Forget about awards and the awards will come.

Do you see yourself as a creative person?

Try this test.

Take a brick and list three things you can do with it.

Some people will say 1. Build a house 2. Build a road 3. Build a bridge.

If your top three ideas were 1. Throw through a jeweller’s window, 2. Squash flies 3. Paint white and use as a creative award – you may be destined for a career in the creative industries.

So does something more fundamental separate creatives from people who might class themselves as ‘non-creative’?

My wife and I were watching one of those programmes, of the ‘Escape to’ variety.

Yes, it’s a high-octane life I lead.

This one was about a couple who have bought a château in France and are renovating it beautifully and creatively.

It might even be called ‘Escape to the Château’.

The wife, (his not mine) had bought a new light for one of the bedrooms – off the internet, as you do, and opened up the box upon receiving it with a squeal of delight.

It was a wonderfully decorative flower arrangement style set in brass.

Her husband, a practical man and extremely handy with a jigsaw and a plank of wood, looked on with a look of amused despair, and immediately pointed out that it was a candle holder with no electrical aspect whatsoever.

Not what they needed at all.

My wife ‘tutted’ and remarked ‘that’s such a creative person thing to do’.

(I couldn’t really argue as I had done something similar myself recently with a picture light.)

Because creative people’s brains do work differently to a degree.

But creative or non-creative, we all can tap in to a higher level of creativity if we put our minds to it.

Or rather if we don’t.

A study in the 1970’s at Stanford in California by an academic called Mark Lepper (now a professor of Psychology) took a group of children from the Bing Nursery school located on the Stanford campus, divided them in to three groups and gave all three a set of markers, crayons and paper.

The first group was told there would be a reward for the best picture. An award with their name on it, no less.

The second group was not told anything, but the best picture did receive an ‘unexpected reward’ once they had completed the task.

The third groups were neither promised nor received any award for their work.

The results were astounding. The first group’s work – the one with a clear reward – was considerably worse than the other two.

The findings, at least among these children, clearly showed that reward is not necessarily the best way to increase creativity.

A subsequent experiment divided children in to two groups and again asked them to create a collage – one with no promise of anything and the other with the promise of a prize: An Etcher-sketch!

They then asked judges to come in from the art department and randomly asked them to judge the work.

All of the work from the group with no intrinsic incentive was judged to be significantly poorer.

Weird huh?

So what is your approach to awards and how does this square with those agencies who clearly load the dice with work let’s say…..that is specifically designed to clean up at Cannes etc?

Well, it would at least seem to contradict Lepper’s work at Stanford.

But I suspect the creative motivation for those who produce those winning concepts is less about winning the awards and more about doing something cool.

In fact for anyone who produces great work, it’s never about the awards as a starting point. Not really.

Maybe it just happens that if your approach is to go for cool and interesting first, rather than be fixated on what will win at an awards show, the awards start flowing.

So that brief that’s sitting on your desk? what could you do to give yourself the most fun on a job that you’ve ever had?

What would you like to spend the next three months producing, assuming it works for the brand?

Do that, not that thing you think might delight the judges.

You never know, you might win a brick all of your own.

 

 

*With special thanks to the freakonomics.com podcast for the inspiration for this blog.

 

 

 

How you see the Gillette ad is like how you see Ferris Bueller. Kind of.

I love an online furore, me.

Have you see the new Gillette advert? Boys will be boys? It’s been hard to miss.

After all the campaigns empowering our mothers, sisters, and daughters – from This girl can to Like a girl to Blood normal us chaps finally have our own bonafide ‘purpose’ campaign.

Except this one is for Gillette and the other campaigns were for um…bodyform? I dunno.

But let’s leave aside whether purpose based campaigns are worthwhile for now. In Healthcare we take a brands purpose as a given, improving lives, saving lives, but in consumer it’s still a point of contention.

Either way, Gillette has 50% of the razor market, which ordinarily would make this kind of decision – to get stuck in to a political arena – unthinkable, because why risk that massive brand leadership position to virtue signal?

