Revisited: Creative Is A Pretentious Word

““Be original.” “Break new ground.” “Find new ways of doing things.” “Creativity.” That’s what advertising is about. It's what people with big reputations preach. It's what people with small reputations torture. It's what people in stiff agencies avoid. 
Yet it’s ironic, I know of no other business that produces so much sameness, but embraces creativity so passionately as advertising. 
The word bothers me. 
Creative is a pretentious word. Not by itself, but how it applies to advertising generally. 
I've been the Creative Director of the agency I helped co-found since we started. That was in 1962. Although that title serves the purpose of describing a long-established agency function, it nevertheless makes me feel uncomfortable at times. Particularly when I meet people who know little or nothing of advertising. Can you imagine certain job titles if the situations were reversed? “Hello, I'm Stella, Creative Anthropologist.” Or “Hi, my name's Ralph, Creative Proctology.” 
The advertising business is a business of communicating information. The wasteful part of advertising occurs when good solid information is taken and then so distorted no one understands what's being communicated. This is frequently referred to as the Creative Process. 
Creativity is too heavy a burden to place on creative people. It's unfair. Think of all the undue anxiety it causes us. I'm not even sure how you describe it. 
I'll settle for information. It's what I can understand. It's what people want. To be told something that's important to them about goods and services – specific, detailed, factual.
For example: is the construction of your radial tyre different from any other radials? Does it hold the road better or last longer? What's its performance like on wet surfaces versus biased ply tires? Is the extra cost worth the investment in terms of value, safety, peace of mind? If the departure and return of your vacation is in mid-week, will the air fare be cheaper? Where is the gas tank positioned in your car in the event of a rear-end collision? What's the nutritional value of your breakfast cereal? 
Dig for information. Ask questions. Become as expert on the product and the category as you can. Absorb. Tell the truth. If a product has bee around for any length of time, it must have some virtue. Find it. Explain it. Demonstrate it. If a product is new, why is it being introduced? To imitate other products previously launched with no particular advantage, or to produce its own special reason for being? Believe in what you do. If you don't believe it, how can you get other people to believe it? 
I'd be foolish to deny the creativity of this business. It exists certainly. In small measure certainly. 
But to my mind the real creative challenge of advertising begins before the ad is written. It's in the search, examination, and discovery of new information. Confronting the reality of things. Dealing with the controversy of things. Dismissing the anappropriate. Answering the most pertinent. And finally, deciding on what is the most persuasive and substantive statement you can make about whatever it is you're about to sell somebody.”
Amil Gargano
President/Creative Director
Ally & Gargano, Inc.
New York City

Hidden away in the preface to the 1979 American Showcase of Photography, Illustration and Graphic Design is this brilliant piece. Written by one the best admen ever, from one of the world's greatest ever ad agencies, it is a superb examination of the role of the creative person in advertising. I've written around this subject on this blog quite a bit, but Mr Gargano here nails it. 

It's amazing but true, that advertising is largely populated with creatives, even creative directors, who don't really know what their job is. Or refuse to accept it. A large number clearly see themselves as people who's job it is to jazz-up something, or to entertain, or just be creative

It's one of the reasons why the ad industry's output is declining in quality. It's one of the reasons why most ordinary people still see most advertising as annoying at best, offensive at worst. And it's one of the reasons why creative people rarely hold positions of power and influence in ad agencies any more. After all, who would give such responsibility to clowns?

First published on this blog 05.06.13

The Problem With Marketing During The Election Campaign Is Really The Big Problem With All Contemporary Marketing And Advertising

Over on the Marketing website, Craig Mawdsley has written an excellent article on how the political parties' adoption of marketing thinking and approaches during the election campaigns has been a failure: Why Marketing Ruined The Election.

He asserts that the political parties are wrong to think of themselves as brands, and adopt over-simplified slogans and positions. And I agree completely with him. We talked about this a little in our post Brand Bullshit Week a few weeks ago:
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.
But I think what we're getting close to here is something else, something that should be deeply worrying for anyone who commissions or works in advertising. The problem with political parties adopting marketing and advertising approaches is really the problem with where advertising and marketing currently finds itself.

Let me put it this way, twenty years ago advertising seemed to really help the parties and the election campaigns, the techniques and crafts of communication helped these ideologies communicate with power and simplicity the problems they were trying to solve or their point of view.

What's changed isn't that the parties are wrong to turn to marketing or advertising for help. It's that marketing and advertising are currently in a right fucking state.

Contemporary marketing and advertising thinking has evolved into something completely facile and woolly. It thinks that everything is about brand, it thinks everything is a brand problem, and it places way too much emphasis on what people feel, and has completely lost the substance of what it is saying.

Everything isn't about brand. Everything isn't a brand problem.

Marketing has completely lost touch with the customer, and with business.

It's in no man's land.

The business makes a product or provides a service - mostly based on a good idea of what people want or need.

And the customer buys (or doesn't buy) this product, based on a number of factors depending on the category, but largely on whether they think it will fulfil their need.

And then in the middle comes marketing and advertising - who so often feel completely cut-off from that above dynamic - in fact many people working in advertising don't even see themselves as part of that process. Marketing sees itself almost as a separate 'industry' – whereas obviously in reality they are part of a shoe company, or toothpaste company, or company that builds cars.

They have their own set of beliefs and their own world which seems increasingly divorced form the reality of the punter, the product and the business.

This is why so much advertising seems facile and moronic, this why boards, chief execs and FDs are increasingly frustrated with marketing and with advertising agencies.

