Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Ten Christmas Party Tips

The Christmas party season is upon us.

Here are my Top Ten Christmas Party Tips, some of which may help you survive yours.

If you already had your Christmas party, and died... then I'm sorry.

1.  Planning on wearing fancy dress? Then this is the guy to beat. R/GA Christmas party, 2012, NYC.

2. Don't follow the Christmas bash tips of Melbourne agency BGM, listed here, unless you want your party to be utterly lame. They include: "PC rules still apply – Politics, sex, toilet humour, religion, women, races are off limits." (Women are off limits?) And "Dress appropriately and make an impression for the right reasons. Jedi outfit to remain at home." Why does the Jedi outfit have to remain at home, BGM? Perhaps because the highlight of their 2009 bash was "a guy with a mullet wig."

3. What happens when you give every agency in the world, the same brief? This. If you should happen to get the brief, my tip is to be extremely rude. Like this.

4. Do you work at 2Day FM, the pranking radio station? You are off the hook. Your Christmas party this year has been cancelled.

5. Fun card, though I don't like the sexist way that it's the men exchanging the women. I guess they're satirising the fact that ad execs were all men in those days.

6.  Prepare to be asked “What are you doing for Christmas?” by anybody you happen to stand near for long enough. Resist the temptation to tell them you’ll be trying to avoid meaningless conversations.

7. If you cop off with someone, everyone will know about it the next day. That's right. Everyone.

8. If you start ranting about a co-worker, be aware that this person will be standing directly behind you.

9. It's normally better to throw up in a bin than a toilet.

10. Don't corner your boss and tell him: "What this company needs to start doing differently is..." He will have come wearing a chest protector. And maybe earplugs.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

In Praise Of Prank Calls

Obviously I don't mean last week's call by 2DayFM DJ's Mel Greig and Michael Christian, which ended in tragedy

For me, the genre works best (and occupies a higher moral ground) when the victim is an authority figure, or at least makes some claim to authority, as in the example below of a prank call to a TV psychic.

That caller - Robin Cooper - is the alter ego of British comedian Robert Popper, who as well as his involvement in hit shows such as Peep Show and The Inbetweeners, is a seriously talented wind-up merchant. More Robin Cooper prank calls here.

Given their high humour potential, it's perhaps surprising that prank calls aren't used more often for advertising purposes. Probably something to do with the difficulty of getting clients to sign-off an unscripted script. 

But here's one fine example, for McDonald's, from 2009.
This campaign, for Apple Tango, dates from 1995, and it takes the biscuit. If you haven't heard it, you're in for a treat.

After last week's events, I doubt we'll be seeing too many prank call-based ad campaigns in the near future. Which is a shame really, because when they come off, it's a very disarming technique.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Has Advertising Turned Into Candid Camera?

Candid Camera was an American TV show that began in 1948.

Its creator, Allen Funt, had worked as a research assistant to influential social psychologist Kurt Lewin, and many of the show's sketches reflected Funt's interest in psychology.

For example, the famous 'Elevator Conformity' scene demonstrates the psychological principle of 'social proof'.

Funt's idea has since been copied many times, but usually without the same psychological depth, and played purely for comedy; notable examples include Trigger Happy TV and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.

Sometimes, it's unsettling. 'Ghost in the Elevator', from a Brazilian TV show, was doing the rounds of the internet just last week.

Occasionally, the format has been put to serious purpose. In this Egyptian candid camera show, actors playing talk show hosts pretended to be Jewish, and got attacked by their guests.

And very often, especially in recent years, Funt's idea has been used as the basis for ads.

LOTS of ads.

One agency alone - Duval Guillaume in Antwerp, Belgium -  seems to be responsible for many of the most famous examples, such as 'Unlock the 007 in you' for Coke Zero (9 million YouTube views), 'Amazing Mind Reader' for (6 million views), and 'Push To Add Drama' for TNT (39 million views).

Last week, saw the release of the newest installment in the genre - 'Music in the Corner Shop' for Red Stripe, made by KK Outlet, the London branch of Dutch agency KesselsKramer.

The release of this latest exemplar has prompted the usual two questions:

1) Aren't we sick of this kind of ad now?


2) Is it fake?

Personally, I don't like the Red Stripe ad, because I think it's cheesy. And yet, much as I love original stuff and don't like tired stuff, I wouldn't say I'm sick of the genre as a whole yet. Since it's a form that's inherently based on surprise, it's quite easy for each new execution to still be surprising, even if the form as a whole is not.

The question of whether it's fake is a debate which is simmering (if not actually raging) at places like Ben's blog.

