I am sure you read Russell's blog. Yesterday he (incredibly generously) posted what he calls his schtick, which is basically the presentation he has been giving for the last couple of years. It's the most interesting post about advertising/marketing I have read in a long time. Highly illuminating, and brilliantly argued.

Having said that, I do disagree with nearly all of it.

Mostly, he's arguing against Maurice Saatchi's one-word equity or "brutal simplicity" theory, and advocating complexity.

Now, the ideal way to resolve this is to place Russell and Maurice in a sand-floored arena, stripped to the waist, armed with tridents and nets.

However, this plan is fraught with logistical difficulties. Not the least of which is Maurice's packed schedule. In fact Maurice is so busy, I'm going to do him a favour and take on Russell myself.

1. Russell uses this funny video to ridicule the idea that the consumer is just sitting there, waiting to receive our messages. His alternative model is this other funny video portraying ad messages as interruptions to something more interesting that we're doing. I think he's only half-right. He's right that we're not 'waiting to receive' a message. But he's wrong that we're doing something more interesting. Often we're not. We're ironing when a radio ad comes on. We're slumped in front of the TV after a hard day at work when a TV ad comes on. We're staring into space on the underground, when our eyes rest on a poster. And in those situations, if your ad can do something like this then that's fine.

2. Russell shows this ad:


and wonders "What would you say the 'message' of that ad is? No idea. Me neither. Because it doesn't really have one... it's not about a single, clear message." Hmmm. Surely it's just saying "Nike is cool"? " It does this by associating Nike with basketball players, fancy basketball moves and hip-hop, which are cleverly connected by the 'idea' of having the players and moves create the track. Simple.

3. Russell says that "this:

Slide52

is the model of idea creation that most agencies (advertising, digital, whatever) sell their clients. A bunch of smart strategists narrow down the strategic possiblities (with their clients or without) getting to a simple, smart, sharp, focused strategic idea which forms the basis of a controlled explostion of creativity. (Not too big, not too small). This idea is then implemented across a number of media channels to the happiness of everyone . This model is, of course, complete bollocks, and it's designed chiefly, to save money by a) keeping the really expensive people (the creatives) working for the minimum amount of time and b) making the process look calm and predictable. No good idea has ever happened like this.

The reality of any good process that produces great work is more like this:

Slide53

It's a mess. A good strategist involves the executers as soon and as often as possible. She allows execution to feedback into strategy and vice versa. Something that happens at the end changes something you thought of at the beginning. It's chaotic, wasteful and unpredicatble. It involves lots of people, lots of dead-ends and wastes lots of ideas. But it's the only way to produce stuff that goes beyond the everyday run of communications. Something that people actually want to engage with. Something that works."

Brilliantly argued. But completely wrong.

"No good idea has ever happened like this."

Really?

So M&C Saatchi have never had a good idea? Not their road safety work? Or Vogue.com poster?

There were never any good ideas in the old days, before Honda, before complexity, before the internet?

And ruthlessly simple ideas like 'Lemon', 'Snowplough', the Hamlet campaign, the Lynx/Axe campaign, and Apple '1984' are no good?

Speaking personally, the (admittedly very few) good ideas I've ever had came from a simple brief.

Creatives spend ages sitting around discussing briefs. And all the creatives I know prefer simple ones. Our number one complaint about briefs is that they are confused, unclear or complicated.

Yes, Wieden & Kennedy do produce great work. And yes, it apparently does come out of complexity and chaos. (This no doubt explains the place's nickname - Weekend & Kennedy). But they are not the only people producing great work. And theirs is not the only way to produce great work.

14 Comments