Monday, January 26, 2015

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?

Monday, January 19, 2015

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.” 

Monday, January 12, 2015

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!

Monday, January 05, 2015

How To Win Every Argument You Will Have In 2015

Ad folk are a passionate bunch of people, working in an industry that is rife with subjectivity.

Result: lots of arguments.

So, here's how you can win them. Or at least more of them.

First of all, you need to stop thinking like a Creative.

Unfortunately, Creatives aren't particularly trusted in our industry. (We've partly brought this on ourselves: a story for another time).

Contrast that with the respect accorded to creative people in the world's most successful creative companies, such as HBO. David Chase, executive producer of 'The Sopranos', says "the secret to HBO's success is really very simple. They trust the people they have doing their shows.'

I also love this quote about Dino Patti, the CEO of games company Playdead, who made the successful and award-winning Limbo. "Playdead chose to ignore outside advice from investors and critics during development. According to Patti, Playdead felt these changes would break the integrity of game director Arnt Jensen's original vision."

We don't have that.

No Client is going to be persuaded to drop a requested change because 'it would break the integrity of the creative team's vision'. In fact if you said those words, the Client would probably laugh out loud.

So what can you say? 
I'm going to pass on something I learned from Nigel Bogle. (I worked with Nigel a bit at BBH - awesome guy).

I was once in a meeting where a Client was questioning some aspect of a TV ad we were doing for them. I don't even remember what the debate concerned now - perhaps a piece of casting, or a location.

I patiently explained why, creatively, I preferred the direction we were proposing over the Client's suggestion. The Client harrumphed. I had failed to persuade him.

Then Nigel stepped in. "It's actually not a creative issue, it's a strategic issue," he stated. And he then went on to detail why the direction we were proposing was more 'on-strategy'. And it worked.

Well, maybe it partially worked because it was Nigel Bogle saying it.

But also I think there's some truth to my theory that Clients (and indeed almost everyone in the industry) are simply more persuaded by strategic rationale than by creative rationale.

In fact we can expand this theory. I reckon that the secret to winning the inevitable arguments that occur during the cut-and-thrust of advertising is to ELEVATE.

If you're in an argument about execution, elevate it to why your point of view is right for the idea.

If you're in an argument about ideas, elevate it to why your point of view is right strategically.

If you're in an argument about strategy, elevate it to why your point of view is right for the business problem.

In short, elevate.

Have a great year, everyone! (And if you have any tips for winning arguments, please do leave them in the comments. Share the knowledge, share the love).