Are Professionals Killing Marketing And Advertising?

Today Marketing Magazine published a good article by Craig Mawdsley about over-professionalism in marketing getting in the way of creating great advertising, a subject we agree with, but believe isn't just confined to marketing departments, but agencies as well. So we thought it would be a good day to reprise our post on the subject...

I was following some chatter on the old internet earlier, instigated by Armando Iannucci asking "Has politics actually come to an end? I'm serious. Does it work any more?".

Someone replied "What's Poisoned politics is the professionalisation, people going into politics for life. It's not normal." Someone else added "Politics has replaced government - politicians who know how to play the game, but no idea how to make things actually work".

I think there is some scary truth in that. Governments used to be made up of principled individuals who had a vision for how to make life better, and how to get there. But now it seems like the debate is more important than the subject being debated. Being seen to do the right thing is more important than doing the right thing.

I don't think that it's a problem exclusive to politics.

We live in the era of professionals. You can see it in business, in organisations like the FA and, unfortunately, in advertising and marketing.

When I first came into advertising, people who had studied marketing at college or university were few and far between. Almost every marketing person you met had come up through the organisation, and ended up there because they were good at it. Generally they had a great grasp on the realities of their business.

Now, almost every marketer you meet is some kind of marketing graduate. They are trained in theory, charts, diagrams, powerpoint.

I remember the hilarity when we saw our first Brand Onion - what a crock we all thought. But it was the exception. Now every brand has a brand onion. Or a pyramid, or a doughnut.

When we used to present work, you looked for a visceral reaction in the client. An understanding of why something would work.

Now, you just sense a series of check-boxes being mentally ticked off.

But this isn't just confined to the client side. Oh, no. Agencies used to be the stamping ground of interesting, lively dangerous free-thinkers and do-ers.

Agencies are now largely staffed by advertising's version of corporate drones. Advertising civil servants.

And people who have played it safe are at the top of the business. They have smarmed and politicked their way there, they kept their heads down and made the right moves. They didn't upset people, they didn't take risks, they just greased their way up the pole. They keep the holding company happy.

How someone can be professional in the field of advertising I have no idea. The best advertising comes from people who walk in every morning with no idea how they ended up there, and no idea how they came up with their last good idea. And if youdo approach something in some organised, structured process, I guarantee the result will look like exactly that.

We got an email the other day from some young person who said their life's ambition was to be an account manager. Fuck me. Poor bastards.

It's not just confined to the accounts side. Never has the ad industry's creative departments been inhabited by such a professional, organised, uninspiring lot. Who are these people who decided at age 17 that they wanted to be a creative? They scare the living shit out of me. This isn't like being a doctor you know, you can't learn it at college. What life experience and lively thinking has someone to offer who has been training themselves in the business of being a creative for the last five years?

I had one of those pointless internet exchanges with a creative the other day, because they wouldn't accept that there might be another formula to creating good advertising other than the one they were taught on their ad course.

In the end you have bow out of these things and allow them the last word, after all, as someone much more funny than I once said "The problem with arguing with stupid people is that they drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience'.

And to be fair, they weren't stupid, far from it. They were just a product of a world where professionalism, knowing how, doing it right, going by the rules, playing by the book, are encouraged.

We live in the era of professionals in advertising.

But, and I know I've asked this question before.

If people now are so much better trained, clued-up - professional - then how come almost all advertising is absolute crap?

The answer... No matter how hard you try, you can't professionalise your way to great advertising.

First published 15.5.13

Advertisers Are Like Prison Cafeteria Cooks

So last night was the Brit awards apparently. I say apparently because I hadn't a clue it was even on until a load of people started talking about cloaks and falling over.

Obviously, in this modern era of reatime marketing, the world was then deluged with brands making tenuous and extremely lame falling over related content.  

This is modern advertising's greatest grand fuck-up, not just in this low-rent, twitter and facebook stuff, but in proper, grown-up advertising too.

This belief that you can just push whatever you want at people ('consumers') regardless of whether it's any use or benefit to them.

The best advertising should start with people - the customers - what do they want, what's in it for them? Why should they care? About our product? About what we have to say?

The onus is on us to show them what's in for them.

But most advertising appears to be the result of advertising and marketing people just deciding what they'd like to say, whatever makes them feel better in the board room or agency, and just saying it.

