1 Comment

Is It Smart For Us To Go Upstream?

I've suggested


that instead of constantly cutting costs, we should consider how to


more money.

However, there's a right way to do that and a wrong way.

The wrong way, IMHO, is proposed in an




this week by Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, chief strategy officer at

FCB Garfinkel New York.

Kofi starts by summing up what he sees as the problem, by using a quote from a Diageo marketer that has gained quite a bit of attention recently: "Agencies unable to prove they are driving value for clients risk becoming little more than dust."

It's an attention-grabbing quote, but even a quick analysis shows it to be somewhat meaningless. Surely


business, in any field, anywhere in the world, faces oblivion if it is unable to prove it creates value?

But I guess it's his solution that I really disagree with. Kofi writes: "The client-agency relationship needs to start way upstream of the communications brief. Clients need to invite agencies into the depths of their business, to share all of their data...

we need to become true general contractors."

Presumably, becoming 'general contractors... upstream' means going into areas beyond marketing.

Sounds exciting. But here's my question. What are we actually going to do, when we start getting involved with areas beyond marketing? Are we really going to get involved with finance? HR? Distribution? Manufacturing?

We just don't have the skills.

Are we really proposing to send a Comms Planner to a finance meeting, to sit alongside the Client's Finance Director, and a couple of guys from Goldman Sachs?

Are we really proposing to send a Copywriter to a meeting about building a new factory, alongside the Client's Head of Manufacturing, and a couple of guys from Balfour Beatty?

It's a joke.

And worse than that, it depreciates what we actually



In an age of commoditisation, marketing (and hence marketing communications) are more important than ever.

Land Rover was once a unique product. Now everyone makes an SUV. Gordon's once had a near-monopoly on gin. Now there are 50 gins. 

In fact I'd turn the Diageo marketer's question back onto the client companies themselves: how is the average maker of a vodka, beer, training shoe, mid-size sedan, vitamin, juice, or coffee... or provider of insurance, mortgages, or personal loans... doing anything to drive value for their corporations?

Their products are almost completely undifferentiated. The corporate structures (of large corporations) are almost all identical. Their financing and management techniques do not significantly differ.

It's primarily


that can make the difference.

And yet

80% of CEOs do not trust their marketers, and 70% of CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from business results. (



The truth is that it's not we who need to go upstream, it's our Clients.

The Marketer is able to create far more value for the corporation than the Manufacturing Guy (since most companies are making me-too products), or the HR person, the legal counsel, etc.

Given the importance of marketing, every Marketing Director should sit on their company's board. Hell, every CMO should be sitting right next to the CEO.

And we should make it our mission to help them get there.

Because if they rise - which they deserve to - we rise.

1 Comment


The ECD Who Doesn't Sign Off Any Work

Very interesting interview this month with Nils Leonard, Chairman and CCO of Grey London.

The bit that really jumps out is that he claims he doesn't sign off any of the work.

Let's rewind. When Leonard first took over at Grey, a few people carped along the lines of 'how can he be an ECD when he's never done any great work as a creative', which is a rather foolish argument, akin to questioning Arsene Wenger's managerial ability on the grounds that he was a mediocre left-back.

Leonard's success is undeniable. Grey London has been utterly transformed under his watch. The agency where people "went to die", and whose creative floor was once known as "Jurassic Park", is now arguably one of the most dynamic in the world. In the last five years, the place has won a shitload of awards, and more than doubled in size.

So what did he do that was so different?

I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but he himself prefers not to tell us. Because it certainly can't be any of the three points he makes in his interview.

The first of these was his decision to go open-plan. As regular readers will know, I'm not a fan. But perhaps Leonard has a new take on it? "We tore down the offices", he says, "and for a reason: it literally is a physical barrier between an idea happening or not if you have to stop outside a door and knock to go and talk to somebody." 

Sounds hip, yeah. But if you actually examine it, I reckon this argument is super-weak. I mean... is that really such a huge barrier - a fucking door? Last time I checked, doors do open. And fairly easily, too. I don't recall them being much of a barrier when we had them at DDB London. They certainly never kept any suits out who wanted to come in. Or indeed anyone. They simply knocked, and entered! And once inside, you could actually have a proper chat... which in an open plan office, you can't.

But anyway, whatever the merits of open-plan, this move cannot be the cause of Grey's recent successes (21 pitches won out of 24), since every other agency in London has gone open-plan too. Hence, no competitive advantage there.

His second point is around looking for what he calls 'long ideas' rather than 'big ideas'. This means ideas that people want to spend time with, rather than simply ideas which can support multiple executions. And he's walked the walk here, for example producing a stage show 'The Angina Monologues' for the British Heart Foundation that was also broadcast on TV.

He's phrased it beautifully - "long ideas" - but a commitment to producing longer-form content cannot be the source of Grey's competitive advantage either, since every other agency in town is doing the same.