My own view is that the reactions are real. If the piece feels fake to some, it's because the reactions we see are so conveniently what the film-makers were looking for. The reason for this is that they have simply edited out the reactions that displeased them.

But Allen Funt himself was apparently a ferocious editor. Only a small portion of the public reactions to his stunts -  those that reflected the perfect combination of dismay, confusion and surprise – were broadcast. Funt left the openly-suspicious, and those who spoiled the joke by guessing it too early, on the cutting room floor.

He heightened the humour, with a little judicious editing. And I think we can forgive that, can't we?

Exclude that one piece of artifice, and what we are left with, whether in an ad or a TV show, is a creative examination of the disruption or violation of rules, people’s real and spontaneous reactions, and - sometimes - surprising insights into human behaviour. All worthwhile stuff, I reckon.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Do You Like Flying?

In my new job, it looks like I am going to be flying quite a bit. From Sydney to Melbourne. This is good because I really like Melbourne, although I'm less keen on airport coffee, putting my laptop in a grey plastic tray, and having to take my belt off in a public place.

But Australia is a flying country. There are two main advertising centres - Sydney and Melbourne - and so people fly regularly between the two. 
America is also a flying country.

If you work in advertising over there, you will fly nearly all the time. Sometimes excessively. I know someone who works at Crispin Porter in Boulder. They fly regularly to meetings with a client in Seattle. Recently they shot a TV ad for this client, which involved flying to New York. But then the job was edited in LA. And for the sound, obviously, they flew to San Francisco. Before flying back to Boulder.

France, however, is a non-flying country. Every single ad agency is in Paris. If you go to a client meeting, it's a 20-minute taxi ride. Shoots? The studios and sound studios are in Paris too.

The UK is another non-flying country. Like France, nearly all the ad agencies are in the capital. And so are many of the clients. Exception - for 9 months of the year, location-based shoots have to be shot abroad, since the weather's unreliable, and the world-as-depicted-in-TV-ads requires smiley happy weather.

What's it like in Brazil? Germany I know has several centres, but for some reason I imagine people might take the train between them.

And what's your experience of work-flying?

I actually suspect flying is probably conducive to creativity, in that you're out of the office for a while, out of your normal environment, and can't use the internet.

Does it help you? Or do you hate it... and have you got any tips for your ol' buddy Scamp?

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Myth That 'It Helps To Have Contacts'

Young creatives are always worrying about how they can 'get in front of' an ECD.

If only they had 'a contact' at Droga5, or 'knew someone' at Saatchi & Saatchi, they could get in there, and get a job.

They view the agency world as some kind of closed society, which if only they could become a member of, they would be set.

This thinking is wrong, and could lead to a dangerous lack of focus on what's really important - doing great work.

I say this even though part of what helped me get an interview for my new job (one week in - and loving it) was a recommendation from a well-known figure in the agency world. But the reason he recommended me was that he liked the work I had done when I spent some time in his agency.

The first job I ever got was via a headhunter calling in books on behalf of a young art director looking for a writer at Saatchi's in London. I didn't know anyone there. My second job, at a small 'youth-focused' agency, was actually advertised in Campaign. The ad read: 'Wanted: Creative Team. No Wankers.' Admittedly, that should have been a warning sign. But nevertheless, the job didn't come through contacts. Next job, at Ogilvy, was again via headhunters collecting books for a CD. Next job, at DDB London, came after my partner and I won something called the Cannes Young Creatives competition, where we represented the UK (failing miserably) at Cannes. One of the judges was the ECD of DDB, and he liked our work. Thereafter, we started winning a few awards and so any job offers came via people knowing our work.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, everything came via doing work that people liked, and not by contacts. 

There's an analogous situation in Hollywood. There, young writers are always trying to get an agent, believing that if only they could get in front of one, their career would take off. But agents themselves have an amusing piece of advice for young writers. The advice is: First, write a great screenplay. Then, dig a hole in your garden, bury the screenplay in the hole, and go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, there will be thirty agents waiting outside your house.

In other words, it's all about doing great work.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I've Been Snared

Thieves are 'nabbed',  football managers are 'installed', and I (according to the mighty Campaign Brief) have been snared, to be the new Head of Ideas at Naked.

Here's their article.

I know I look pretty grim in the photo - always had a terrible photo-face - but in actual fact I am feeling very, very excited.

Naked has been doing cool work recently, such as Speed Kills and Steal Banksy.

The place is packed with super-smart people.

And the culture is very forward-thinking, very collaborative.

Heck, saying I'm excited is an understatement. The best way I can put it is that I feel like I did when I first got into advertising. That there's huge potential to do exciting creative stuff. And that it's going to be fun.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

God Is Now Advertising. Can He Be Stopped?

