Award show jury members are thickos.

So it’s been Pharma-awards season recently and we have a few on the horizon.

Did your agency enter work this year but not garner the adulation you expected?

We’ve all been there.

If so, there’s a reason for it and it isn’t necessarily because your work wasn’t good enough.

It’s because jurors are well….a bit thick.

I should know, I have often been one and I am thicker than Simon Cowell’s platform heels.

You may reasonably deduce that your work wasn’t good enough, but really…because of the general fuckwittery of us jurors it was probably more accurately – your entry wasn’t good enough.

Yes, in the midst of that excited preparation of entries for creative awards it’s easy to forget who your target market is.

Frustratingly, juries are made up in the most part, not from sciencey people, clients or account people who know the brief, the brand and the disease area but the kind of cool kids who would copy your homework at school and still somehow get less marks than you.

Otherwise known as other creatives.

I know. It seems unfair.

And what compounds the problem is that it’s usually us banana-brained flowery-shirted neanderthals who prepare the entries. It would be a vicious circle if the people involved on both sides were smart enough to be vicious.

You see, your entry may have made a few basic, not unreasonable assumptions.

These are that:

  1. Jurors would bother to find out what disease the brand was indicated for, if it wasn’t obvious.
  2. Jurors would bother to read the 5pt font that explained what the idea was because the concept page was printed on A4 but designed in A3.
  3. Jurors would instinctively know what the work was trying to achieve.
  4. A video of the app in use with no commentary and crudely shot on an iPhone would hold their attention beyond the first five seconds.
  5. A case history video rushed together on the morning of the deadline with no voice over and subtitles so quick that they could induce epilepsy was sufficient to fully capture the glory of the whole project.
  6. That in a case history video Jurors will be captivated by the five minute testimony of the client’s conference delegates, telling them how much ‘they loved the stand’ because your agency didn’t re-edit it for awards and just used the one you used for creds meetings.

If you made any of these assumptions without making allowances for we sludge-brained amoeba that sit on juries you might be hiding your light under the tinsiest of bushels.

From what I’ve seen, the work that does well in any awards show (certainly for any craft category) isn’t just a good idea…it’s well presented with the concept up front and personal, with some legible copy explaining the brief and why the solution is what it is.

Make it easy for a horses-arse like me, and just like your lovely work that needs to be recognised as such, keep it simple.

Then cross your fingers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr Hammer, your problem isn’t a nail.

Aren’t all branding ideas sort of advertising ideas and vice versa?

Well, sometimes, I guess, but not always.

In Pharmaland we can lean towards treating every problem as if it needs a good whack on the head. Give it a brand image that people will remember, plaster it all over the congress stand and the iPad and stand back.

Not you obviously, but you know…other agencies.

The most recent Mr Muscle campaign highlights the often subtle differences between what (I regard as an..) advertising idea and a brand idea. Both have found their way in to an adspace mind you.

Now, I am not saying that this is the greatest campaign of all time, but it provides a useful, albeit mediocre, example.

The old campaign featured, for years, a feeble nerd who took on super strength because of the product. Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-24 screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-46

Yes, irony folks. But it worked because people could see the role of the brand in their life.

Then after a 30 year successful run some sort of global adboard switches it around and makes the product a superhero (yawn), complete with muscles and a square chin. Not sure why he’s animated but never mind.

One shows the user having a clear benefit.

The other says the brand is great.

journal-mr-muscle

I can imagine the team somewhere deciding that the weedy guy was too negative, he didn’t embody the brand in a positive way.

“I think people might think the product is weedy too…I just feel it’s too negative”.

“Good point Gustav, what we need is a more positive image.”

“Yes, and we need a woman in there so housewives can relate to the user – because men don’t really do cleaning”

“Thanks Maria, good point.”

That Maria is a bit sexist if you ask me.

To my mind they fundamentally lost what makes a good advertising idea work.