Which makes their decision all the more brave, stupid or smart, depending on whether you see the ad as half full or half empty.

Because whether you identify with the men being ‘corrected’ or the men doing the ‘correcting’ determines how you see the film.

If you don’t see how identifying with characters makes a difference to your interpretation (of anything) try watching a favourite film from your youth, thirty years later. When I first saw it I, like you I dare say, thought Ferris Bueller was the coolest kid ever. Thirty years on and all I can feel is the horror of a father whose precious Ferrari is trashed by some spoilt kids who aren’t taking their education seriously.

I was first made aware of this new Gillette campaign over my porridge when an incensed Piers Morgan had a tantrum on ITV, here on UK breakfast TV.

It’s my own fault, but BBC breakfast is quite the snore-fest.

Of course, Piers spectacularly missed the point of the commercial and thought it was about not being masculine. He was in the glass half empty camp and only saw men being corrected. How very dare they.

In terms of identifying, make of that what you will.

Because Piers (and quite a lot of other online-people too apparently) clearly thinks evolving from a pre #metoo male in to any kind of aware human being means being all weedy and not beating up softy types and not being able to pinch girls bottoms, catcall and mansplain all over the place.

Clearly some of his favourite things to do and a definitive mark of a man* (*Old Spice strapline 1970’s BTW)

I quickly started scanning twitter responses. The anger was pretty substantial, it must be said.

“I will never use Gillette products again!”

“it’s an attack on manhood and masculinity”

Were just some of the comments I’ve made up, but accurately sum up the reaction.

But does that mean it was universally hated?

Have you been on twitter recently? As someone in my office pointed out, the kind of people who get incensed about this kind of thing all live on Twitter and the comment section of Youtube.

So is there a silent majority who would actually champion this kind of brave and purpose driven marketing – or at least the message at its heart – but who just don’t tend to bother shouting in to the internet’s infinite void about it?

Maybe.

Going online this morning (the day after) and the tide seems to have changed. The supporters have come out in force. Yesterday it was 10 attackers to every 1 defender in terms of thumbs up or down on Youtube. This morning it’s down to 2:1.

Not a knock out punch but a definite bounce back. (assuming there’s not been any shenanigans with the numbers)

So, call me controversial, but I want to show Gillette some love.

They’ve taken a sensitive issue and been brave enough to nail their colours to its mast. Good for them. What better brand to do this?

And what better time?

Three years ago this campaign would have been unthinkable. Today it’s controversial, in twenty years time it will seem quaint.

I mean think of how far we’ve come since the 50s.

Advertising has always reflected our society. Always made semi political statements, even without knowing. After all, there was a time when these ads were perfectly acceptable and seen as funny even.

When brands realised they were out of step, they changed. Perhaps this is what Piers thinks appeals to real men and mourns these campaigns?

I doubt it.

Okay, the Gillette ad is a little cheesy for my British palette, it looks a little like the agency presented the mood reel for the strategy and the client pointed at the screen and said let’s run it!

And I found parts of it a little patronising. Plus I wish it had been handled with a lighter touch. It is quite a blunt instrument with no nuance or subtlety.

But I must admit I identified with the men trying to do the right thing more than the men who weren’t.

But it wasn’t always so.

In my youth I’m not sure I was as aware of what I said and did as I am today, more through ignorance than malice. Age, experience and this whole movement has made some of us question our actions, but more importantly see what we hadn’t seen before.

Maybe I won’t comment on what she’s wearing. Maybe I won’t make a dick joke. Maybe I will listen more and not interrupt.

Most men try to do the right thing. But also most men are a product of their upbringing.

I grew up in the seventies, when it really was a man’s world, admen were men, clients were men, and so were the women (to paraphrase an 80’s Leagas Delaney Timberland ad). Today’s young men have the benefit of a somewhat more balanced media world and have been exposed to opinions and messages that emanate from a more diverse range of voices.

The seventies and eighties style Gillette ad, glossy women fawning over square-jawboned men would simply not resonate with our sons today. They’re as outdated as those 50s print ads.