Churches have always made use of their signage to broadcast simple pro-superstition messages.

But I've noticed a worrying new trend - they're now actually trying to write proper ads. Here are some recent examples I've seen around town: 

It kind of offends me that they're using modern advertising imagery and language - albeit poorly - to push this two-thousand-year-old nonsense.

So I'm planning to strike back.

My idea is to use their own media against them. I'm going to print up a few posters, and stick them up over church signs in my area. 

N.B. these aren't the final layouts, they're just rough scamps, but I do think they should be all-type like this, since that style is probably still better known than the newer stuff.

So what do you think? Which execution(s) should I go with?

(If you don't rate any of them, suggest your own). 


Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Map Of The Advertising World

Have you ever seen one of those altered maps known as a 'cartogram'?

Here's one:
Map of the world with each country sized according to
its GDP, rather than actual land area.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have a fondness for maps, charts, and statistics. If that makes me a geek, well... um... it's cool to be a geek nowadays, no?

Anyway, I was mucking about with a freeware image editing program called Gimp last night, and decided to use it to create an advertising cartogram.

If you are an advertising creative, this is what the world really looks like, folks:

Map of the world with each country sized according to
its 2012 Cannes Lions per head of population.

I think the result is pretty interesting.

Reading the map from left to right, or west to east as I should probably say, we see that North America has atrophied. The USA came 1st in the Cannes Lions league table, but it has 315 million people, which on a Lions per capita basis puts it roughly on a par with Mexico and Canada (12th and 15th in the table). 

South America has shrivelled too. Argentina is recognisable, with 32 Lions and 40 million people, but Brazil and Colombia don't fare so well.

Moving on to Europe, we see that the centre of the 'old continent' is dominated by the mighty Belgium. With 32 Lions for only 10.8 million people, this fine effort from the new home of Candid Camera-style viral videos has reduced its neighbours France and Spain to mere appendages to the southwest. The UK does quite well, having finished 2nd in the Cannes league table, with 89 lions for 62 million people. Moving northeast of Blighty we find Holland, Germany, Denmark, and the nordic powerhouse - Sweden, with 45 Lions (6th place) achieved by only 10 million people. Too cold to do anything else except stay inside and design websites, I suppose.

In the Middle East I have put Israel and the UAE nestled together, I hope they don't mind.

But the middle of the map is more notable for its absentees. India and China both won a few Lions (14 and 12) but once you divide that score by their enormous populations, they disappear. Time to stop sewing footballs and start writing ads!

But the real story, for me, revealed by this cartogram, is that Asia/Oceania is by far the most creative corner of the planet, on a per capita basis. New Zealand nearly leads the world - at something other than rugby - coming second only to Sweden in Lions per capita. Above NZ, Australia is punching considerably above its population, though it doesn't match Singapore (just above Aus.) whose 5 million people won 15 Lions. Above Singapore is Hong Kong, another strong performer, with 8 Lions won by 7 million people.

Conclusion: why is everyone moving to New York? It's shit anyway. We should all be moving to New Zealand, or Singapore.

source for population stats 
source for Cannes Lions stats

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What We Can Learn From The Union Of Nicki Minaj And Justin Bieber

I can't see tongues getting involved. And I've no idea what they'd find to talk about. Heck, they probably don't even have each other's phone numbers.

But some music biz marketing person has decided to put them together, and their record will go to No.1 for sure. 

Each is broadening their fan base. And each is becoming more interesting by being associated with the other.

I'm old enough to remember Mick Jagger and David Bowie getting together to do Dancing In The Street, which at the time was thrilling, even though the video was a bit pants. 

In more recent times, we've seen very cool collaborations between the likes of Nick Cave and P.J. Harvey, Bjork and Thom Yorke, The Black Keys and Mos Def.

In film too, there's always a frisson when you hear that Kylie is appearing in some crazy indie movie, or Bill Murray is making another film with Wes Anderson.

So why don't we see more collaborations between brands?

Advertising is predicated on novelty. Every car brand ever advertised is "The NEW xxxx." That is, unless it's "The all-new xxxx." 

In a world of basically parity products, we're always looking for something new and interesting to say.

Even new packaging is sometimes enough to hang an ad off.

Usually there's nothing.

And yet the obvious idea, of dimensionalising a brand by associating it with a brand from a different field, rarely happens.

When it does, it's usually awesome. I mean, when Ice Cream Snickers came out, my head practically exploded. Before my teeth fell out, that is.