In that sense, modern advertisers are like prison cafeteria cooks – ladling out whatever slop they decided to cobble together that day, regardless of whether it makes us gag.

Advertising is increasingly, insultingly lame in the way it underestimates its audience, much like it was in the 1950's before the creative revolution gave way to a more honest approach that credited the audience with intelligence. Strange it seems to have gone backwards.

At least, thankfully, most advertising these days is barely noticed.

Time for another creative revolution?

Go now and eat a pie.

The week is nearly at an end.
Now go and live your weekend like the Lancashire Hotpots:

Brand Bullshit Week

An up and down week for brand bullshit this week. On the upside, Bob Hoffman takes the brand bullshitters to task in two excellent consecutive posts, the second of which brilliantly eviscerates Kevin Roberts' complete misunderstanding of what has made Apple successful. On the downside, we find a national newspaper mindlessly regurgitating a thinly-veiled agency promotion in the guise of misguided brand-nonsense survey. There's so much wrong with that survey, the premise behind it, and the assertions made on the back of it, it could easily absorb most of my day pulling it apart. So I won't. But here are just three quick bullet points:

- The whole premise of people 'loving' or 'hating' brands, and that in turn influencing their buying behaviour, is completely misguided. It's this very start point that's leading to so much bullshit and wasted money in advertising. If you are tempted to disagree with this point (and I suspect many in advertising and marketing might) why not treat yourself to a little read of some of Professor Byron Sharp's work.

- Conflating political parties and consumer brands is fucking nuts. Idiotic. Thinking of political parties as brands is the kind of shit that has got politics into the horrible state that it's in. They are ideologies, the approaches of which, people can genuinely (and violently) agree or disagree with. The idea that people have the same kind of relationship with political parties as they do with a brand of sandwich spread is beyond fantasy. This idea that 'everything is a brand' and everything a brand problem, is a moronic plague on our times.

- Let's just take the headline 'hated brand' (not including political parties) - Marmite. For christ's sake, do these people understand nothing? At least Marmite themselves, and their agency thankfully understand people's relationship with their product. The publishers of this survey clearly don't. People's 'relationship' (if you'll excuse the word) with Marmite is with the spread, the product, Marmite. Not the brand. Some people like the taste of it, some people dislike the taste of it. I really dislike it (I'd be in the 'hate' part of Marmite's excellent advertising slogan), I feel neither here or there about the 'brand'. In fact I don't mind it. They appear to know their product, and their advertising normally has charm and wit, and doesn't treat me like a moron. I'm fine with the 'brand' Marmite. I will never buy the product however, because I don't like it.

I'm going to stop myself there for my own sanity (and I have work to do). All I will say is, if you're a business owner or a marketing person, and your agency thinks that people's buying behaviour is influenced by their attitude towards your brand, and their solution is (inevitably) some brand advertising - for the love of god, get yourself a new agency, pronto.


Clever, nicely shot film by Bert Haanstra...

Lovely NASA Film Of The Sun

February 11, 2015 marks five years in space for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day. Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt ever since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun's atmosphere, the corona. In honor of SDO's fifth anniversary, NASA has released a video showcasing highlights from the last five years of sun watching. Watch the movie to see giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, the dance of giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the sun's surface.

Walking Legs

A couple of weeks ago I went over to Somerset House to check out their exhibition of fashion photographer Guy Bourdin's work.

It was very good. A proper photography exhibition. Lot's of work, well laid out in a big space, with a good amount of info on the work. (Not all galleries get this right, too many times I've left a gallery frustrated by good work being marginalised by poor exhibition design.)

One of the highlights was Bourdin's series called Walking Legs.
In 1979 he was commissioned to shoot an ad campaign for glamourous shoe designer Charles Jourdan. He took his partner, their son and an assistant on a roadtrip of Britain in his black Cadillac.
No models, just some mannequin legs & fancy shoes he stuffed in the boot with a couple of cameras.

These are most of the shots he produced.

Bourdin's own Black Caddy peering around the corner.

And they are very good. Over 35 years old and they still feel fresh.

With the tightest of constraints Bourdin produced a fascinating series of images that are much bigger than the sum of their parts. Images that are part of a fantastical, surreal world with menacing undertones that draw you in and leave you wanting to know more.

There's very little fashion advertising today that does that.

There's very little advertising today that does that.

 ps. Dave Dye has a very good blog post that explores more of Bourdin's work.