Monday, March 30, 2015

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...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

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. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

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?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

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?

Monday, March 02, 2015

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?