But in a way... that's quite an obvious one, because they're both foods. And the ice cream wasn't even a brand.

Apple and Nike did, er, quite well with Nike+

So why don't we see more of that? Why not this?

Okay, that probably wouldn't happen.

But shouldn't a camera company hook up with a tourist board? Or a men's fashion brand support Barnardo's?

Apparently there is a website out there called Brand Dating.

They are already doing stuff like charity partnerships, co-branded products, joint advertising, etc.

But I reckon it's something we could all think more about, for our own brands.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Everyone's A Copywriter Now

It's getting harder and harder for us Creatives to feel special, when there are so many damn people nowadays doing more or less exactly what we do, on the internet, for free.

I was researching memes recently for an ad, and what struck me was how similar they are to print ads. 

First World Problems

College Freshman

Overly Attached Girlfriend

And of course, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there making YouTube films, many of which are like TV ads, except the budget is zero, and the makers do it for free (excepting the very few superstars of YouTube, who make just a few thousand dollars a year).

It used to be that advertising occupied a unique space. There was Art, which was 'up there'. Then there were TV shows and movies, which were somewhere 'over there'. The two closest things to advertising were comedy sketch shows, which we pillaged ruthlessly to make ads out of, and conceptual pop videos, which we, um, also pillaged ruthlessly to make ads out of.

I guess my point is that what we do is beginning to have less and less scarcity value.

Are we sitting on our asses as complacently as first-world call centre workers in 2006?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Who Is This Man And Why Does He Have $540 million?

Answer: his name is Luke Taylor, and he just sold a digital agency network called LBi to Publicis.

All right, admittedly he didn't get the whole $540 million himself, but I imagine he got a fair chunk (the agency was owned partly by its management team of which Luke Taylor is the CEO, and partly by private equity investors). 

Now, I'm not against people getting rich. In fact I'm all in favour of rewards for success.

For example, the BBH crew, who also recently sold to Publicis, deserve every penny of their payout in my opinion - they have created great work, actually some of our industry's best-ever work, and done that consistently, for thirty years. And they've done it profitably, too.

Stef Calcraft, one of the co-founders of Mother, also sold his stake, last week, and received a tidy sum - again, deserving every penny, in my opinion, having co-created the shop that won Campaign's Agency of the Decade in 2009. And Mother is not just a creative hot shop. It's also growing strongly (a presence on three continents) and is also highly profitable.

But LBi?

Let me ask the simple, age-old question - what have they ever done?

Well, Campaign asked Luke Taylor "What recent work for clients are you most proud of?" and his answer began like this:

"We are currently in the process of leading Johnson & Johnson on a global journey of digital transformation. We service a total of 15 J&J brands across four continents, making it one of our broadest client engagements."

Ah, the Johnson & Johnson work. Of course.

Nope, I haven't seen it either.

But maybe that's an aberration. Let's take a look at the rest of their showreel.

I didn't recognise one thing on there.

They say a sample of one person is unfair... but that does surely depend on the person.

I'm more or less an advertising obsessive. I write an ad blog so I read all the ad blogs, and click on a link for anything that looks interesting. And I spend a horrendously unhealthy amount of time online anyway, where presumably I could (nay, should) have been exposed to LBi's work.

Please note - I'm not saying I think their work is crap. I'm saying I don't even know what it is.

Then again, if the first job of advertising is to get noticed, maybe I am saying it's crap.

Am I wrong? Do you work at LBi, and it's actually the shizzle? If so, set me straight. Otherwise, join me in wondering how Luke Taylor just made $540 million.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

So You Think Your Client Is Challenging? Meet His Boss.

One of the fun things about going on holiday is you meet people you would never normally meet.

Last week, on holiday, I met a guy who runs one of the country's Top 100 companies. His kids and my kids were hanging out, so he and I were kind of thrown together.

Naturally, I asked him what he thinks of his company's advertising (they are a heavy advertiser).

He said he thought it was quite good, but could be better. He then went on to talk about how, when he'd taken the job, he'd invited the entire marketing department for a barbecue at his house. And then grilled them.

"I asked each of them in turn," he told me, "what was the No.1 rational reason why a consumer should choose our company. Most of them couldn't answer. And some of them told me it wasn't important!"

He threw up his hands in exasperation.

"We have three fantastic competitive advantages," he went on, "and we're not building our advertising around them!"

He then outlined for me these competitive advantages. As I have worked in this sector quite a bit myself, I know that consumers don't care much about those particular advantages. Maybe they should, but they don't. As always, they don't base their purchase decision on the rational factors.