And it's why you can end up with advertising and campaigns that half the time you have no idea either what they were advertising or what the point of them was. Thirty seconds of fluff with a logo stuck on the end. A moronic slogan and giant packshot. Another cute animal or movie rip-off.

And it's why current marketing and advertising thinking is no use to the political parties.

It's facade and fluff, image and polish. It's all dressing, and no meat.

It's probably not a bad moment to mention that we have a book coming out in a few weeks that attempts to offer a solution: How To Make Better Advertising And Advertising Better (The Manifesto For A New Creative Revolution). Keep your eye out for it.

Revisited: Shouldn't We Punish Agencies And Advertisers For Communication Pollution?

Over recent years, we've all become far more aware of the impact that we are having on our planet. As a result, we're encouraged to behave in a more environmentally friendly way.

But what about our social and cultural environment? By that I mean the things that surround us every day; our streets, our homes, the magazines we read, newspapers, television, film, bars, cafes, the internet. The things that make up the landscape of our lives.

Doesn't that cultural environment deserve some protection too?

It might not be physically damaging in the same way as environmental damage to the planet. But as individuals and as a society, our lives are polluted daily by scores of ugly, stupid, banal and insulting commercial messages.

Not all of them, but many of them. Commercials shout at us. They repeat utter nonsense endlessly. They dress-up dangerous services in friendly clothes. Depict plastic, inane characters who say stupid things. They interrupt our viewing with inexplicably dumb bursts of trash. Adverts flash starbursts and giant type at us, treating us like idiots. Writing talks down to us, or at us, often accompanied by desperate and offensive design.

Messages that could easily be communicated with charm and beauty instead become pollution that blights our everyday lives. So much so that we have learned to block it out, like the unfortunates who live next to the stench of a sewage plant.

I strongly believe that companies and organisations have the right to make commercial messages, and to communicate those messages to people. But surely there is a onus on those responsible to make sure that those messages don't pollute and detract from society?

Well the truth is that currently there is no such responsibility, is there?

Whilst some of us, agencies and clients alike, believe that intelligent, engaging, human, truthful, well-crafted, beautiful, artistic or enjoyable commercial messages are far more beneficial commercially, there are plenty of people and companies out there who appear more than happy to spray the world with commercial effluent if they think that will result in a few extra bucks, or a few fewer hours on the timesheet.

The cultural environment is at the mercy of whether the people producing the advertising are of the former or latter persuasion.

This seems wrong. When it comes to the planet, if it's left to corporations and executives to self-determine whether they be good citizens of the world environmentally, commercial pressures mean that far fewer behave in an environmentally friendly way. We know this. 

So when it comes to the planet, the carrot of public goodwill takes corporations only so far; it is the stick of taxation, legislation and fines that does the really heavy lifting.

Doesn't it follow that our social and cultural environment, our everyday lives, be offered the same protection?

Shouldn't advertisers, and the agencies responsible for the idiotic and the ugly, be fined or heavily taxed for unnecessarily polluting it?

It seems to me that it wouldn't be that difficult to police. A panel made up of ex industry experts, writers, designers, ex-clients, and independents could be easily be paid for by the immediate fines that would be levied against countless infractors. The vast amounts of cash inevitably left over could be channelled into projects that benefit the cultural environment.

Repeat offenders would be hit with increasing fines, and be subject to pre-vetting. Individuals in companies would have to explain to their board that their decisions to run brash, idiotic, shouty or ugly advertising had cost those companies money. Thus there would become a financial imperative to making sure that that all communication and advertising was actually fit to be put out into our environment.

Isn't it about time that, just as corporations have been forced to respect the environment, they were forced to respect our right to have daily lives free from their communication pollution too?

First published on this blog 30.04.2012

2015 General Election Advertising: What Do You Think?

We are two days away from the general election here in the UK, and as the parties board their battle buses to tour the country, it seems like a fair time to reflect on the advertising.

Have you, dear readers, seen any advertising this year that has changed any view or opinion of yours, or made you think harder about any subject, or even - god forbid influenced who you might vote for?

My two penneth is, I haven't. It seems a pretty lame year, advertising-wise. The Green party's effort stands above the others for being dire as opposed to just forgettable. They somehow managed to make a party that always seemed to at least stand for something (which made them distinctive from the other parties) feel like they were just playing the same old personality game, rather than talking talking about what they felt was important. They regressed to style over substance in other words.

What sayeth you, voting public? Have your say in the comments below...

We Are In The Age Of Phonies

Classic Bill Bernbach quote...

“Today, everybody is talking ‘Creativity,’ and frankly, that’s got me worried. I fear lest we keep the good taste and lose the sell. I fear all the sins we may commit in the name of ‘Creativity.’ I fear that we may be entering an age of phonies.

Mint Work



Conventional wisdom tells us that it's not a very good idea to try to feature two products in an ad and do justice to both.

This great new ad from Trebor shows how it's possible to do just that.

There's lots to enjoy in this commercial. From the styling and wardrobe to the little cutaways, to the timidity of the "confession", to the twist at the end, it's clear that a lot of care has gone into the craft of this commercial.

Good to see a classic brand like Trebor back on telly. And good to see an that is unashamedly about the product from start to finish.

No higher "do-good" brand purpose. No manifesto. No cuddly animals. No 'join the conversation'. No hashtag bollocks nonsense.

Just one very entertaining thirty second commercial squarely aimed at getting people to buy some mints.

Well done W&K.

Edit: This is still probably a better ad for Softmints though... (thanks @alldaycreative for the reminder)