Sunday, March 30, 2014

Would We Like Briefs More If They Were Upside Down?

Briefs are primarily written by Planners - aided and abetted by the Client and Account Handlers.

By definition, they only hand over the brief when they're happy with it.

And yet the receivers of the brief - the Creatives - rarely seem happy with it. In fact they're notoriously silent and tense in the briefing. Could that be because the briefing document, in the eyes of the Creatives, is actually upside down?

This was the conclusion my friend Dustin reached, when he went to a talk about innovation funding. (Incidentally you should be reading Dustin's blog, it's really very good.) 

One of the speakers put up a slide, illustrating the different approach of how academics usually digest information, compared to how investors absorb it.

And Dustin's observation was that there's a strong parallel between how Creatives absorb information, and the other departments.

When Creatives hear about a brief, the first thing we want to know is the proposition. And when we hear about an ad, the first thing we want to know is the idea.

Yet most (but not all) Planners, Account Handlers, and Clients are the other way around. They first want to hear the background to a brief - the pieces of evidence that lead up to a proposition. And when it comes to ideas, they want to be 'taken on the journey' - start with the thinking that went into it, and end with the idea.

A clue to this conundrum may lie in an aspect of Myers-Briggs.

For anyone who doesn't know, Myers-Briggs is a method of defining personality, by assigning each individual a four-letter 'character type', e.g. ISFP, or ENTJ. Each letter reflects where the person  sits along one of four different axes, for example either 'E' for Extrovert or 'I' for Introverted.

The distinction that's relevant here is between 'S' - Sensing, and 'N' - Intuitive. (I think they picked 'N' for intuitive because 'I' was already taken for Introverted).

'Sensing' people gather evidence before reaching a conclusion. Whereas Intuitive people come up with an answer first, and then look for evidence to back it up.

When I did the Myers-Briggs, as part of some Creative Director training course a few years ago, the results were quite interesting. Some of the CD's were Extrovert, some Introvert. Some were 'T' (Thinking) and some were 'F' (Feeling). But every single one of us was 'N' (Intuitive).

The tester wasn't surprised at all. She mentioned that she had now run the Myers-Briggs on 500 Creatives, and 499 of them were Intuitive rather than Sensing.

The conclusion for Creatives is that we are probably best served by presenting our ideas in what feels (to us) like the wrong way round. 

And here's a thought for people writing briefs:  Your brief is a document intended for an end user. To the end user, it looks like it's upside down.

Any chance of flipping it over?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Does It Make Any Sense To Feel Loyalty Towards A Corporation?

It's obvious why companies want to have loyal employees.

Loyal employees are less likely to leave, more likely to behave the way the company wants them to, and may possibly work for lower pay.

But does it make sense for a person to feel loyalty towards a corporation?

Is a corporation not an entity that exists purely to facilitate its own survival, while generating profits for shareholders? To a corporation, isn't a person nothing more than an income-producing asset, to be discarded once it has outlived its usefulness?

Doesn't loyalty mean something irrational, something that goes beyond mere 'fair exchange'... which implies that the loyal employee is giving more to the company than they are getting back?
Are corporations even perhaps laughing behind their backs at our loyalty, or simply bemused by it?

Author Jon Ronson profiled the notorious American businessman Al Dunlap.

At a plant in Mobile, Alabama, Mr Dunlap asked a man how long he'd worked there.

"Thirty years!" the man proudly replied.

"Why would you want to stay with a company for thirty years?" Dunlap said, looking genuinely perplexed.

He then fired the man. (Dunlap recounts the story himself, with glee, which is probably why he ended up in a book called 'The Psychopath Test'.)

But if Dunlap is suspicious of people who stay too long, it has to be said that we are also suspicious of those who move too much. 

Do they have itchy feet, or is it that they keep getting found out?

Obviously there are times when it makes sense to move. There might be family reasons, or you might be at an agency that has gone downhill, or you've gone stale.

But let's not forget that moving carries risk.