I also know a little about the challenges his particular brand faces - for various reasons, it just isn't very popular, and is also seen as a bit old-fashioned. And I'm guessing that everyone in the marketing department are aware of this, because they are producing advertising that is modern and likeable.

But the big boss didn't get it. When I tried to explain, he shut me down.

It was all very depressing.

He was obsessed with communicating the rational stuff... and scoffed when I brought up the question of likeability, implying that I was some kind of hopelessly uncommercial hippy. I should explain that he himself, like probably most CEO's, was extremely left-brained - he was a former lawyer.

But my main take-away from this conversation, apart from a mild depression, was a new-found respect for this guy's marketing director, whoever that is. In the teeth of this demanding (and deluded) character, the marketing director is running the right advertising.

We all occasionally find clients challenging. We wish they'd take more risks, approve work that's more creative.

I guess we should remember who they have to get our work approved by.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Branding Should Be In An Ad's DNA, Not Like The Branding On A Cow

This ad that came out the other day, for Cathedral City cheese, is not a good ad, but that's not my point. My point is that at 18 seconds in, a Cathedral City delivery truck randomly drives past. Twice.

Why? For 'branding'.

The purpose of branding - which I wholeheartedly agree with - is to prevent misattribution. If people don't know who an ad is for, it's a waste of money. Or worse - it may benefit the competition.

But where I disagree with most clients, in fact where I become borderline irate, is over the question of what constitutes a well branded ad.

Too many clients believe in branding in the sense of 'branding like a cow', i.e. making sure their name is stamped on the ad. They feel that good branding equates to lots of branding, obvious branding, early branding, or all of the above. They will tell you that 'research proves' that ads should be clearly branded, and that the brand should preferably be referenced up front.

Actually, this is false.

Who says it's false? The high priests themselves, Millward Brown.

In 2006, Millward Brown studied a gazillion ads, to work out where was the best place to put the branding - beginning, middle, or end. And what did the study find? It found there was no difference. In other words, there was no correlation at all - zero - between when the branding came in, and how 'well branded' an ad was (using here the proper definition of the term - correct attribution by the consumer). So there is absolutely no need to drive a Cathedral City cheese truck through the beginning of the ad.

In fact there are good scientific reasons why you shouldn't drive the cheese truck. If it gives away a later plot twist, it may significantly reduce engagement and enjoyment. That is, if the enjoyment levels of this ad could actually be driven any lower.

Nor, interestingly, did the number of times that the branding was repeated make any difference.

So what did make a difference to the branding scores? What made a difference was when the branding was introduced memorably, and (I kid you not, this is Millward Brown talking) "with the intelligent application of creativity". Read the report here (it's quite short, and very interesting).

Below is an ad that I consider to be well-branded, although the branding doesn't come until the very end. The reason it's well branded is that the ad sets up an intriguing idea, which only makes sense with the reveal of the brand name at the end.

In fact, this ad adheres to an even higher standard of branding, that goes far beyond the question of 'at what point in the ad should the brand make an appearance'. The higher standard is that the entire ad should be imbued with the values of the brand. The entire ad should revolve around the proposition of the brand. The entire ad should be in the tone of voice of the brand. When you do that - when the entire ad, as in the case of the PlayStation commercial above, is built from the DNA of the brand - then attribution scores will be far higher than can be achieved by simply putting a picture of the brand on screen for a few seconds in an otherwise unrelated story. Yes, even if that picture covers the entire side of a truck.

Note. Reading this again, I may have been a bit harsh on clients. If an agency delivers them a comedy sketch with the brand plonked gratuitously on the end - which, let's face it, we are guilty of far too often - then small wonder that the client feels compelled to reach for the branding iron, in a vain attempt to put their own stamp onto what would otherwise be an entirely generic piece of communication. Then again, they could always reject the concept I suppose.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Double-Headed Propositions And How To Decapitate Them

It's more than 70 years since Rosser Reeves coined the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition.

For at least the last 18 years (as long as I've been in the industry), the proposition box on a brief has been labelled 'Single-Minded Proposition'. 

And just compiling (off the top of my head) a list of recent successful ad campaigns, they're all based on a single prop:

     Sony - colour
     Canal+ "wardrobe" - storytelling
     Cadburys - joy
     Toyota "border security" - tough
     Chrysler - from Detroit
So you'd think people would know by now.

But they don't.

I still regularly see double-headed propositions

Even triple-headers. (A triple that I remember fondly from my time at Saatchi's was a prop for scratchcards: "The fun way to win lots of money in an instant." Three concepts - fun, wealth, speed. Oh dear.)