The hero is all about the brand, the weedy guy is all about the benefit to you, the bathroom attendant and therefore the brand.

Truth is, clients can often miss the point and go straight to what the pictures in front of them appear to be saying purely on a visual level.

It’s the semiotic argument.

But to paraphrase Eric Morecombe, do all the right notes in the wrong order still add up to a concerto?

At one point in the third act of the film ‘Notting Hill’, you’ll remember that Hugh Grant and the gang all pile in to a small car with a lion in its logo. The cookie sister shouts to Rhys Evans as he squeezes in to the boot ‘You’re my hero’ and they whizz off to stop Julia Roberts from leaving town, to the tune of ‘Gimme some Lovin’.

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I only found out about this a couple of years ago that this was a secret sponsorship, product-placement kind of a deal, brokered by the the account director on the car account I used to work on.

Unsurprisingly, it bypassed our creative department entirely.

It showed the family car could take a lot of people (obviously) and the ‘hero’ line was spot on the branding strategy about heroes that that particular car brand was employing at the time.

The client loved it. They couldn’t sign up quick enough.

That little deal cost them about £150k and it went straight in to the pocket of Working Title films and became an iconic moment in a much loved movie.

But wait a bloody minute.

I’ve seen that film a dozen times and all I saw was a group of friends jumping in a car and driving though london.

And I worked on the brand!

All the right notes, not necessarily in the right order.

Maybe it had some semiotic effect that I don’t know about, but even with all those branding elements that the client held dear and spent millions on, it still didn’t add up to an actual message.

Pharmaland is full of images that capture the ‘brand essence’ or even the MOA without making a connection with the doctor or end user in any meaningful way. We mistake branding ideas for ideas that connect with our audience, the orange bridge, the blue apple, or I dunno….the red sodding banana all probably encapsulate their respective brands perfectly, without ever actually meaning a bloody thing.

What we need in Pharmaland, heck even adland in general, is less hammers looking for nails and more advertising ideas.

Or at the very least, to be able to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 50+ guide to surviving advertising.(extended edition)

It hit me a couple of years ago many of my friends and ex-work colleagues started to turn fifty.

I was at one such one event, standing outside a pub in Berwick street, and I realised everyone was of a certain vintage, all still talented, all still enthusiastically talking about the work they were doing, almost none of them in full time agency employment any more.

These were men and women, like myself at one time, who had either found themselves tipping over the point where ad agencies see the value in them, or had decided to leave full time employment or were encouraged to leave or had accidentally left, rejoined and then left again anyway.

Maybe their faces didn’t fit any more. Maybe it was their Levi’s or mini skirts.

So what happens to people over 50 in adland? where do we all go? It seems nobody knows.

In last week’s Campaign John Hegarty is interviewed on this subject, a fine example of longevity in the business if ever there was one, and the article highlighted a worrying yet unsurprising statistic.

The average age of ad agency staff is 33.7

So what do you do if your nose hairs have started to need an industrial strimmer and your facebook page is full of TENA posts?

It all seemed so simple when you started out, freshed faced, doing placements for a year or two, followed by years of lost weekends and late nights, awards and promotions, adulation and nicer cars, till you’re sipping cocktails in the whisky bar in the Sunset Marquee thinking you are hot-bloody-shit.

I suspect that a lot of the agency average age thing is down to natural attrition, some people just get fed up with all the bullshit. And there is a lot of bullshit that no cocktail can dilute, and like global warming it melts part of your personal polar ice cap every year until all that’s left is a rocky island and a couple of penguins wondering what happened to all the snow.

So let’s talk choices.

You could start your own agency. No? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Some try the foreign assignments. For the more snobby creative it used to be that ‘FILTH’ was a rather unfair accronym for that career path.

It meant Failed In London Try HongKong.

But these days Asia is far from a place to hide or cash in. According to one regional ECD ex-colleague of mine who wanted to remain nameless (for reasons best known to himself!), Singapore or China doesn’t restrict its sweatshops to small children making GAP T-shirts.

