This is the first video produced by Advertisingawesomeness. It’s an interview with George Prest, ECD at R/GA London about today’s new advertising. I liked his brief…
(This is an edited version of something that I wrote for Campaign magazine.)
We are an industry in crisis and we are in denial of it. Like global warming, we’re all going to put our fingers in our ears until it’s too late. And then we’ll get cooked.
This is our crisis. People don’t care much for brands any more.
Maybe they never did but clearly the golden age of brand as construct is over. We need a new type of brand now. Positive, purposeful brands must come to the fore. Brands must play a role in people’s lives, fit in rather than drop on top of them from on high.
What really scares me, though, is that we approach this crisis as a media problem. We think that we can change the format, change the channel and try to spend our way out of it by renting online eyeballs.
It’s not a media problem that we face. It’s a motivation problem.
We have to make people care about brands again. We have to make our brands relevant to the hyper-informed, self-combusting planet that we live on.
We all know this. It just doesn’t suit our business model to do anything about it.
The key is to think of the people that we serve as human-beings, not consumers or even customers, which seems to be the new denialists’ mot du jour.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d have a look at the week’s work as a human being, as a normal person, flesh and blood, finger poised to go somewhere else more exciting, with a consideration of what it made me feel and, potentially more importantly, do.
(Then I reviewed some work. I’ll spare you that.)
So, not so bad for human beings this week. Damningly though, just a bunch of comms, media solutions to our crisis. I’d love to know what the brands above are actually doing, rather than saying, to connect meaningfully with people.
We need to wake up. We face crisis. Media is not the solution to this, motivation is. It’s time to get off our collective arse.
This is a long version of something I wrote a bit of last year. It has been published by Media Guardian under the title, ‘There’s never been a better time to work in advertising’ and is a reaction to a lot of old-world bile that I’ve been noticing online recently.
Have you heard it? Have you read it? In the pages of the trade press, in the comments sections of the blogs, the bleating and the moaning, the whimpering, complaining and railing against the injustice of it all?
‘It’s not about the creative anymore.’
‘Clients are all shit-scared.’
‘The ECD’s got no spine.’
‘Do you remember that time we spunked 2 mill with Frank in the Mojave desert?’
‘Where have the budgets gone?’
‘What’s the big idea in a bloody website?’
You can’t move in Soho, Noho, Knightsbridge or Shoreditch these days without hearing old Nathan Barley peering miserably backwards through rose-tinted Carreras at an imagined better time.
And the saddest thing about it? It’s not true.
There has never been a better time to work in advertising. The range of solutions available to us, the ability to make stuff for people, improve lives and change the world, all in the name of brands, means that this is the most exciting time there’s ever been to be in this industry. It’s not simple. It requires a breadth of creativity. It forces you to never stop learning. But it’s fun and it’s philosophically much more satisfying than chucking messages at people.
How did this happen? How did the industry change so much, seemingly right under the noses of a bunch of people who clearly still haven’t recognised it?
It was digital wot done it.
Technology has created a space that, ironically, has made us more human. Online we see more, know more, have more friends, like more things and know more about what’s going on in more places around the world.
Technology has meant that the truth is readily available to anyone who might care to find it. So the flim-flam that we used peddle to people in the name of marketing doesn’t stand up any more. People can easily get to the real story about a brand or product with two clicks of a mouse.
And, as we have become more human, as we have gained access to more information, as the planet seemingly hurtles towards obliteration, we as people, as human beings, have started to look for more meaning behind the decisions that we make, including the products and brands that we buy.
This combination of humanity, truth and meaning means that brands have had to up their game. They’ve had to stop thinking of people as consumers and start thinking of them as humans (perish the thought). They’ve had to embrace transparency. And, most importantly, they’ve had to start to stand for something, play a role in people’s lives and find a shared purpose with the people that they serve.
This brilliant news for us as advertisers, as creatives even. It means that we get to make things for human beings that improve their lives. It means that we can tell the truth and if there is no meaning in the brands that we work for, we can work with the most interesting people at the top of those companies to find meaning, innovate in product and create a set of actions for a company to do, to become viable in the minds of the hyperconnnected citizens of the world.
Consider that for second. Advertising is now an industry that can make the world a better place in lots of different ways that go way beyond entertaining people on a Saturday night on ITV, which, by the way, is still entirely valid but now only a small part of what we can do.
Based on that, based on the fact that we are becoming designers rather than alchemists, based on the empathy and humanity and nobility our current set of circumstances forces us to embody, how can anyone hark back to some mythical golden age when it was all better?
There has never been a better time to work in advertising. The remit of our industry is broader than it has ever been and brilliantly we can make a difference.
We can make a difference to people, to our clients and their bottom lines (and prove it) and, most of all, we can make a difference to ourselves.
It feels good to be in this business right now. The past is history, bits of it bad history. Let’s stop navel-gazing and look forward, with gladness in our hearts and purpose in our minds.
There has never been a better time to work in advertising. Bring on 2014.
I was reading the Wired special issue, that looks forwards to 2014, on the plane last week.
There was this phrase in one of the articles, I don’t know which and I haven’t been able to find it since, that lodged hard in my brain.
What a great set of words. A lovely swap out of an existing phrase, no doubt but also a perfect encapsulation of the new approach to brand building that I so fervently believe in.