His last point is around "no sign-off". Leonard explains that a team consisting of a creative, a planner, and "I guess, a suit, or a producer" (he means a suit, but doesn't want to sound old-school) takes ultimate responsibility for the work - not him.

There are arguments both ways here. Yes, it's true that if people know the buck stops with them, they feel a greater sense of ownership, and may create better work. But on the other hand, you could argue it's a mistake to remove the CCO from the process - does it really make sense for the agency's best creative not to be involved in the work? 

He's certainly being a little disingenuous by reducing the CCO's role to a mere 'sign-off'. The good ECD's or CCO's or whatever the top person is called in an agency are doing a hell of a lot more than just signing off the work. They're adding to it, improving, finessing... sometimes transforming it.

In any case, once again this can't be the secret of Grey's recent out-performance, since many other agencies in London operate exactly the same system - including the last two where I worked, DDB and BBH - as do many other agencies around the world.

And it's certainly not true that this system is, as Nils Leonard claims, significantly faster. "If you trust people," he writes, "you don’t put barriers in the way and you speed up the process... you’ll be twice as fast as most agencies."

Really? Twice as fast? The ECD gets a day or two max to have their input - sometimes an hour. That's not 50% of the entire strategy/ideation/creative direction/presentation process. It's way, way less.

So what is the real reason for Grey's success, and why does Nils Leonard not tell us, instead making claims for the success of his agency which sound modern and groovy, but which aren't actually any different to what every other agency is doing?

In my view, the major change that has made the difference at Grey since the arrival of Nils Leonard... is the arrival of one Nils Leonard.

Obviously he doesn't say that in the interview, since it would sound horribly immodest (not to mention old-fashioned) to claim that one great creative leader can make the difference. But we all know that they can.

I have no interest in crawling up the bloke's arse, since I'm 10,000 miles away and not planning to go back. But by all accounts he's just very, very good at his job. Highly charming, highly creative, great with clients, great with ideas, great at hiring... and of course, great at PR.

And surely it's this latter quality that explains why in his interview he weaves a compelling story - a parable of modernity and inclusivity - rather than revealing the rather boring and old-fashioned truth.



The Problem With Lying

I'm attending some important research groups on Monday night... and feeling a little worried about them.

Why? Because people often lie.

In the polls, about 33% of people said they would vote Conservative. In last week's UK general election, about 37% did so. In other words, 4% of people simply lied.

Of course, some people think we lie.

The latest annual study conducted by research firm Roy Morgan into the perceived honesty of different professions has placed advertising in 29th place out of 30. Only car salesmen ranked lower.

I've written before about the irony that advertisers are perceived as dishonest, when the truth is that we don't lie to people, it's the people who lie to us.

The great strategist Russell Davies, on leaving advertising, famously described what he wouldn't miss: "Endless focus groups with company car drivers - constantly lying about why they drove the car they did."

He's so right. No one is going to admit in a research group that they drive a certain car because they want people to think they are rich, or successful, or sexy. But surely those motivations are in there.

And I'll never forget an interview that artists Jake and Dinos Chapman gave to GQ magazine. When shown examples of the brothers' work (similar to the picture above right) a selection of GQ readers unanimously claimed that they didn't like their art, because it was "ugly."

The Chapman brothers' response? "They're lying." The brothers reckoned that the real reason the GQ readers didn't like the art was because "they were turned on", and knew it would be socially unacceptable to say so.

Until neuromarketing research works properly, and we can actually see inside people's brains and discover what they are really thinking, rather than what they say they are thinking, we should continue to be suspicious of what people say. Very suspicious.



I Think We Should Abolish The Word 'Creativity'

Wendy Clark, a senior Coca-Cola marketer in the US, is well-known in Agency circles as a force for good - a Client who has supported great work, time and time again.

And I love that - as chair of the Effectiveness jury at Cannes this year - she writes an article that instead of arguing for the primacy of effectiveness, makes a plea for the importance of creativity.

"If you leave creativity behind, you are leaving some measure of effectiveness behind too," she writes.

Very cool.

However, I do have one quibble with her argument.

She develops her theme by making a big play around the word "and", arguing for work that is both creative "and" effective.

And I guess I feel that 'creativity and effectiveness' are not similar concepts that can be linked together with an 'and', like 'fish and chips'.

Because they don't exist on the same plane really, do they? Surely effectiveness is an outcome, and creativity is a means of achieving it?

"Effectiveness is our goal, creativity is our tool." That's how Nigel Bogle always used to phrase it.

In other words, effectiveness is a hole in the wall, and creativity is a sledgehammer.

Let's face it, you could still have a successful advertising campaign by filling media space with a completely literal and uncreative message.

Here are two executions in which the communication is identical.

First, expressed without creativity:

Now, with creativity:

The first execution could still be effective. A lot of people like Wayne Rooney, and a timely and well-bought media placement that reinforces the association between Nike, Rooney and England could help drive affinity for the brand.