Mystery Regional Exec CD: “The older creatives who moved here years ago can struggle with the work. If you are planning on trying Asia as a career move make sure you are very digitally focused”

…he said as he headed off to start another conference call at 8pm.

Well, isn’t everywhere digital these days?

But some people just don’t see the new digital landscape as the industry they fought so hard to be a part of.

My old copywriting chum and creative partner of ten years Matt Bartley left adland a few years ago and has retrained as a nurse and is now working on a hospice ward. I asked him, somewhat disrespectfully but never one to shy away from a gag, what made him swop polishing turds for the real thing.

Matt: “Firstly, I have never regretted working in adland. Many wonderful times and, more importantly, friendships with the most bizarre and sometimes brilliant people. It is impossible to explain to people who have done ‘real work’ all their lives what it was like – so I don’t even try anymore.”

Aw, thanks Mate. I think.

“There are two main reasons I got out. 1. My understanding of a creative idea was increasingly redundant in the digital age. I spent 5 years in a digital agency and it bored me shitless. I was useful in winning pitches. I could give ’em everything from TV to shelf-wobblers, but we all knew that a dancing packshot in an online pop-up was the sum total of the client’s ambition. Digital ‘copywriters’ tended to be digital producers who could spell. I was increasingly irrelevant and, at 50+, not on anyone’s shopping list”.

Well, you can’t please everyone. And from my perspective Matt was talking about a formative time when digital largely only meant display advertising. Digital has become so much more and blurred again with trad advertising and social media to be something far more potent.

Matt: “It’s not easy describing my life now, but there is still a buzz to be had. Perhaps not quite the same buzz as snorting coke off an advertising PAs tits, but, shit, we don’t have your budgets..”

But there are options for the less altruistic among us. There is always ‘consultancy work’ or penning a novel. Or yes, finding yourself in Pharmaland where experience is still valued and the fields are green with creative opportunity.

For me, it was a revelation.

Of course there are some survivors and the ones that are, are the ones who stay hungry in any aspect of the business.

I asked the ‘mature’ legend Billy Mawhinny ex-BBH and Exec CD at JWT who now has his own successful agency, about survival as a ‘senior’ creative.

Billy: The best career advice I ever heard was given to me by Terence Donovan. In that wonderful cultured cockney tone he said “Do something you love and get somebody to pay you for it.” Unfortunately I wasn’t good enough to play for Man United and the Beatles had a drummer so I took up colouring in.

I truly love it as much as I did when I started, now over 40 years ago. I believe it’s that naivety that I can solve anything and unbeatable enthusiasm that has kept me working.

John Hegarty once talked about the Catholic Work ethic and I had to disagree with him in the nicest possible way.Certainly in Ireland, and without the slightest hint of sectarianism on my part, it was referred to as the Protestant Work Ethic.Mostly because of the Industry and Ship Yards of the North. I knew I was no John Hegarty so I decided, very early on, that no one would ever work harder than me.

Protestant or Catholic it has never left me. I also refuse to be intimidated by fashion and what’s new. Bill Bernbach was asked in the early 60’s what Advertising would be like in 20 years time. He said it would be the same in 20 years and it was 20 years ago. People with the power to touch people would be successful and people with out that power won’t. All that and a young loving, energetic family will keep me forever young.

But let’s be honest, for some of us it is hard to be as ravenous as you were when you were 25. Those lost weekends in the office get harder to sacrifice.

After all, that lawn won’t mow itself.

Finding yourself suddenly without an expensable cocktail in your hand and paying for your own hotel bill, what most do is turn to freelance.

But there’s a funny thing that is true of freelance that I found. Something that gives us old crusty creatives a trump card (if you’ll excuse the expression).

Nobody wants young cheap freelancers.

The irony is honey-sweet.

