“I want a once-in-a-lifetime, never-been-done, unparalleled, one-of-a-kind, completely unique idea and three case studies to show how it’s worked before.” Sound familiar?
I remember the first proper brief that I ever worked on when I was at college studying copywriting. It was for Dr Pepper. We had been broken up into teams of about 6 people to try and crack a big idea and because we were all completely new at the game, it took a really long time. In fact, at that stage, I still wasn’t entirely sure what a copywriter was – it seemed like all I had done up until that point was sit around in a room and chat. Turns out, that’s pretty much what the job entails. Anyway, at one point, I remember the first time in my advertising career that an idea ‘hit’ me. It wasn’t a good one, but at the time, it felt like the Universe gave me a cerebral high five. I stood up. I looked around importantly and said something that began with ‘What if…’ (I might have even raised my hands as though conjuring it out of thin air) and the room went silent. It was actually already silent because we had hit that lull when you’ve just been staring at each other for the last 20 minutes with nothing new to add, but it seemed to go even more silent. I was met with stares and then someone said three words that, sadly, I’ve heard many times since although it never seems to lose its sting: ‘It’s been done’. And that was it. The room seemed to move on. Except that I didn’t. I didn’t quite realise that what those words meant was that that idea and everything associated with it, was tarnished. It had become untouchable. Why? Because it was no longer unique; it was no longer pioneering; it was no longer art.
Of course, this leads us to ancient Egypt. It’s said that the first signs of advertising appeared here when the ancient Egyptians employed tall stone obelisks to publicise laws and treaties, using hieroglyphics. It was, in essence, the first billboard. The first time that someone decided that an outdoor space was a good place to try and convey information. At least, it’s the first record that we have of someone doing so. I would argue that the person who made that obelisk, if he were around today, would be in advertising. But the person who saw its genius and decided to put it on public walkways, outside shops, and on the road, was in marketing. Because if advertisers understand the human psyche, the marketers know which psyches they want to focus on. Why? Because they’ve literally spent years breaking down target audiences, studying case study after case study on how best to reach people and understanding every aspect of their market.
But herein lies the problem. On the one hand, you have people in advertising dismissing ideas if they’ve heard them before, and on the other hand, you have marketers with dwindling budgets wanting to implement ideas that they know work. You have people, working on the same goal of building brands, literally pulling in opposite directions.
So how do we solve this? The answer is simple: Hollywood. We’ve all grown up with our favourite action movies where the protagonist and antagonist have been at each other all movie long, only to finally come together to defeat their mutual enemy. We see them surrounded, without a chance of victory. Their enemy starts his monologue talking about how they are now irrelevant and that the world has moved on. Slowly, we see them sidle up to one another, standing back to back, and come to the understanding that if they use other’s strength, they can magnify their own. The realisation sets in. The music starts playing, they start to own the low angle ‘Ridley-Scott-esque’ shot slowly tracking around them, everything moves in slow motion… they’ll finally able to take on all their nemesis has to throw at them and become glorious.
But it starts here: trust. The advertisers have to know that they’re not about to run off and spend days or weeks pushing the boundaries only to have to produce something that the brand manager’s girlfriend came up with the night before. They have to know that they’re not in the creative equivalent of an abusive relationship where any expression of creativity is stifled. They have to be free. But advertisers, know this, if you’re going to be trusted, you have to have the brand’s interest at heart. Don’t chase after awards with scam ads that you’ve somehow got the client to run at 2am, against their best interests. Don’t come back with safe options that you think they’ll buy, but you know won’t work. They chose you above all other agencies because of the work you do. So do it.
Marketers, trust your initial instincts. After all, you’ve gone through a tenuous pitch process where you chose your current agency. And you did it for a good reason – you loved their work. So now trust them to do what they do. Make sure you don’t accept some pseudo strat based on ‘ unique insights’ that position the brand or product as something generic like ‘convenient’ or ‘service orientated’. Push for something that they can get their teeth into; something that will truly set you apart and then go for it.
Think about it this way. If Picasso had listened to all of his critics, what kind of work would he have produced? Would you really want to buy it? But, if someone hadn’t come around, recognised its true value and marketed it to the right people, would it still be worth what it is today?
So sidle up to your agency. Stand back-to-back with your client. Tie those bandanas around your head, cue the slow motion and let those Uzis rip.