But the second execution will be more effective (because more impactful, more memorable, and more cool. Yes, in sportswear, cool matters).

The fact is, we Agency people are not using creativity because it's more fun for us. (Although it is). We are using creativity because it increases the effectiveness of advertising. Creativity is an amplifier, that's all.

The problem we have is that too many Clients think we like creativity for its own sake, and hence they lack trust in our recommendations.

So what if we stopped using the word 'creativity' completely?

The Creative Department would henceforth be known as the Effectiveness Amplification Department, and the Creative Director as the Effectiveness Amplification Director. Creative awards would be called Effectiveness Amplification Awards. 

What do you think?



Our Debate About 'Risky' Versus 'Safe' Advertising Is Embarrassingly Amateur

The attitude that we have towards risk in our industry is embarrassingly amateur.

And I'm pointing the finger at both Agencies and Clients here, who tend to fall into opposite but equally naive traps.

The Agency view, most commonly (but not exclusively) heard from Creatives, is that "safe advertising is actually more risky than risky advertising." The theory here is that if advertising is 'vanilla' it "won't cut through" and is therefore likely to be useless. They rail against Clients' "conservatism", and wish their Clients would have 'more vision' or, moving further down the body, 'more balls.'

Many Clients, on the other hand, make huge efforts to minimise risk. The principal method is via research. If a campaign has 'passed' research, they feel it has a higher chance of being successful, i.e. should give them a higher than average return on investment. If a campaign is similar to things that have worked before, they again feel it has a higher chance of working. If an agency has done similar work before, a photographer or director has done similar work before, they will be more comfortable, because they will be 'reducing the risk' and therefore maximising their chance of a high return.

Both attitudes are so, so wrong.

For a more informed view, we need to learn something from the risk professionals - financial investors.

First of all, they are smart enough to realise that every investment carries risk. Indeed, they classify it. Low-risk investments include short-dated US Treasury Bonds - the chance of the United States going bankrupt within the next 30 or 60 days is tiny. A medium risk investment might be shares in a company like General Electric or Boeing. A high-risk investment could be loans to countries considered at risk of default, such as Greece and Argentina.

The difference with advertising is that financial investors understand that risk and reward are highly correlated. The low-risk 30-day US Treasury Bond delivers only a small return - just 0.03% annually, as of last Friday. Boeing's dividend yield is currently 2.45%, GE's is 3.7%. Whereas a higher-risk Greek government 10-year bond is currently yielding 12.7%, and Argentina 7.2%.

The more risk you are willing to take, the higher your potential reward. It's that simple.

And it's the same for every area of life. Asking a hottie out? High risk, high reward. Working for the civil service? Low risk, low reward.

If only we in advertising could understand this simple correlation. The Creatives arguing for high-risk as a 'form of safety' are idiots. High-risk work is high-risk. It's also potentially higher reward, of course. And the Clients demanding that their work be de-risked should not expect that it will also generate high returns. It won't.

Cadbury's drumming gorilla was high-risk (because very weird and unusual - it could have bombed) but when it worked, the rewards were high. A beer ad that just shows hops being farmed and droplets of water glistening on the bottle is low risk (it's not going to offend anybody) but will be low reward.

TLDR: an ad campaign that has a chance of earning a high return will also involve high risk. A low risk campaign can never earn a high return.



Let's Get Classical

Having the right music makes a huge difference to the success of a TV ad. Trouble is, it can come at a huge cost.

I reckon we're ignoring an infinite supply of amazing yet affordable music - classical.

Hit songs of the last 50 years certainly bring a lot to the party. First off, they're often great pieces of music - that's why they became hits.

And secondly, because people know what a well-known song is 'about', it can amplify the meaning of an ad. Examples: John Lewis 'Always A Woman', Chrysler 'Made In Detroit' (feat. Eminem).

Then there's the sheer fame factor too - recognition and memorability are important (and heavily tracked) aspects of an ad's success.

But these pluses come at a cost. Have you noticed how the price of concert tickets has shot through the roof? That's because artists aren't making what they used to from record sales. And I reckon the cost of music for ads has been another casualty.

A big track by a big artist can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000. It's not uncommon to be quoted six figures for some obscure 60's soul track nowadays. 

But there is an alternative.

I've just made a TV ad using classical music as the soundtrack, and it's made me realise what a relatively untapped resource we have here.

Classical music is a hell of a lot cheaper - it's out of copyright, so there's no cost for the publishing rights, also the recordings themselves are extremely cheap to acquire.

And because you have hundreds of years' worth of music to draw from, there will always be a piece - probably a famous piece - that will reflect the mood you want for your ad.

But won't it make my ad seem old-fashioned? I hear you ask. Well, that depends. Some classical music does seem very twee to our ears now. But some sounds more modern than most of today's pop music.

If somehow those arguments have failed to convince you of the merits of classical music, here's the clincher: Jonathan Glazer loves it.



