an opinion.
And that brings me back to the heading of this post.

I’ve seen bad art direction murder good copy. And likewise, I’ve seen copywriters that have little consideration for art direction. This is the very reason why you need to have knowledge of the other’s craft.
I never gave it much thought until I worked with a few different art directors.
I thought it was weird when they were surprised by my interest in the line breaks of a headline, or the choice of typeface, or if the look of the ad was suited to the tone of the copy.
It struck me that some teams must still work in a fairly disparate way, with the two crafts somewhat divorced from each other.

For example, look at the following outdoor ad I noticed recently.
Okay, so it’s not going to keep any advertising award juries up at night*, but just look at that line break in the headline.
outdoor ad 1It completely reads the wrong way. The first three words have to sit together for the the intended flow and rhythm.
However, the art director would then be left with ‘LIVE’ as a widow.

So what’s the lesser evil? A weakened headline, or bad art direction?

This is where the team should have worked together. Maybe they could have bumped “LIVE” up in size so it looked ‘less lonely’ on a line all by itself? Maybe they could have amended the copy to have an extra word or two? Maybe they could have indented the word “LIVE” to make it look like it was an intentional art directional move?

Either way, an ad is always stronger when both crafts work together.

*a favourite saying of one of my old creative directors, used when he was less than impressed.

Making advertising into a factory

Recently an old memo came into my news feed (attached below).
It was written by the late, great David Abbott in 1994.
According to Creative Review, it’s genuine.

I think it’s amazing how, within 20 years, Abbott’s worst fears have now become common practise. And unfortunately, the work is lesser for it.




What’s your day rate?

Poor quality, low priceIf you’ve ever spent any time as a freelancer recently, you’ll be familiar with this question. It’s usually the first one asked. I guess it’s quite reflective of the commoditised market we now live in.

Rather than any number of other fitting questions, like: ‘Do you have experience with <insert target market>?’ or ‘Do you have experience with <insert brand category>?’ or ‘Do you have experience with <insert media channel>?’ or ‘Can I see your portfolio?’, the very first question is cost. And many people see cost and value as the same thing. They’re not.

However, the bigger problem here is the whole ‘time for money’ conundrum. Are we really selling ‘time’? If so, where can I buy some? (as I never seem to have enough of it)
I thought we were selling solutions – creative answers to communication or business problems.
That said, we’ve never really worked out how to charge for that. The value of an idea is so subjective. But is it any more subjective than the value of someone’s time?

I was once at an agency and heard the traffic person negotiating over the phone with a freelancer. He was looking at it through the wrong lens.
In his negotiations, I could see him quickly doing the calculations:

day rate
5 days per week
52 weeks per year
Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Even if you were working on that very ill-fitting equation, he needed to consider the following:
annual leave (take 20 days off in Australia)
public holidays (take another 10 days off in Australia)
sick days (another 10 days of allowance in Australia)
time spent invoicing and doing book work (all non bill-able)
superannuation contributions (this is actually a grey area that the Australian Tax Office is trying to tighten up)
down-time (no freelancer is booked 100% of the time. Sometimes the time between paying jobs can be considerable)

However, going back to the original question, what was the traffic person really buying? What was the value of the idea or piece of work they required?

A friend was recently contacted by a prospective client who said they didn’t have a very big budget and could only afford to pay $X per day. I asked him, ‘how does she know how long it will take you?’ My friend responded with the proposal of a project fee.

Another thing some agencies try and use as a bargaining chip is GST (Goods & Services Tax – you English readers will know it as VAT). In Australia, you must register for GST if you run a business or enterprise and your turnover is $75,000 or more ($150,000 or more for non-profit organisations).

In laymen’s terms, you simply add 10% to your invoice amount. You collect that on behalf of the tax office and pay it to them quarterly. Then, provided the client was a GST-registered business, they simply claim it back.

However, some clients try and use it as a bargaining tool, as if it’s actually costing them something. It isn’t. They claim it back. Don’t let them include the GST within your fee – it’s kept strictly separate.

When did the industry become about ensuring nobody else actually turns a profit? Was it the rise of the procurement department that gave birth to this behaviour? Was it the death of media commissions? Who knows?
But putting all that aside, we just need to remember that, as with most things in life, you ultimately get what you pay for.