This is what we do: we look at people, how they lead their lives, how technology fits into those lives and then we design things for them that make their lives better. And we do this on behalf of brands, to cement and prolong the relationship between those brands and the people that they serve.
In short, we examine humanity and we augment it.
This is the purpose-driven future of our industry and it makes me, for one, very happy.
An amazing person who works for me recently asked how I know when someone’s ready to be a Creative Director.
It was a question I found hard to answer. Until I rethought it.
Creative Directors make themselves ready by dint of their actions, attitude and exploits. It’s obvious when they’re due for a step up.
They’re amazing at their current job. At R/GA this is being an ACD (Associate Creative Director).
So then I has a think about what makes an amazing ACD. This where I got to:
1. Proven success in running accounts – preferably difficult ones.
Turning around a problem child gets more points than nannying a teacher’s pet.
2. Production and leadership of award-winning work that meets client expectations and objectives.
Our baseline as a world-class creative company. You’ve got to be able to point to point to this stuff as a creative of note.
3. Repeated demonstration of world-class skills in your craft.
If all else fails the buck stops with you. Are you delivering the very best of what you do? Are people hunting you down as an arch-proponent of what you specialise in.
4. Inherent strategic understanding and demonstration of converting strategic clarity into narrative that begets client understanding and buy-in.
If you’re not strategic, you’re not going any further than this. Not just that though, can you persuade others of a strategy and lay work out against a strategy to create a winning, coherent presentation?
5. Extremely comfortable and articulate in front of client.
Presentation. If you’re not good at it, work on it, practice it and master it.
6. Unreserved trust of management and your peers. They should be calling for you and looking forward to you leading a piece of work or account.
No magic wand on this one. It will come if you’re good.
7. Understanding and knowledge of all disciplines that leads to effective marshaling and curation of a creative team to hit deadlines.
We do more stuff than almost any other creative company. That means that you have to have a broader knowledge than any other creative professional on the planet. You don’t have to be expert in everything but you have to be pretty damn good.
8. Maturity and enthusiasm for the tackling of any problem professionally and to the highest standards.
For you, there are no duff accounts in the agency. You cannot work too hard. No pitch is a bridge too far. When times are incredibly tough, when a client has you tearing your hair out, when your team is miserable is when you shine.
We seem to win a lot of pitches at R/GA.
We’re a world-class outfit, very good at what we do, with successful case studies and an iconoclastic history. We’ve got a very clearly defined point of view on the industry, we’re differentiated and we can point unerringly at the effect that the work that we do has on the value of our clients’ brands and their bottom lines.
We pitch well. We’re confident in ourselves and our position at the sharp-end of our industry. All of this helps. Success breeds success and people like to work with winners.
But I think there’s something else behind our conversion rate.
We don’t just beat digital agencies in pitches. Increasingly we come up against and trump the big traditional guys or funky boutiques as well.
I was thinking about why this is on the train, on the way in this morning.
Based on all of the above, it’s obviously about how we pitch. But I think it’s just as much about what we pitch.
We pitch sex. Our opposition pitch marriage.
We pitch lots of little events. They pitch big ideas set in stone.
We pitch behaviours. They pitch messages (vows, even).
We pitch fast and dirty. They pitch slow and boring.
We’re innovative and quick. They need to ask 1000 strangers whether something is a good idea before doing it.
We like to prototype, try new things, test things out for real.
If something doesn’t work, we’re really happy to move on and try something else.
We’re really happy to get others involved if it makes things better.
Our whole approach is based on humanity rather than institutions.
If it doesn’t feel right, we’ll change it up.
And we’ll talk about it, openly, without shame.
Obviously, the sex metaphor thingy can be stretched ad infintum but I think there’s something in it.
And it’s not something that we’re alone in. Mistress have turned it into an operating principle.
Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is a beautiful thing, especially if founded on great and regular sex.
But when you’re dating, looking for a new partner, you don’t want to be thinking about your wedding just yet. You want to be having a bit of fun, working towards a union based on empathy and love built up over time.
And you certainly don’t want to walk into a loveless marriage straight off the bat, with someone who’s already married to lots of other people, with the broken shards of umpteen failed, bitter marriages littered through their past and clouding their day-to-day.
- Will you marry me?
- Would you mind if we had lots of sex first?
I’ll keep this brief. For reference I’ve been at Cannes for the last week and I’m listening to James Blake as I type.
This is potentially a new golden age for our industry.
Digital thinking has returned us to an understanding of people as human beings rather than consumers.
We have to be sympathetic and empathetic now. Nothing else will wash.
We have to meet human needs. Understand.
This is amazing. For so long our industry has treated its audience as mute and manipulatable.
I love this. I think it reframes our relationships and conversations with our clients.
But it also renders our industry more noble.
This should, in theory, attract a better breed of people to work in our industry.
Philosophers who can code. Anthropologists, psychologists, humanitarians.
Maybe, if we continue to think of human beings and add value, we can be come a constructive industry rather than a destructive one.
God, I hope so.
I should add that nothing I saw in the Valhalla that is Cannes this week reinforced my hopes and dreams.
But I’m not giving up on the notion just yet.
We’re extremely excited to announce the launch of Forecast, a new global weather service.
About a year ago, we released a little app for the iPhone and iPad called Dark Sky, attempting to do something new and interesting for weather forecasting, a field we think had become pretty stagnant….
*You have to feel obscurely proud that a sci-fi writer pulled off all of that all at once