How Long Does It Really Take To Crack A Brief?

We need to talk about time.

Self-evidently, we are being given less and less time to crack briefs nowadays.

And I doubt that's going to change.

So we're going to need to work quicker, smarter... all of that.

But also, I think we need to do a better job of explaining to everyone else the role that time plays in the creative process.

Because so far, we haven't explained it very well at all.

Most Planners, Suits and Clients still think that engaging a Creative is much like engaging a builder. They describe the job, and then ask how long we think it will take.

For the builder, that's easy. If he can place 1000 bricks a day, then he knows that a 5000-brick wall will take 5 days.

But the creative process doesn't work that way.

A creative team might have the job licked in a day. (Something the builder could never achieve).

On the other hand, they might work on it for a week, and not crack it. (Let's define 'crack it' as 'come up with a solution that the CD approves'). In other words they might do a whole week and get all their work rejected, ending up with absolutely nothing. Which would be the equivalent of the builder working for a week and failing to have a single brick in place at the end of it.

Surely this illustrates that to even ask us the question 'how long do you think will this take' is to misunderstand the nature of what we do.

But they're not going to stop asking. So a better answer to give them might be something that's phrased more in terms of 'confidence interval'.

I estimate that a typical team, given a typical brief, has a 20% chance of cracking it in a day. (Obviously a more senior or better-than-average team would have a higher chance, and a more difficult brief means a lower chance).

After three days, I reckon the chance of cracking the brief goes up to about 50%, and after five days (i.e. one week), I'd say the team has a two-in-three chance of cracking it.

I estimate that when given two weeks on a brief, the typical team has a 90% chance of cracking it. But from then on, the crack rate rises very slowly. If they haven't cracked it after two weeks, they probably never will.

So what do you think? Does this tally with your experience?Am I being too generous? Too stingy? Oh, and do you have any tips for working quicker and/or smarter...


1 Comment

Beyond Open Plan - American Agency Introduces 'Open Play'

US advertising agency Flair Loop, based in Madison, Wisconsin, has announced a radical re-vamp of how its creatives work together… and sit together.

As of April 1st, the shop has removed all desks and chairs from the creative department, and replaced them with thousands of brightly-coloured plastic balls to create a seating plan it calls ‘open play’.

“My kids love playing in those ball pits,” commented CEO Terry Friendly, explaining the rationale for the move. “So I’m sure our Creatives will too.”

Friendly denied that the purpose of the change is to cut costs. “Just as with the switch to open plan fifteen years ago, we’ll actually have the same number of Creatives in the same space, so quite evidently we’re not going ‘open play’ to save money."

"You have to bear in mind that although our product is creativity, for reasons that are too complicated to go into right now, only 20% of our staff are Creatives. This move shows that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make us a more creative company, short of actually hiring more Creatives."

“I feel it will be a big improvement,” said Account Manager Sally Dazzle. “At the moment, when I go talk to a Creative, I’m having a conversation with someone who knows how to create advertising whereas I don’t, so it’s not a level playing field. With the Creatives floundering in a sea of plastic balls, I will feel more at ease when I’m talking to them.”

However, Planning Director Steven Glasses, while applauding the innovation, cautioned that it should not be seen as a revolution in how the agency functions. “Let’s not forget that the average brief has to spend six weeks in Planning, to ensure we have incorporated every possible angle into the single-minded proposition, and every single suggestion from all the various clients involved. Only then does the brief spend a couple of days in the creative department for them to crack an idea. So the fact that the Creatives are now working in a giant ball pit is not going to make a huge difference to the quality of work that emerges.”

Art Director Matt Hair agreed that ‘open play’ would have little effect on his working habits. “When I’m in the office, I’m just looking at Facebook or watching YouTube anyway,” said Hair. “Everyone knows that creative thinking requires peace and quiet, so when we get a brief, my partner and I already have to go outside to a cafe, or find a park bench we can work on. I guess we’ll just carry on doing that.”

Link to full story here.

1 Comment


Can You Solve Any Problem By Asking One Simple Question?

The early lumber industry in Europe and North America would float logs along rivers to transport them to the sawmill. Masses of individual logs were driven downriver like huge herds of cattle.

But sometimes, the timber would stack up and cause a logjam.

Men called 'log drivers' were tasked with unblocking the jam. Interestingly, they soon learned that there was often a 'key log', whose removal would free up the entire logjam. Thus their goal became to locate and remove this key log.

Similarly, progress on an advertising project often grinds to a halt. (There are disagreements, there is lack of clarity, there is confusion about goals, or methods, or strategy. Whatever the reason, the project or meeting has stalled).

I often find myself wondering what the key log in an advertising logjam is, and how it can be located.

If a log driver can clear a logjam by locating a single log, and prodding it with a peavey hook, the advertising practitioner - I believe - ought to be able to identify the source of a an advertising logjam by asking a single question.

But what is that question?