And literally nobody ever talked about Gillette ads back then. They were sometimes parodied or spoofed, but as advertising campaigns they were like toilet roll or cat food, just something glossy to reassure you they worked well enough.

Now suddenly Gillette is relevant. Topical and has purpose.

Suddenly it’s the number one trending topic on Twitter.

As any adman will tell you, getting noticed is the first and most important thing any ad has to do. Without that, everything else is meaningless.

So are the predictions of brand suicide without merit?

Mark Ritson in Marketing week:

“…But in Gillette’s case there is a bigger price to pay. There is a special place in marketing hell for companies that not only waste their marketing budgets but actually invest that money into things that ultimately make their situation much worse. That’s going to be the cost of this foray into brand purpose for Gillette.

It has spent its own money to make its still excellent commercial situation indelibly less positive at a time when it can ill afford the misstep, given the many alternatives vying for its sales. And for that we should stand back and appreciate what might turn out to be the worst marketing move of the whole year.”

It’s an interesting article and I can see his point, but I for one will be renewing my purchase of their blades. They work well enough, so what’s not to like?

We’ll see how Gillette sales do over the coming weeks and months.

But bear in mind this:

People always hate change, when Heineken famously dropped doing beer campaigns with ‘busty barmaids’ ( a phrase that’s all but died out it’s just occurred to me) their research groups were up in arms. Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach??? what a load of bollocks, they said, bring back our barmaids!

And yet, it became one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time – at least in the UK.

So, if the Gillette ad makes someone think twice before saying or acting inappropriately and link that action back to the brand, then all well and good.

And so what that it’s a mere razor brand who is doing that. Their brand relies on ‘The best a man can get’ and if that meaning has to change from adoring women and fast cars to a higher standard of behaviour, then that’s moving positively with the times.

And I suspect that the customer base that Mark Ritson worries will desert Gillette on point of principle will un-ruffle their feathers soon enough when they realise that not being an asshole is actually an ok thing to be.

Apart from Piers Morgan obviously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Career suicide.

A couple of apparently unconnected things happened in the last few months, out there in media land, that have a hit a chord if you happen to be a seasoned creative of the ‘pale and male’ persuasion.

Firstly in June, at Cannes Lions, the wonderful ‘Project 84’ scooped a gazillion Lions for the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A haunting and yet beautiful depiction of suicide rates in the UK, showing 84 men perched on the side of a sky scraper in central London.

The idea, in case you missed it, helped raise the profile of the epidemic in male suicide, 84 men between under the age of 40 kill themselves every week.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under forty. Not Cancer, not Diabetes, not car crashes.

I know a bit about the senseless waste, the inner trauma that nobody spots when its shrouded in a happy go lucky outer shell

My best friend, when I was thirty two and he was thirty four, with four sons and a wife, took his own life with some rope and a beam in his garden shed. I also know a little about the mess that’s left behind.

What leads these men to opt out? it varies. Clinical depression, broken marriages a general sense of hopelessness.

Maybe even losing a job.

On a completely different and far more ‘woke’ topic there was the news that Jo Wallace, A Creative Director at JWT London had declared  war on the white middle aged heterosexual man. What she called the ‘Knightsbridge boys club’.

Enough of this MadMen culture! We need more diversity!

Watch out chaps!

Next thing we know, a bunch of them are being made um…well…let’s call it ‘redundant‘.

(I know a little about this predicament, as it’s ten years since I left Havas in what one might call ‘a hurry’.)

And now guess what, these same creatives (all older and white and heterosexual of course) have mounted a discrimination law suit against JWT.

Oh dear, poor old JWT can’t seem to get it right. One minute their CEO is being ousted for inappropriate behaviour and the next they’re being too zealous with the whole ‘woke’ strategy.

To be fair JWT refute the allegations of discrimination. They maintain that there had been a spate of redundancies and it made sense that if the majority of the department are pale and male, let alone stale, then there would be a bias towards them. Ok, I get that.