An especially tricky customer is the disguised double-header. For example, "Value." It's a single word, so on the face of it, shouldn't that be a single-minded proposition? Actually, no. "Value" doesn't mean "Cheap". It means "Product that is better quality than you can usually find at this price." So "Value" is really a double-headed prop, because you need to say something about both price and quality to fulfill it.

The cause of these doubles is clients who don't quite know what they want to say, and agency planners and account teams who fail to convince them to choose a direction. Of course, picking a position is stressful - you're giving up something that you could say. But the effect of not doing so is usually to end up with an ad that is perfect as breakfast for a dog.

Unless... the creatives can successfully decapitate one of the heads on that double-headed prop.

There are two ways to do it. 
Option One is to decide which of the two props is best, and work to that. Be honest - tell everyone that's what you've done, and why. Often they're relieved that someone is prepared to make a decision. If the authorities kick up a fuss that part of the prop isn't included, put a passing reference to it in the endline, the voiceover, or a line of dialogue. Then say "Look - there it is!"

Option Two is to find a single concept that can link the two propositions. That's what Andrew Fraser did - brilliantly - in this Volkswagen campaign out of DDB London known as 'Surprisingly ordinary prices.' 

The concept of "Surprise" is a single thought, which links the two props of "High quality" and "Low price" embedded within the Value brief.

Good luck, and happy decapitating.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Where Creatives Commonly Lose Their Way, And How Drawing A Map Can Help

One of the biggest challenges in developing work is hitting the right Tone Of Voice.

We all know that our ideas have to be On Brief; we understand and accept that however great an idea is, it will rarely get presented to client - let alone bought - unless it's On Brief. 

But our understanding of On Tone (and Off Tone) is at a lower level.

Ideas routinely get as far as being presented to client, only to be rejected because they're "not right for the brand." 

Partly this is excusable because the client will invariably have a better understanding of their own brand than the agency does, since they are the brand owners.

But some of it is the agency's fault. Planners and Account Handlers can be vague about the required tone (how over-used is the word 'Witty' on a brief?) But mostly, it's Creatives that just get it wrong. This is a failing that's well worth eradicating, since any idea you spend time on but which doesn't end up getting bought, is a waste of your time. And anything that helps you get more of your ideas bought and made, makes you more successful.

I think the fault arises because there is a tone of voice that the typical creative (male, aged 22 to 35) is drawn to. You know the tone I mean. Clever, funny, and maybe slightly daring and modern. Like this.

If the client wants this sort of ad, great. It's just the kind of ad creatives love to write. But what if the brand is something else? What if it's serious, traditional, feminine or businessy? Then Creatives often lose their way, and keep on presenting ideas that are clever, funny, modern and daring. Ideas that don't get bought.

Tone of Voice is the last box on the brief, and often the last thing Creatives think about.

I'd suggest it's worth thinking about it a bit more. Making sure you've got a thorough understanding of the tonal territory before you begin concepting.

And the easiest way to find that territory, is with a map.

Making the map is very easy, and takes just a minute or two. All you need to do is pick three adjectives that, together, define the brand. 

That's all it takes - three adjectives.

Because the fantastic thing about cartography is that you can define any point in the universe with only three coordinates.

Once you have your three adjectives (work with the Planner on this), the point at which they intersect is the right tone. 

Sometimes, because I'm pretty much a geek, I literally do a drawing - either a Venn diagram with three circles, or a triangle with three sides. The bit in the middle is your tonal territory.

If you're thinking that this approach could be creatively limiting...

It is.

But it hopefully limits you to ideas that have a good chance of getting bought.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sorry, WWF. I Think The Era Of Scam May Be Coming To An End

I never had anything against the ethos behind scam.

There's nothing wrong with an ambition to do great work, especially if that ambition is unfulfilled because you're in a not-very-creative agency, or you're relatively junior and not being given the good briefs. And there's nothing wrong with an ambition to win awards, and further your career.

It's just the lying I didn't like.  

Entering scam work into awards meant pretending it had run when it hadn't, or not properly, at any rate. Sometimes it meant pretending a client had signed it off when in fact they'd never even seen it. And sometimes it meant pretending to yourself... that you were doing something worthwhile, when the reality is there's nothing worthwhile about a WWF print ad that's only ever seen by Cannes jurymembers. 

But recently, I've noticed a few pieces of evidence which suggest that creatives' excess creative energy is starting to be put to better use.

Last year, there was the 'Keep Aaron Cutting' project, which saw 3 BBH interns taking to social media and raising 35,000 pounds to rebuild 89 year old Aaron Biber's barbershop, which had been destroyed by rioters. Read The Case Study here.