One of the best is a question I picked up from a smart Client of mine, who one day when a meeting had run aground in a morass of confusion, simply asked: "What problem are we trying to solve here?"

Another good one, best used when everyone disagrees on what to do, is to ask: "What is the most interesting aspect of this brief?"

If you have a sharp question that you've found helps resolve situations, please share it in the comments below...



A Few Of Jeremy Craigen's Greatest Unawarded Achievements

I've been wanting to write something about my former boss, DDB legend Jeremy Craigen (left).

But when top London ad director Ed Morris (right) penned this brilliant and heartfelt piece about Jez on Facebook, I asked him if he'd let me reproduce it.

Ed writes: 

It's Jeremy Craigen's leaving drinks next week. He deserves a drink alright and here's why:

1. He lived through globalisation. Agencies got bought by global holding companies and we all started having to write ads with no words in, or lip-sync 20 different versions for "all markets". If you weren't happy to be global you got kicked out quick. All accounts were centralised and run by extremely political "account barons." D&AD faded and Cannes rose. The Gunn report had the final word. It was a tough time for writers; art directors fared well. Everyone wanted big pictures that traversed all culture and language barriers. English creativity lost all of its nuance and tone. Press advertising died. It was a tough time for Creatives, with nothing but change, disruption and suddenly having to present your work in Spanish.

2. As Creative Director he survived the Antipodean invasion. Most forget this moment, it lasted a couple of years or so. It was when it became instantly fashionable for a management team to kick out the UK Creative Director in favour of someone no one had ever heard of from somewhere no one had ever heard of. It was a tough time to survive. Most of these new Creative Directors were shit to be honest, and ruined creative output and culture within agencies all over London. If you were a Creative Director through that time you had to be fucking good to survive it. Management teams everywhere were making big stupid hires. Many great UK Creative Directors were kicked into oblivion throughout this time.

3. He lived through and survived merger mania. This came throughout the late 90's and early 00's with the slow post 80's downfall in revenue. If your agency wasn't making enough money you merged with one that was. Or you did it anyway just to get bigger. Initially successful on paper, these rash moves ruined agency cultures and ripped creative departments apart. Agencies (like the one I was at - Lowe) eventually suffered badly for it. Jeremy survived merger mania. A tough time. I remember being at BST and it merging with GGT which then merged with TBWA all in the space of 5 months. It was a ridiculously unsettling and insecure time. Can you imagine keeping the work good through that shit?

4. He lived through and survived The Digital Revolution. It was a revolution for the world, but a living nightmare for anyone that got labeled as a "Traditional CD", or just anyone with a very good TV reel. This was very tough. There wasn't a day for anyone in high creative office when you weren't under threat of losing your job to a supposedly "Digitally Savvy Creative Director" most of whom (back then) just turned out to be shit really. Again though, massively stressful and turbulent time. I remember having to DEFEND myself to management for having "the best reel in London" at this time. Ridiculous, and the industry was critical and quick to blame and accuse. 

Overall and throughout, Jeremy Craigen managed to bring consistency to his output and his agency against the odds, and through probably the most inconsistent time in the business that has ever been.

People forget about it, kids say it was easier back then, they're talking shit. It was tough, it took a creative genius just to hold on to your job, let alone make the work great. I rode those tough moments, not as well as Jeremy, but enough to know how hard it was and appreciate what he did.

Well said Ed. 



Make Videos Or Die

With SXSW here again, it's an appropriate time for us to take a moment and ponder what the future of our business might be.

Okay, stop. The answer is so obvious I'm surprised it even took you that long.

The future of our business is video.

When people use the word 'Content', what do they mean? Videos.

What are consumers doing on Facebook nowadays? Watching videos (hey, it helps that they just play without me even having to click on them!)

What's the world's Number 3 website, after Google and Facebook? YouTube. Where people go to watch videos.

And guess what? People are still watching a hell of a lot of TV, aka moving pictures, aka videos.

Please note, I'm not decrying the innovative/tech stuff that comes out of SXSW. Like this Tinder idea where a woman who may or may not be a robot starts talking to you, and it's actually a promotion for a new sci-fi movie. I'm just placing my own bet on which tech trend is going to have the most profound effect on our industry. And I'm betting screen-agnostic video.

So far so good - agencies have a long history of producing moving pictures. But the problem is, our expertise is in making expensive videos, infrequently, whereas the big demand from brands today is to make inexpensive videos, more frequently.

We need to grow this expertise and we need to grow it quickly.

BBH is often ahead of the game - they've just set up Black Sheep Studios to do this.

I see more and more agencies doing something similar. Good. I do believe, as I wrote in the title of this piece, that we need to start making videos or die. Well, 'die' is a strong word. But we'll definitely wither, if we lose this huge slice of work to other providers.

The effect on us Creatives could be massively positive - it's an opportunity to start doing a new job, that will genuinely be super-fun.