But you have to admit, the timing of Jo Wallace’s speech could have been a lot less Gerald Ratnery.

Positive discrimination is all well and good but can be done without a callous attitude to other people, people with children, homes and mortgages.

These are the same people who have spent a lifetime hawking their student book around town, carving out a career and working their buts off, with weekends and public holidays spent in the office not seeing their families just to do some nice work and keep their jobs.

If Jo Wallace should be anti anything she should be anti-notalent.

Now, granted, we have had a good run, us white middle aged heterosexual men. It cannot be denied.

I just wonder if this is the way to change things.

In a world where talent should be the defining factor in job retention, or indeed progression, being discriminated against because of colour, age or gender is unacceptable.

Shouldn’t that include the pale and male? Even if that’s only what it looks like.

When JWT start hiring again this might severely limit the number of rocks she can look under for talent.

I started googling and found this article in Campaign magazine from 2016 by Rooney Carruthers who asked the question ‘what next for the over 45 year old creative?’

He writes of an older creative who had recently been made ‘redundant’ and taken his own life.

Now, I don’t want to be over dramatic. Lots of these so called stale creatives will find work and not just in top twenty agencies.

But this is serious shit. It’s not a game you should be able to play just to meet diversity quotas, no matter how important diversity is.

And the truth is, the advertising industry has its own natural attrition. (Many of us get fed up with the level of idiot bellends and selling sugar to kids.)

True diversity can and should be fed from the bottom up, filtering people in to the industry through talent first.

Yet minorities of all descriptions very often don’t see adland as a realistic career choice.

That’s why schemes like the Creative Floor are so important, they do incredible work to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it, or otherwise struggle to find a way in, through their talent and diversity fund.

That’s where the answer lies and when they have gained the knowledge and honed their talents, and creative people from all walks of life see adland as an option the shape of agencies will be truly diverse and packed full of talent.

Happy International Men’s day everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of an awards tart.

I’ve been honoured and lucky enough to have been asked to sit on three awards juries this year. Cannes Pharma, LIAs Health and I’ll be attending Clio Health in November. I was asked to be on the Globals but although … Continue reading

The Bieber guide to pitching.

The approach is this:

You simply do whatever you need to, present the kind of work you suspect they will like and then get the client round to an idea you like once they are through the door and you are fully appointed.

So why Justin Bieber?

Think of it like dating.

If you want to woo a girl (for the sake of this blog) and she likes Justin Bieber you say you love JB too – how amazing! and you buy two tickets for his next show because, you know, you are sooo all about the Biebs.

You go to the concert, put up with the music and the screaming girls, but woo her with the whole ‘we have so much in common’ pitch, and as she gazes in to your eyes longingly, you kiss her to the sound of ‘As long as you love me’ in the background and then, theoretically, you live happily ever after.

Simples.

Until the next time she suggests Justin is in town and she has got some tickets.

Aaahh crap.

Greeeeaaaat. Can’t wait.

You can’t now say you actually can’t stand him, she would consider you a complete fraud, so you go and keep going and buying the albums and listening to him on long car journeys and then one day it all gets unbearable and you get very drunk and admit, in a slurred yet frenzied mental breakdown, that you always HATED him and if you have to go to another concert of his or listen to one more bar of his you will literally cut off your own ears and stuff the remaining ear-hole with parts of disused flip flops!

In floods of tears she can’t believe she has been so stupid as to fall for this sham of a relationship and she storms out leaving you heartbroken.

That’s one way to pitch.

So it might have just been better in the first place if you’d just explained that actually Ed Sheeran is more your cup of tea and risked not winning her over.

Or maybe she actually had never heard Ed Sheeran and actually quite likes him now that you made her a playlist.

So, fellow pitch losers, when you receive that ‘you came a close second’ call or email, maybe it’s ok.

Maybe you just dodged a bullet.

Sooner or later you would have cut your own ears off and had no flip flops.

Real success, both creatively and financially, comes when both parties like Ed Sheeran or led Zep, or Beyonce or whoever.