If you have a problem, you don’t need a couple of cool twenty something hipsters who may or may not crack it, who have never driven a car or don’t understand the true nature of family holidays from a parents perspective or only eat pizza and never cook or who have never had a mortgage or understand women’s bladder issues.

You need a couple of pros who can crack that problem quickly and brilliantly.

And even if that’s not you now, it probably will be.

The fact is you have to adapt, those 33.7 year olds just aren’t going to hire you unless you are going for that really big senior job where the hiring is done by the 66.7 year olds.

So get used to being that free spirit, roaming from agency to agency cracking problems big and small. And when you have to work weekends, you can even charge for it.

It comes with a certain amount of shit-shovelling, but when didn’t it?

Maybe agencies will start to see the benefit of experience, or maybe they will remain in the ‘shoreditch wanker’ mode and keep anything with a grey hair at a tatooed arms length.

But until agencies wise up to keeping and exploiting the worth of all that talent and experience, the next stage of your career could come with a good income, no stress and allow you to concentrate on doing what you enjoy doing best. Cracking problems.

My old boss always said that ‘your career is a marathon not a sprint’ and he was right.

You may have hit a wall and had to take a crap in a drain, but it’s not the end. All that training will pay off if you stick with it.

Truth is, if you’re creative there is no finish line.

 

 

 

Being funny without telling a joke.

I once did a freelance stint in a German office of JWT and the CEO there was quite the cliche ‘American’ ad-man, not a German.
An ex-creative director himself, he had a good sense of the process and was no fool.

But we differed on some points, one of which was that he thought the whole ‘don’t tell me you’re funny make me laugh’ thing was in his words ‘horseshit’.

Just tell me you are funny and do it several times, loudly.

It’s an approach that can work if you have enough budget and the audacity.

Remind you of anyone?

If you look at the orange-groper-elect himself, he has had a platform where he can tell everyone he is brilliant, day in day out without any real evidence to support him.

People believed him and his ‘winner’ positioning, even when, despite his obvious personal wealth, the evidence of his many failures is everywhere. Atlantic City Casinos, Trump University. Trump Mortgages et al.

His repeated claim to be awesome and the answer to America’s prayers is largely based on his claim to be the awesome and the answer to America’s prayers.

Maybe we have all been wrong about the whole funny comedian thing.

It can be done, if nobody stops you from claiming it. And that’s the one thing nobody realises about political advertising, you can say whatever bollocks you like and there is no organisation who can stop you or pull you up on it.

But in Pharmaland (or indeed consumer advertising if its something like alcohol) we can’t make claims to be funny or amazing if we ain’t.

All we can do is be funny or amazing.

How many times have you had a client ask you to ‘imply’ superiority?

So how does a brand claim something without claiming it?

The best way to find out is to study how some brands have managed it.

One of my favourite campaigns of all time was the UK campaign for Stella Artois which ran from 1982 to 2007 created by CDP and imported to the then Lowe Howard Spink by Frank Lowe when he left to set up his own agency.

‘Reassuringly expensive’ reinforced what we all secretly think. That the more expensive something is, the better the quality.

But did it actually say it was superior quality?

Not so much.

I use this example knowing full well that this type of advertising is now almost extinct.

But what we have in its place are the type of ideas that use the same device, saying things without saying them. A personal favourite is The gun shop by Grey New York for States United to prevent gun violence that purports to be selling perfectly innocent second hand guns until you realise all the guns on sale have been used to kill someone either in a mass killing or in a tragic accident, like the five year old that shot his nine month baby sister.

Needless to say people left the shop without buying a gun.

Because the concept lets you draw your own conclusions.

And that is the secret to a really powerful connection with your consumer.

That’s what changes behaviour.

I’ve always believed that anyone can tell you they’re funny but the ones we remember are the people who actually make us laugh.

It’s still the best policy if you’re not allowed to make claims you can’t support.

Unless of course you’re running for President, obviously.