Here's what I mean - these videos need to be cheaper, so we need to mash some of the existing roles together. The two basic skill-sets are 'being creative' and 'getting shit done'. So I see one role that is a combined Creative/Director/Editor and another role that is a combined Producer/Account Handler. Two roles.

So your new work day could involve thinking up ideas, shooting them yourself, and then editing them.

If that became my job, I think I'd quite like it.

Would you?



Living The Dream Is Actually Shit

There's a perception that advertising Creatives would really rather be doing something else.

That we are people who failed at writing novels or screenplays, or didn't have the stomach to pursue the uncertainties of life as an artist.

That a career in advertising is a creative compromise.

It's certainly true that, back in the day, every Creative was writing a novel. Then it was screenplays. Now I hear of quite a few Creatives developing apps or games.

But I get the sense it's happening less.

Even though advertising's glamour rating has been on the slide since about 1987, I get the impression we're all more dedicated to it.

Am I right?

Or are you still hankering for something else? If so, what? Let us know, in the poll below.

What Is Your Dream Job?

Ad Creative
None of the abvoe
Poll Maker
P.S. I have what I think is good news. My own alternative occupation was always 'Writer'. But when I did actually have six months off and wrote a book, I didn't really enjoy the experience.

I was sitting at home (well, mostly lying in bed) writing all day. And it was just a bit, well... lonely. Sure, you can go out to a cafe, but you're still not interacting with people.

If you're someone that loves the stimulation of agency life, as I do, you may find that 'living the dream' is actually shit, as I did.

The fact is, many creative professions are solitary. Artists, writers, composers, actors (when not working), directors (when not working), and musicians (when not working) are all just sitting at home on their own.

If you're the sort of person that craves solitude, then it's fine. But most people who work in ad agencies are not that sort of person.

So would you really rather be doing your dream job, or are you happy doing what you're doing?


1 Comment

How Big Should The Packshot Be?

Disputes about the size of a logo are the most tedious conversations you can possibly have. Personally I'm glad when a brand has a fixed rule about logo size; it eliminates the debate.

But no one seems to have a fixed rule about packshots.

The general principle at many companies seems to be 'just make it as big as possible'.

In the above ad, you can almost hear the Client cursing the limitations of the media space, for unfairly constraining the size at which his product can be displayed.

Of course, some find a clever way around that.

Well, at least it wasn't horizontal.

Actually there's a surprising degree of variation in pack sizes. Apple packshots, for example, vary from subtle sizes like this:

 To whoppers like this:

This is the smallest packshot I've ever seen. Lovely ad, for Peugeot 106. Apologies for poor scan quality.

This one I reckon is the biggest. It's an Armani ad from 1983. Shame about those little bits of black space around the shoulders of the bottle. Otherwise it would have been perfect!

In terms of what the ideal packshot size is, I honestly don't think it's that hard to work out. The principles are the same as with any art direction (*disclaimer: I'm not an art director).

You simply need to have a clear vision of the order in which you want a consumer to view the different elements of your ad.

In the example below, it was obviously felt that consumers should see LeBron James first, since he's been made the biggest element. (Correct decision, I'd say. It's LeBron that is going to hook people in).

Next, the art director wanted people to read the headline. So that's the second biggest element. Then the shoes (third biggest) and finally the tagline.

Art directors: is this what you actually do, or am I just making it up? 

1 Comment


Forget 'Is It An Art Or A Science' - Is Advertising Actually More Like A Religion?

The quickest way to ruin a meeting, it's been said, is to ask everyone around the table how they think advertising works.

Because no two individuals would agree.

And frankly, this is an embarrassment.

Can you imagine plumbers sitting around, arguing about 'how plumbing works'? Lawyers may disagree on the facts of a case, but they all have a very clear understanding of what the law is. Knife-makers agree how knives work. And bakers all know how bread is made.

Almost unbelievably, some of our theories directly contradict each other. For example, some argue it is essential that advertising has impact - if you don't 'cut through the clutter', your message won't be heard. But others argue that the brain works mostly by Low Involvement Processing - we process marketing messages at least as much when we are paying little attention to them as we do when we consciously take them on board, so cut-through is irrelevant.

I was intrigued, therefore, as to whether 'the answer' would appear in the book that uber-strategist Paul Feldwick has just published called 'The Anatomy of Humbug'.

It's billed as "a book that isn't about how advertising works, but about how people think advertising works."

My copy hasn't arrived yet, but I have to say that the interviews Mr Feldwick has done to promote the book - while fascinating - have left me seriously depressed.

I suppose I've long cleaved to the hope that although we may disagree right now about how advertising works, there will be an answer 'one day'.

Mr Feldwick seems to imply not.

While according to one reviewer "he sidles very close to answering the fundamental question" he eventually concludes "there isn't an answer" and admits that "the book supports multiple points of view."

Most worryingly of all, he talks about the need to 'respect other people's beliefs'.

And that, my friends, is not the language of science, or of art... but of religion.