Last week, another team (coincidentally also from BBH) Viv Yapp and AK Parker, created a web app called Amateur Art Restorer which mocked the efforts of Cecilia Gimenez, the cack-handed 85 year-old art restorer of Zaragoza, and allowed you to try your own.

Also last week, Melbourne-based digital art director Julian Frost created an iPhone app called Toybox, whose simple premise is it allows you to play two games at once.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, creatives are now starting to make side-projects that are not only more creative than a fake DPS for Save The Donkeys, but which get seen by more people, and which might actually make something happen - like raise money, either for a charity, or themselves.

Most importantly of all... if you were an ECD, what would you be more impressed to see in a team's book: a print ad for a charity that never ran, or something super-fun like the Amateur Art Restorer app?

If the trend continues, it will mean fewer ads for the nation's Dog Obedience Schools and Pedestrian Councils.

But it's good news for the rest of us.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who Fires Who

Does anyone know a CEO who's been fired by an ECD?

There seems to be a rule that the top suit can fire the top creative, but not the other way around.

The situation reminds me of passages from a fantastic book called Guns, Germs, and Steel.

(If you haven't read this book, you need to go out and buy it immediately, if not sooner.)

Among the many brilliant questions that the author Jared Diamond poses, is this one: How come it was the English who sailed to Australia, took over the country, and wiped out most of the Aboriginal inhabitants... why didn't an Aboriginal navy sail up the Thames, and take over England?

Or to put it another way, how come Hernan Cortes arrived in what today we call Mexico, in 1519, and overthrew the Aztec civilisation? How come the Aztecs didn't rock up in Madrid, and overthrow the Spanish civilisation?

The answers, according to Jared Diamond, are that the English (in the conquest of Australia) and the Spanish (in the conquest of Mexico) had the advantages of guns, germs, and steel. Why they had those items and the indigenous inhabitants didn't, is down to geography, according to Jared Diamond.

If you want the full explanation, you can read the book.

But at least he has an explanation.

If anyone knows why it is that suits get to fire creatives, and not the other way around... please tell me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Does It Help To Be Foreign?

In 2001, Juan Cabral came to London. And he smashed it.

Cadbury's 'Gorilla', and Sony Bravia's 'Balls', 'Paint' and 'Rabbits'. Enough said.

But did it help that he was foreign?

That he maybe approached a brief differently from the typical British creative, overwhelmingly schooled at one of only three ad colleges (Watford, Bucks, and St Martin's)?

Did it help that he was drawing on references broader than just British comedy sketch shows of the 1990s, and children's TV programmes of the 80s?

Of course, it makes sense to source the best talent you can find, irrespective of where it comes from. And London agencies are able to attract talent from everywhere, since they can offer a high standard of work, and an exciting city to live in.

But I suspect that some of the UK's most creative agencies have bought into the theory that foreigners can bring them something that British creatives can't.

There can be no other explanation for why agencies like Mother, Fallon and BBH have hired such large numbers of foreign creatives in recent years, principally South Americans and Swedes.

So are they right?

Personally, I haven't found any advantage to being a foreigner here in Australia. (Yes, I know a Brit in Australia is not really a foreigner... it's the same language, and huge swathes of the culture, from Kylie to the Queen, are shared. But still.)

And at times it's been a disadvantage. I've been asked by a client to prepare a celebrity route, and the creative team working on the brief have presented dozens of different celebrities to me as a solution... and I've no idea who any of them even are. Though admittedly, retired sportsmen do look pretty much the same all over the world.

At other times, I've proposed ideas to people, and they've rejected them by landing the knockout blow of shaking their heads slowly, and regretfully informing me that "in Australia, this concept wouldn't really resonate."

Not quite as bad as the time when a Greek client rejected our casting suggestion for an ad, explaining that "in my country, people believe woman with red hair is... how you say... witch." But still.

And perhaps it's telling that while the 'creative thinking' of foreigners is often welcome, few make it to ECD level. The only non-Brit ECD in a big London agency I can think of is Santiago Lucero at Fallon. Here in Sydney, there are several Brits and Kiwis running creative departments, but only one 'real' foreign power, the husband-and-wife team of Carlos Alija and Laura Sampedro, at BMF - that's them below - who by all accounts are doing great.

But what if we dig a little deeper...

While not exactly foreigners, many top creatives are certainly outsiders.

Charles Saatchi was a Jew. As was Tony Kaye. John Hegarty's parents were Irish and he grew up in an Irish neighbourhood of London. More than a few are gay. And Dave Trott is from a real working-class background - 98% of the account men he's chewed up over the years had probably never met anyone like him before... and probably never saw it coming.


