Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Your Perspective Is Wrong

I call it the Inside/Outside problem.

I first heard about this in relation to Hollywood. Apparently in LA, the most common talk among screenwriters is about how it's nearly impossible to sell a script nowadays. That's all the screenwriters do, all day long - sit around and bitch about how none of the producers are buying.

Meanwhile, what are the producers doing? Sitting around bitching about how it's impossible to find decent material.

I think the same problem applies throughout advertising too.

For example, when you're a young Creative, outside the industry but trying to get in, your perspective is roughly: "Oh my God, there are so many people trying to get in, and so few openings, it's impossible to get a job!"

But when you're a Creative Director, inside the industry looking out, your perspective is roughly: "Oh my God, there are so few talented young Creatives out there, it's impossible to find a good one!"

Similarly for becoming a CD. You're sitting there thinking how hard it is to get a CD job. Meanwhile, the CEO's are all bemoaning how hard it is to find a great CD.

I don't know what the answer is, folks.

I'm just bringing you the problem.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is It Better For Advertising To Be Relatable, Or Aspirational?

Like a planet caught between two suns, advertising is constantly being pulled in two different directions.

On the one hand, we're asked to make our work relatable.

And on the other, aspirational.

Relatable means 'I look at the person in the ad, and I see myself.' 

When this is done well, it triggers that notorious smile of recognition. You feel the brand understands you, and is on your side.

Here's an example where it's been done well. Every one of us can surely relate to one or more of these bank customers.

Aspirational is different. In aspirational advertising, it's not you in the ad, but someone better-looking than you. Perhaps someone famous. Someone you wish you were.

When this works well, it creates a shiny halo of desirability around the product. You make it seem more exciting, more valuable. By association.

Here's a Foot Locker spot in that vein.

So what's better - relatable advertising, or aspirational advertising?

Aha. Trick question. Plainly, either can work well.

In fact, my theory is that each needs a dash of the other, to succeed.

When aspirational advertising fails, it's normally because it doesn't have a shred of relatability.

In these cases, the results can be excruciating. Ferrero Rocher's Ambassador's Party ad, for example, delivered nothing but cheese.

Whereas in the Foot Locker ad above, the script is delivered by legends of basketball, and yet it's also relatable - we've all been given bad advice by some guy at a party.

Similarly, relatable advertising falls flat when it tries for nothing else, when it does nothing more than hold a mirror up to the target. ("As a busy Mum, I...")

With nothing aspirational - no glamour, twist or entertainment to focus on - the consumer has nothing left to do but pick holes in the self-portrait being presented to them. That's not me. And now I feel patronised! 

Feels like I'm coming down on the fence, but hey, that's what I think. That both aspiration and relatability can blow up in your face, if you don't season each with a pinch of the other.

What about you. Ever had a Client who was obsessed with making an ad aspirational, or relatable? What happened? 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You A Perfectionist?

One of the most enduring stereotypes about the creative person is that we're perfectionists.

Screenwriters do endless drafts, poets agonise over finding exactly the right word, and Art Directors re-touch the shit out of their ads until they're perfect.

Nearly every creative guru advises us to be obsessive; all the greats are described as perfectionists - David Abbott, John Hegarty, Paul Arden, everyone.

Paul Arden's obituary in The Independent recounts that he "was such a perfectionist that he was often maddeningly over budget, insisting that the smallest details be perfect, such as searching for a certain pair of wildly expensive spectacles to achieve just the right look on a face that would be seen only in passing in a TV spot."

But on the other hand, a completely opposite notion is becoming commonplace nowadays - "fail faster." It's come largely from the world of tech and digital, and the thinking is that it's better to put something out there that's imperfect, and then learn from it.

Instead of spending days crafting the perfect headline for a digital display piece, you can run the same ad with five different headlines, learn which one is most effective, and then go with that one.