Was Oreo's Super Bowl Tweet A Waste Of Time?


If you follow the social media scepticism of Bob Hoffman over at The Ad Contrarian, you might want to watch the above video.

But if you haven't got time to watch it, here are the highlights:

Mark Ritson, an English guy who is professor of marketing at Melbourne Business School, calculates that the famous Oreo Super Bowl tweet ("You can still dunk in the dark") - which according to one online publication "won the Super Bowl" - was in fact seen by only 64,300 people. Compared with the over 100 million who saw the TV ads.

Next point. For most big brands, only 2-3% of their customers have liked them on Facebook. "If social media is supposed to be a conversation, it's a bloody quiet conversation," says Ritson. "97.5% of their customers aren't listening."

He cites the case of Australian bank NAB, who have six people in their social media team, but in the previous week, only 276 people had engaged with the brand via Facebook. Out of a total customer base of 12 million. When properly rounded, that's an engagement rate of 0%.

Those are the facts. So what do we do about them?

This is where I part company with Ritson.

He reckons brands "aren't welcome" on social media, and that for most marketers, "social media is mostly a waste of time." He suggests the NAB social media team switch to other duties.

I don't see it the same way.

What if the early television advertisers had been told that people wanted to watch the programmes, not ads, and that they should give up?

Let's say that a brand's current Facebook strategy is not working. The solution is not to quit. The correct response is to find a way to make it work.

Globally, Facebook has 1.35 billion monthly active users. And Twitter has 284 million.


Get on it, people.



Do Ideas Have Different 'Shapes'?

This is one of my favourite ads of all time. It was created by Ben Nott and Adam Hunt at Saatchi & Saatchi London.

(Incidentally, Adam now runs an Asian tapas restaurant in Bondi called Mamasan; it's great and you should totally go there if you're in the neighbourhood. But I digress).

One of the interesting features of the ad is that it has a very distinct 'shape'.

The first three-quarters of the message, while somewhat visually engaging, and somewhat semantically intriguing, are basically pretty straight. The payoff - and what a payoff it is - comes at the end.

So you might say that the 'shape' of the ad is something like this:

(I haven't marked them, but I'm hoping it's clear that the x axis represents Time, and the y axis Reward for the Viewer).

It's very hard to imagine this idea being structured any differently. The first three-quarters has to be quite dry and scientific, and the payoff (as with many jokes) has to come at the end.

So does that mean the idea is intrinsically that shape?

Let's look at another one. The famous Sony 'Balls' ad is kinda entertaining all the way through. There's not really a boring intro part, or a boring 'product bit' at the end, and there's no particular climax at any point either. Something like this?  

Then there's a type of ad I like to call the 'Stepper'. This year's Snickers Super Bowl ad works like that. There's entertainment from the beginning, and it just keeps ramping up, with each gag topping the last.

Sometimes there is information that you just have to get across. The 'Climate Name Change' social idea by agency Barton F. Graf 9000 starts out with a lot of serious factology, before unleashing the humour of its central conceit. And once again, I'd argue that this is the only way this idea can work. Giving a shape something like this:

Finally, there's a type of idea that works almost the opposite to that. Entertainment first, and then product message. Example: Little Caesars 'Arm Cast'.

Personally, I reckon that no one shape of idea is actually better than any other. Success comes from recognising what shape your idea is, and executing it in that style.

But what do you think? Any validity to my shape theory? And do you have a favourite shape, or is there one that you hate?



Death, Destruction, and Negativity: Why This Year's Super Bowl Ads Are So Good

It seems like what was once a daring media strategy - to release your Super Bowl ad before the Super Bowl actually airs - has become the new normal.

So I've seen most of this year's ads already.

It's a good crop - big spectacle, big emotion.

And I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the best ones show death, destruction and negativity. 

For example, in this great ad - I won't reveal the brand name, because spoilers - catastrophe strikes the entire planet.

This year's Budweiser 'dog and horse' epic - albeit not as good as last year's - contains a scene in which the pup is menaced by a drooling wolf.

In the GrubHub ad, a flying burrito smacks people in the face. Fairly comical, but also undeniably violent.

Even in the Bud Light ad - which basically consists of a guy whooping and hollering like he's just won a car in a game show - there is a moment where he (metaphorically) dies.

I've written before about the power of negative thinking, so I don't want to repeat myself.

Suffice to say that judicious use of negativity helps give a brand depth and relatability, as well as providing a great springboard for engaging creative.

In other words, it's the difference between this...

...and this.




Dear Introverts: You're Shit-Out-Of-Luck, Aren't You?

I love that quote; it's flattering to us ad types, isn't it?

But recently I've been wondering whether it has an unwanted flip-side.

I know a ton of advertising creatives, and I agree with Banksy that the vast majority of us are bright, creative and ambitious. And that's good.

But are we too much of a type? Are we failing to attract the "slow and self-obsessed" who could make a valuable contribution, but are put off by... something?