If you think what you are presenting is right – whatever the outcome, then losing a pitch is actually winning if you look at it the right way.

And when you actually win that pitch, well, it’s all the more sweeter.

Plus, as the Biebster would say, there’s one less lonely girl.

 

 

 

 

Pharma’s invisibility cloak.

In the Harry Potter books, why we ‘muggles’ don’t see all the weird magical stuff happening around us is explained in one simple line.

‘Muggles see what they want to see.’

A similar myopia seems to pervade consumer advertising and Healthcare advertising.

Maybe I’m being sensitive.

Apparently, there were actually two whole categories at Cannes that happened the same week as the rest of Cannes, had work exhibited in the same basement as the rest of Cannes and actual agencies won golds and silvers and agency of the year awards and……noooooobody noticed.

You had to go through a door in an invisible wall to a strange alleyway, apparently.

How do I know this?

Well, in this month’s Campaign – the leading advertising publication in the UK – an article by the ‘Global editor-in-chief’, no less, Claire Beale, in a piece supposed to soothe our bruised English national pride after the world cup, and get us all fired up about the creative talent on our shores, pretty much confirmed it.

In the article she rightfully championed every achievement by our consumer cousins at Cannes. (It is comforting to know we were still good at something even if the football didn’t work out how we thought.) heaping praise on the awesome achievements of Adam&Eve DDB among other notable agencies.

But somehow we had our invisibility cloaks in full working order and there wasn’t a mention of any successes in the Health and Wellness or Pharma categories for some reason.

I think I’m definitely being sensitive.

But it’s not like she didn’t have her chance at inclusion:

“And UK agencies are strong across the whole bench, not just scoring in the traditional positions, such as Film, but taking gold (and above) Lions in Glass, Sustainable Development Goals, Titanium, Creative Data, Direct, Media, PR, Social and Influencer, Film Craft, Creative Ecommerce and Entertainment.”

Um…not quite the whole bench there Claire is it.

An English agency, Havas Lynx, won Healthcare agency of the year, you might not have noticed.

They even handed out a statue and everything

 

I’m almost certain that I am probably just being a touch sensitive.

It’s weird because a lot of the big agency networks are scrambling to get involved in the healthcare space. It’s where a lot of the exciting work is happening. They even won in some of these categories.

But in some quarters our presence at Cannes is still like we have just been let in the back door to a teenage house party because our older sister was in with the cool older boys and said we could gatecrash if we stayed in the kitchen and didn’t talk to anyone and only drank cider.

We’re the fucking Inbetweeners.

But it’s not just the journos at Campaign. During the Cannes judging I bumped in to a well known advertising Creative Director, with whom I had a passing and tenuous association with, via an old friend, and we work in the same building. She has been in the business a good thirty years.

“Oh, what jury are you on?” she inquired after I introduced myself.

“Pharma”

“Oh? What’s that?” she said.

It wasn’t meant in a mean or derogatory way, I could tell she just had literally no idea. All she heard was “Spells and Potions”.

I am aware this just all sounds like chippy, a little whiny and a little bitchy. Why do I care what Campaign thinks, I ask myself?

I don’t really know, to be honest. It’s this damn over-sensitivity I guess.

But for too long we have been meek and mild about what we do, embarrassed even. Our history of regulations, small budgets and lack of creativity takes a long time to fade and as we know, perception always trails reality.

We are so busy flying around on broomsticks and casting spells on people and talking in backward snakey-talk that the rest of the world is quite happy not being involved.

They see what they want to see.

So whatever Campaign thinks or doesn’t think, it’s time to start being proud of the work, the craft, the ingenuity that we have in Pharmaland and to ditch the sensitivity. Or as Claire puts it “ditch the negativity and self-flagellation…UK Healthcare agencies are creative world champions”.

Ok, I added the healthcare part.

It may be that they just don’t ‘get’ our world, so it’s easier to put us in the cupboard under the stairs and tell us to keep quiet.

Perhaps we should invite them to a big school in a castle in Scotland?

You never know, they might be surprised at what a little magic can do.