You see, there's a strange phenomenon in our industry.

A talented team will do great work, take the opportunity to move to another agency for more money or better opportunities... and then not get anything out for a year.

Happens loads.

There seems to be something helpful about 'knowing the ropes' at a place. It takes about a year to figure out which briefs are 'fools' gold' (look fantastic but are in fact worthless), which people you need to get on the right side of, and the often-mysterious process by which work actually emerges.

So that's an argument for staying put.

Also, commitment brings psychological benefits. 

I remember talking to a Creative at Goodby, who was telling me that he had moved around a lot in the past, but had now decided to "really put down some roots - and commit to a place."

I like that. If you're not thinking of a place in terms of what you can get out of it, but instead in terms of what you can give... you're actually likely to get more out of it too.

So although there are arguments on both sides, I'm going to come down in favour of commitment.

Yes, it could be seen as slightly irrational to feel loyalty towards a corporate entity. And yet... if that company embodies a set of values you believe in, and contains a group of people you like and respect, then loyalty does make sense, does it not?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Upworthy's Founder Talked At SXSW... And You'll Never Guess What He Said

Upworthy is one of the fastest-growing news websites in the world.

CEO Eli Pariser spoke at South by Southwest, and although his subject was news media, he had a very interesting lesson for us advertising folks.

In short, what he and his clickbait-loving journalists have realised is that the title you give something has a huge effect on whether people engage with it.

He cited a fantastic example. The video below, which features a young man talking about his two gay mothers - arguing passionately that they should not be discriminated against - was originally titled 'Zach Wahls Speaks About Family', and had been watched around 200,000 times. But once its title was changed to 'Two Lesbians Raised A Baby And This Is What They Got', the video took off, and has since been watched more than 18 million times.

In advertising, I believe we don't think carefully enough about the titles we give things.

If you're creating a piece of communication which is intended to be socially shared, you've simply GOT to come up with a title that is powerful and intriguing.

Even for something that isn't intended to be seen by consumers, titles are important. For example, the first thing anyone reads in a TV script is the title. And I've lost count of the number of scripts which have crossed my desk that go by the unbelievably bland name of 'Launch Ad'.

A CD or Client is going to see your script, and you want them to be excited about it. So give it an exciting name.

The same goes for project names. Often in advertising nowadays, we're not just creating a single piece of communication, but an entire suite of activity.

Give it a name. Always. Once something has a name, it becomes real. And if you give it an exciting name - like Durex Fundawear, or The Honesty Experiments - it's more likely to get made.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Advertising's Peculiar Relationship With Technology

It's not hard to mock a hipster.

If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, it currently consists of about 50% excited posts from SXSW, and 50% mockery of people wearing Google Glasses, beards, or both. See image above.

But let's face it, all this mockery is just jealousy in disguise.

The truth is that the world of technology is now far more exciting and more profitable than the world of advertising. 

Advertising used to be a rock star scene. "I was 26, living in a house on Sloane Square, and earning more than the prime minister," recalls the author Peter Mayle, about his time in advertising in the 1960s.

Fortunes were made, big characters abounded, and the media were interested in us.

But the rock stars of business today are the people working in tech. And rightly so. They're making far bigger fortunes than we ever did. The industry is filled with characters way more eccentric than the wackiest copywriter ever was. And the media runs stories every single day about the latest technology products. 

On top of all that, the tech guys are making stuff that's far more remarkable than any advert could ever be, stuff that's genuinely making a difference to people's lives. And technology is actually changing the world - nearly always for the better. Whereas advertising has never been anything more than, in Vinny Warren's marvellous phrase: "The hair and make-up of capitalism."

And yet advertising has a long history of co-opting technology. The first cinema opened in the United States in 1896, and the first cinema ad was shown less than a year later. The first radio stations began broadcasting in 1920; radio advertising was introduced two years later. The same goes for the inventions of television and the internet. Whatever the new invention, advertising seeps in, like a gas.