There's also an awareness that perfectionism may not be efficient. Getting a piece of work from 95% perfect to 100% perfect probably takes as much time as getting it from 50% to 95% does. By that argument, perfectionism doesn't make you good, it just makes you slow.

And rather than a desire for high standards, perfectionism may simply be a symptom of neuroticism. (The top answer when I typed 'perfectionism' into Google was for a psychotherapy resource called The Centre for Clinical Interventions, a place where you can "learn to pursue healthy high standards rather than unrelenting high standards that negatively impact your life.")

I've always been the person that spends hours making sure I dot every i and cross every t. But perhaps with today's super-tight deadlines it's more important to be fast than perfect. What do you think?

Monday, August 04, 2014

What Sherlock Holmes Can Teach Us About Advertising

The BBC series Sherlock Holmes is mega-popular.

No surprise. We like stories about people who are weird and smart.

And although Holmes is mostly a deductive, logical thinker...he could also make stunningly lateral leaps.

So what lessons does he have, for us creative types?

That's the subject (at least partly) of a book called "How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: Lessons in Mindfulness and Creativity from the Great Detective", by American science writer Maria Konnikova.

Great idea, although judging by the Amazon reviews, the book itself isn't that hot.

So without recommending you buy it, I've taken the trouble of gutting it for you.

Here's three tips.

1. Look carefully at the facts

It's very tempting when you get a case brief to dive straight in, and attempt to come up with solutions.

This is a mistake. I'm amazed at how many creatives, when they get a brief, don't even look at the company's website.

You should.

“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces,” says Holmes, in The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot.
So get all the facts first.

But remember that "Observation with a capital O" (as Holmes calls it) is "not just about the passive process of letting objects enter into your visual field. It is about knowing what and how to observe and directing your attention accordingly: what details do you focus on? What details do you omit?"

Deciding which aspects of the brief to focus on, and which to ignore, is crucial.

Look for relationships between the facts (this is very like police work).

Indeed James Webb Young in his famous A Technique For Producing Ideas praises "the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts.” 

2.  Focus and Distance

As a Creative, your success depends on coming up with original creative ideas. And as you well know, these type of ideas only come when you are in a particular state of mind.

That state of mind varies for different people. But I doubt anyone achieves it in an open-plan office.

(You won't find any books on creativity that advise you to enter a noisy space, with constant distractions).

So when you're working, get out of the office. Or find a room where you can shut the door.

Holmes and Watson discussed cases in their sitting room. Constantly. Quietly. Together. Are you and your partner doing that?

Another secret of working on briefs is to keep going into it and away from it.

Great quote from the Konnikova book:
"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will."

So follow tangents, but keep coming back.

Finally, when you've worked on a problem for a while, don't forget to step away, and let your unconscious go to work on it.

Holmes played the violin in his study, for hours on end.

And in The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, Watson observes: "One of the most remarkable characteristics of Sherlock Holmes was his power of throwing his brain out of action and switching all his thoughts on to lighter things whenever he had convinced himself that he could no longer work to advantage. I remember that during the whole of that memorable day he lost himself in a monograph which he had undertaken upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus."

"Observation and deduction are two separate, distinct steps — in fact, they don’t even come one right after the other" (this is from Konnikova).

To truly crack a brief, you have to "transcend the immediate moment in your mind."

3.  Know Your Field

Sherlock Holmes, as well as being a talented detective, was a highly dedicated one. He had a passion for his field, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it.

Upon visiting one murder scene, with an Inspector Gregson, Holmes remarks:

“It reminds me of the circumstances attendant on the death of Van Jansen, in Utrecht, in the year ’34. Do you remember the case, Gregson?”
Gregson confesses that he does not.

“Read it up - you really should,” offers Holmes. “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.”

I feel that not many people in our industry nowadays are aware of what has been done before. But you really should be. So do take the time to look at old stuff, via the annuals, or websites. Not to copy them, exactly, but to know the kind of thing that works.

If you don't, you're starting each case completely from scratch.