People with cultures and experiences that enable them to look at the world differently.

But you know what? All creatives have that.

I think foreign influences are brilliant. The more the merrier. But I wouldn't say it confers any particular advantage on those individuals. Any benefits Juan Cabral had from being a foreigner were probably balanced out by the disadvantages, language barrier etc. No, what made him great was that he was great. That's all.

The old definition of a creative as someone who's "wired wrong" is normally pretty accurate. Because whether you're from Buenos Aires or Burton-on-Trent, all you really need is an ability to see the world differently.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Much Time Are You Spending Doing Stuff That You Want To Do?

I've just read a book called A New Kilo Of KesselsKramer, which is a collection of the brilliant Dutch agency's work from 2005 to 2010.

As well as the usual posters, films, and print advertising - including campaigns for the notorious Hans Brinker Budget Hotel - the book contains examples of brand identities, design solutions, social media, PR, music videos, fashion collections, "and at least one public roundabout."

They self-publish books too, like this one about a rabbit with an unusually flat head.

This is a poster. No idea what's going on, but I like it.

Even their ads for a Dutch telecom brand, called 'Ben', are startlingly fresh. ('Ben' in Dutch also means 'I am' so the headline on this ad translates as "I am welcome").

This one particular ad, for me, seemed to sum up their philosophy. It's for 'Poetry In The Park' and the headline, spelled out on towels, reads: "Do what you love to do."

KesselsKramer truly seem to do more or less whatever the hell they want. When I had this realisation, I became extremely jealous.
I remembered an old quotation - "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."
Bob Dylan said that, apparently.
I think his music's bloody awful, but I do like the quote. 
And it set me thinking. How much time on average do we - and by 'we' I mean creatives in ad agencies, though anyone is welcome to think about the question - spend doing stuff that we want to do?
Obviously time spent at the pub, playing ping pong, or just generally hanging out with the other smart and fun people who work in advertising, is fine. As is time spent doing 'research' on the internet. Oh, and thinking of ideas, and making creative work... as long as it's for something that's at least slightly creative. They're all things we want to do.
Working on stuff that's shit, participating in brainstorms, and being in boring meetings, are not things we want to do.
There are a few grey areas. Preparing research stimulus, for example, is not stuff that we want to do... but we may accept it as something that we have to do in order to be able to do something that we do want to do, later. 
I'm lucky in that since I started my little Scamp agency, I do have more autonomy, and definitely spend more time doing stuff that I want to do. And over the course of my so-called career, I think I've been quite fortunate with agencies and briefs... so I don't know if my figures will be out of wack...
But I reckon the answer to 'how much time are creatives spending doing what they want to do' will - in a 'normal' job situation, be around 50-75%. Does that sound right to you? And is it acceptable? 100% would be wonderful but I think it's unrealistic. Not every brief can be a great brief, and not everyone can work in a super-cool shop like KK. So I reckon 50-75% is acceptable.
Of course, if you are in an agency that you absolutely hate, your score could approach 0%. If you are in a good agency but in the wrong job within that agency, it could also be very low. A score consistently less than 50%, and I reckon it's time to look for another job.
What's your percentage right now?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sex In Advertising

I was reminiscing the other day, with a charming and highly experienced agency boss, about 'when the industry was fun'. We agreed there were more characters, that it was easier to sell good ideas, and then he asked a rhetorical but extremely simple question:

"What happened to the sex?"

I couldn't answer him.

But I've been thinking about it. There certainly seems to be less of it about nowadays. 

Let's do a quick historical analysis:

1960s and 70s
Mad Women by Jane Maas has an entire chapter called 'Sex In The Office'. Remember where Peggy lost her virginity to Pete Campbell? That's right. On the office sofa.

Quoting from Neil French's hilarious and no doubt only partially-reliable memoirs, Sorry For The Lobsters: "I have to confess that I spent that night with the gloriously, fabulously, crazy girlfriend of a guy from the agency… she was, and probably still is, the sexiest lady I've ever met. And yes I've still got the Polaroids." Not much changed when 'Frenchy' moved to Australia. "I discovered that Aussie girls were a free-thinking, healthy, and energetic bunch who would happily run a chap around, and expect nothing in return but a barely adequate bonk. The demand was so great that I was, in the end forced to take 'em by the pair, and before breakfast."

A director friend of mine who worked at BBDO New York in the 1990s reports couples openly having sex in the creative department during parties.

If two people in an advertising agency have a snog (Aus: pash), it's a major news event. If they have sex, they have to get married afterwards.

Is this accurate, or am I just getting old?

How much sex is there in your agency?