The most exciting opportunities in advertising today are in the field of interactivity, we just need to figure out how to seep in better.

So although I'm not attending, I'll be following SXSW pretty avidly. And far from mocking the people who are there, I'll be hoping they have an absolutely stonking time... and bring back some answers.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Creatures Of Adland

Loving this new tumblr, Creatures of Adland.

The idea is that just as there are collective nouns for animals - a murder of crows, a crash of rhinos - there should be collective nouns for the denizens of our business.

They're superbly illustrated, but of course they are stereotypes, and I began to wonder... like all stereotypes, do they have a hidden meaning?

I'm talking about the way collective nouns reveal more about the people who coin them, than they do about the creatures being described. For example, the phrase a 'murder' of crows doesn't really tell us anything significant about crows - in reality they are no more murderous than many other birds. But it does tell us plenty about what humans find sinister - darkness, high-pitched screaming noises.

So I apologise in advance to the creative team that created these, who are clearly very talented, first for abusing their copyright and secondly for dissecting their work... but here we go.

A straightforward one to start off with. 'A feast of freelancers' overtly seems to be saying that freelancers earn shitloads of cash. In this very cool image, they are literally swimming in it.

The reality is they aren't. Day rates are static or declining. And obviously you don't earn in-between gigs, or during holidays (or illnesses). The vast majority of freelancers would much rather have a full-time job, should they be offered one.

What this image really tells us is that today's creatives - the people that this image is intended to appeal to - feel they are dramatically underpaid. "Look at those other guys," it says. "They are earning way too much. That should be us."

Again, a very cool image. Superficially, it tells us that Creative Directors say 'no' a lot. Now obviously, that is a huge part of our job. What if two teams present work on the same brief, can we say yes to both? No, clearly we can't. Or even one team presenting several ideas... are we supposed to say yes to all of them? Of course we can't. Also, most ideas aren't good. In fact someone once defined the job as "saying no in an inspirational way."

So what does the image tell us about the mindset of the creatives who created it, and the creatives it will appeal to? In my opinion, and this isn't rocket science, it again speaks to how frustrated today's creatives are. They feel their creativity is being stifled, and the easiest person to blame is the person who most directly blocks it off.

The image may be about ambition too. Are the creative directors portrayed as an obstacle because they are (currently) preventing young creatives from becoming CD's themselves?

I know I keep saying it, but what a fabulous image. The people who put this together have real talent.

But what's it really saying? Superficially it's about anger, but I suspect that it's actually about powerlessness. Creatives have slipped further and further down the hierarchy of the advertising business. Rather than running the show, as we used to, in most agencies there is now no reverence for us or our skills at all.

'Rant' is a great word. To some extent it has positive qualities - the word seems to imply a level of articulacy, and describes someone who is not afraid to speak out.

However, it's fundamentally a powerless word. A rant is purely a public venting - it's not going to actually change anything. A rant is an acknowledgement that you have already lost the debate, and just want to express how angry you are about that. 

Again, I love love love this image. The poses of the creatives are akin to rock stars, and the sea of raised hands in the front also makes me think of the crowd at a gig. On the surface then, the image is saying that creatives are deluded because they think they are rock stars.

But I wonder if it's possible to interpret this image in terms of regret not delusion. Is it about a nagging feeling that we 'settled' for advertising - described in Freakonomics as a 'Second Tier Glamour Profession' along with fashion and publishing, but ranked behind music, art and film? 

We are artistically talented people, we dress cool and 'are' cool... is it possible that, if we'd played our hands differently, we could have become rock stars? Or artists or film-makers? 

Okay, we have reached the end of our session.

Sorry if all this has seemed rather serious and dark. When you go under the skin of a joke, you inevitably kill its humour. And reveal a nest of anxieties and insecurities - which are what give jokes their power.

And in the case of creatives, these images reveal that we feel underpaid, stifled, powerless, and are worrying whether we made the right career choice.

Have a great week!