 

 

 

 

 

1.Your concepts stinks 2.they loved it.3 Now what?

One of the curious things about Pharmaland is, given the greatest drug ever, say the cure for all Cancer, the cure for Alzheimer’s or Diabetes, you could literally run a picture of a pig in a pair of knickers and as long as the headline still said “IT CURES ALL CANCER” nobody would care, the campaign would research really well and the agency and marketing people could all slap their colleagues backs in a hearty fashion in the certain knowledge their ‘pig in knickers’ campaign was a wowzer.

Why? well, and this may shock you because all the figures aren’t quite in yet and some of the biometric tests were unclear but….

BECAUSE IT CURES ALL CANCER!!!

Okay, so nice problem to have. I think if there was such a drug you might not have to piss around with big red arrows in the sand or couples on the beach or in fact any creative at all.

So everything between that and say….lemon sherbert is a case of selling versus telling on a sliding creative scale.

How do you actually get a clean read from respondants when researching concepts on a drug that changes the market significantly or a treatment that finally gives some hope for people where there was none.

How do we expect a doctor to concentrate (or indeed give a shit) on whether he likes the concept of the guy hanging upside down from a tree dressed as a lemon or the one with the dolphin that can sing?

You mean this shit cures Diabetes? I love every concept!

So the reverse is also true. The worse the efficacy or differentiation of the drug, the more creative we have to be.

In consumer they rarely get the life changing briefs. It’s all incremental, it’s attitude, it’s about having a fucking conversation with a brand.

In Pharmaland, we actually have something to say.

Whoop.

Of course usually we can’t actually say it. Can’t claim it will do anything that it doesn’t actually have an indication for.

“It may cure that big boil on the end of your knob but there’s no data to indicate this will improve your sex life or increase comfort while trampolining.”

“But surely….”

“Nope”

So on the plus side we have a head start in research for doctors to get excited about the message, providing doctors have an interest in curing knob-boils.

But folks, I am sorry to say that equally, we must draw the conclusion that just because your campaign researched well, it may – creatively speaking – have the aromatic qualities of a love child between Ricky the Racoon and Anne the Anchovy.

Sadly, research success is no guarantee of creativity.

And without creativity, what’s the point of an agency?

 

 

Your Conference stand isn’t an Advert.

It’s easy to see the conference stand as an extension of your Ad campaign.

In terms of marketing and image it might seem indivisible because you have to get them on the stand so you need loud messages to get their attention.

That’s how an ad works right?

Well, if you say so, but your stand isn’t an ad.

It’s a shop.

Think of all your favourite retail brands, those stylish department stores, or the fashion boutiques that entice you in with elegant window designs or places like the Apple store that just exude cool. Do you enter them because of the big messages in the window?

No, the retail seduction is a much more subtle dance.

People are are attracted to simplicity, cleanliness, boldness and yes – even creativity.

This is a place I could hang out for a while you think.

On a stand the dynamic is the same. Delegates step in to the client’s world for a few moments, attracted by the sparkly things and interesting gizmos.

And yet when it comes to a conference we are often asked by clients to put as much messaging and logos as we can to fit the space.

Hang the aesthetics, give me branding.

And that’s okay if you want to be as visible as one of those discount sportwear warehouses.

But do you?

When Steve Jobs decided to launch the apple shops everyone told him he was mad.

applestore

No device manufacturer had ever sold directly to the public, devices were sold via tech shops like Dixons or dept stores like John Lewis.

But Jobs knew that the shops would perform more than one function. Yes, a way to sell more phones and laptops without that third party bias towards their own products, but a shop was also to create a huge presence on the high street, a loud statement of brand and a way to interact with people on a human level via the genius bar.

The response should be: wow I want to go in there, not: look there’s that phone shop.

Remind you of anything in Pharmaland?

And Jobs was meticulous over every detail, sourcing the glass windows from all corners of the earth, making sure the steps flowed in just the right way through the store, making the whole shop an experience.