There's quite a lot going on in Banksy's quote, but I guess part of it is about people who think quick and shallow versus people who think deep and slow.

We mostly get the former. An advertising agency is a tyranny of quick-wittedness. Nearly all the people at the top are the quick-witted type. But do they sometimes get there at the expense of others who might be better than them, but just have a different personality? 

I suspect Banksy is also making an observation about a personality difference that is horribly over-simplified, but which at least has the advantage of being well-known and easily understandable: introverts and extroverts.

You'd have to agree that the vast majority of people in advertising are extroverts.

Our industry prizes those who are energetic, articulate, confident, and sociable. And I'm not just talking about Account Handlers, but Creatives too. Especially if you're to reach CD level, you nowadays simply have to be energetic, articulate, confident etc.

I worry this is a problem. We might be discarding, or at least failing to properly promote, some fantastically talented Creatives just because they don't slap people on the back, or crack jokes.

There's a best-selling book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which makes the point that most modern institutions are geared toward extroversion, which means introverts are underrated, under-used and even demonised.

And nowhere is the issue more acute - I'd guess - than in ad agencies.

So come on, introverts, let's hear from you. Anonymously, obviously. Do you find it difficult, being an introvert in advertising? Do you think extroverts have an unfair advantage? And do you ever take your headphones off?



A Book About Poison Gas

I have a book out and it would be remiss of me - as an ad guy - not to plug my own product.

So I will.

100 Ideas That Changed Advertising is really a history book, charting the development of advertising from the earliest posters (perfectly preserved advertising messages have been found on the walls of Pompeii) to today's online media behemoths like Facebook and YouTube.

I took history A-Level at school, I enjoy history, and I believe we can learn a lot from it.

So what can we learn from the history of advertising?

The main thing I learned, in writing it, is that the history of advertising is a history of innovation - not only that, but of remarkably rapid innovation.

For example, the first cinema in the United States - Vitascope Hall, in New Orleans - opened in 1896. Filmed ads were being produced as early as 1897.

The first commercially licensed radio station in America went on air in 1920. In 1922, the first radio advertising was broadcast.

Twitter launched in 2006, and by 2010 was running advertising.

There are a couple of useful take-aways, I'd suggest, from this trend.

First, don't be afraid to innovate.

In 1921, a group of investors declined to put money into radio, notoriously predicting that “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” Right.

When the first TV ad aired, on July 1st 1941, there were only 7,500 TV sets in New York City. The ad was for Bulova watches and showed a watch-face superimposed over a map of the U.S., while a voiceover claimed that “America runs on Bulova time.” The whole medium must have seemed incredibly shonky, compared to the sophistication of print advertising at that time. People must have wondered if it would ever take off. Well, it did.
Similarly, people questioned whether YouTube would ever make money from advertising, since few believed there would ever be a wide audience for videos of other people's cats. I know.

So what's today's frontier? Mobile? Probably. Don't be afraid to go there. 

As I worked through the chronology of our industry to write the book, I started to feel that advertising is like a gas; it seeps in everywhere. Whatever new medium is invented that captures a modicum of human attention, someone will find a way to put an ad there.

And that led to my second take-away. In contrast to the ever-evolving media and technology landscape, there is one thing that hasn't changed, and will never change - the nature of our responsibilities, as advocates for the brands who buy this space.

Another gas metaphor captures it with pungent brilliance. It was American ad-man George Lois who said of successful advertising: "I think advertising should be like poison gas. It should grip you by the throat, it should bowl you over, it should knock you on your ass.” 



Is Advertising Really A Business, Or Is It Actually Just A Giant Game?

This is the time of year when the predictions for the future of advertising are published.

Words like integration, big data, and real-time marketing are bandied about, and it all sounds horribly serious.

Yes, advertising is a business - a serious and important one, with high stakes.

But to do it well, we may actually be better off treating it as a game.

As evidence, I'm citing a sci-fi novel called Time Out Of Joint by Philip K. Dick.

The protagonist of this tale is highly skilled at an extremely serious activity - predicting where Lunar rebels will target missile attacks.

But the authorities use drugs and a stage-set to convince him that he is living in suburban America in 1959, a cosy existence where his only job is to enter a local newspaper competition called "Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?"... which in reality, is predicting the missile strikes.

The key point for our purposes is that the protagonist is more effective at a serious job when he treats it as a game.

I firmly believe it's the same for ad Creatives.

My heart always sinks when the suits come in and explain that this is a really important project, and we mustn't screw it up. Or if the Client gives a speech about "how much is riding on this."

That kind of talk stifles creative people.

Because ironically, serious business success (in a creative business) is best achieved by treating it as a game.

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct," said Carl Jung.

I love that.
Oh, by the way, I have a book out.

It's called 100 Ideas That Changed Advertising. Available in Australia, the UK, USA, and no doubt other countries that have internet or bookshops. Call to action: buy it now!