The shopping experience as a concept, not just a retail outlet.

I sometimes wonder, when the world’s most successful company does something globally successful why everyone else doesn’t just watch, learn and well – copy.

And yet still we stick with what we know, thinking more is more.

Perhaps it’s time for us all to think different.

 

 

Why are creatives creative?

Does that seem like a daft question?

Why are footballers sporty? Why are politicians political?

In Campaign magazine dated 29th July 2016 there was a question put to Jeremy Bullmore in his on the campaign couch with JB column.

It read : Dear Jeremy A lot of creatives also write books. Why?

JB’s answers are usually insightful, witty and even occassionally scything, but it appeared that even he was unsure.

He replied: What a funny question. Why does anyone write a book? Fame, self-importance, immortality, irresistible urge…I think that’s about it…..(and then he continues to write about the lack of good copywriters due to the decline of long copy ads and the rise of ‘content’ etc)

In the same edition was a huge double page spread featuring an interview with Sir Ken Robinson talking about Creative cultures, the state of education and why adland should drop the ‘creative’ label.

Mostly the peice was about the lack of Education’s investment in the creative arts, and it finished with a claim about how creatives shouldn’t be called creatives any more and the whole agency should be creative, as labelling some people ‘creative’ inhibits other department’s creativity.

(If you have a few minutes to spare, while pretending to work, check out Sir Ken’s famous TED talk, now with upwards of 40 million views. It’s truly inspirational and touches on a lot of insights regarding the nature of creativity and how we stifle it in an attempt to prepare everyone for a ‘real job’.)

Now these two articles, related only by the subject of creativity, touched some deep irony nerve in my lower intestine and forced their way up to my larynx and popped out of my gob as a rather limp ‘hmmm’.

On one hand we have someone who doesn’t get why creative people need to create stuff beyond their job description and on the other we have a well respected guru who wants to end the label of ‘creatives’ within agencies. Because everyone is creative really.

Somewhere there’s a disconnect. And some confusion as to what distinguishes, if distinguishing is necessary, the rest of the agency from their ‘creative’ brothers and sisters.

It must be more than tattoos and pink hair.

JB’s first instinct was to suppose it was ‘fame and fortune’ that drives people to be creative.

He almost throws away the notion of ‘irresistable urge’ as a joke.

I mean, an urge? an urge is what you have when you want to climb a mountain, have a chocolate binge or play Fifa on the Playstation – isn’t it?

It’s a passing phase.

But to my mind he was closer with the ‘urge’ theory than the others.

Ask any creative in your agency why they are creative and they won’t really be able to tell you, well not definitively. But they will probably tell you they have always been that way, maybe not artistically in the traditional sense of painting or writing… maybe they made model airplanes, maybe they wrote songs or poems, or built contraptions or arranged flowers. Maybe they built tree houses or constructed Lego or cooked, I dunno.

Because creativity is an urge…

And the main reason people do it is rarely fame and fortune.

Yes, these are pleasant bi-products of the ‘urge’ but its not the prime motivator. If you already have a job underwriting Insurance and feel the need to paint in the evening, you my friend are a creative. You just don’t know it.

It doesn’t mean you’ll be any good at painting mind you, but you’re still compelled to create none the less.

Creativity is a lot like sex drive in that regard.

You create something, are momentarily at peace and then the drive builds again.

For some people it works for them to combine that drive with making a living, and like salmon swimming upstream to their spawning grounds they find themselves in the creative department of an ad agency.

So the answer to JB’s questioner, why do a lot of creatives write books?

It’s because they can’t help themselves.

Maybe, to Sir Ken’s point, your agency creatives are just the ones who didn’t have it educated out of them.

And it’s also the reason why they sometimes can be more childlike, more head in the clouds. More eccentric even.

We do all have the creative gene and the propensity to create.

But do we all have the urge?