This month we have a guest post from an advertising creative. He’s a Cannes Lion winning copywriter who has worked with Saatchi & Saatchi, Y&R, TBWA and Ogilvy. As you’ll surmise from the guest post, he’s a very angry ad man.
I don’t agree with everything in the post but I’ve decided to publish it as a coherent whole. The advertising industry is far too polite and it’s great to hear an honest account of how ads really get made…
These are the Confessions of an Angry Ad Man: Series One – Everyone has an opinion unless their boss thinks that it’s wrong:
Confession: Certainty is not a good sign
In marketing there’s an inverse equation that I’m increasingly becoming convinced of…
The more someone either agency side or client side states emphatically that they know what works in advertising, the more of a shameless hack they actually are.
Remember that, next time you’re in a meeting and a creative director or marketing manager starts throwing their weight around. The smartest people with the highest hit rate in this game are the first to admit they still don’t quite know exactly what advertising is.
And that’s just the point: it’s unquantifiable, and the more you start to pin rules on it, the less successful your campaigns become.
Our whole professional lives have been spent trying to quantify the unquantifiable. It’s hard to quantify if you like a piece of art. You just do. And it’s hard to replicate that artwork using the same constructs and have the same effect. The sooner that all the sub-professions in the wonderful world of marketing stop trying to only fine tune what works and what doesn’t, the better.
Of course you still need a campaign that works to convey your message but lay-off the stooped strategy questions. The ones that go like this: We need our demographic as the hero of the campaign. We need a twitter feed. We need our product as the central point of the ad. We like it, but can the reveal be at the start. It’s too clever. I like it but can we change this and this and this and this….
Of course, we all know the hidden reason for all this analysis. Accountability.
Confession: Accountability is killing creativity
With 8 levels of marketing managers and no one with the guts to question the people further up the chain, marketers (as well as agency side people) have to follow a line of Chinese whispers.
I had a friend working on a Christmas worldwide campaign for a major electronics brand, let’s just say that you’ve definitely heard of them. The line of Chinese whispers went to New York and back to Europe a hundred times through several layers in the agency and the client. By the end of the line, what ended up being produced was a Santa Claus in a blue outfit (company colours) holding the brand logo.
Are agencies really being paid millions to produce this crap?
Well the answer is yes, and it’s an all too common occurrence. The chain of steps means that things always get lost in translation. The likelihood of good quality output decreases with every person that you add to the chain of approvals. Like little flicks of a nail file, every person will buff something out, until there is no originality left.
Confession: We are casting napkin sketches in stone
Marketers are now so scared of this Chinese whispers line that once they have got some Bride-of-Frankenstein approved internally then they proceed to guard it like a prison officer. The final animatic to be filmed exactly like the rough shot. The ending packshot should be exactly 4.7 seconds long. The final website has to be 100% identical to the rough artwork approved in round one. This is becoming an increasingly intolerable point of stress between marketing departments and ad agencies.
Agencies on day-to-day jobs rather than brand building campaigns, will only have access to marketers at the very end of a Chinese whispers line. The day-to-day work is buffered from the C-suite. This means that even if you can voice your concern about the quality of a creative piece being watered down the message will be distorted by the chain within the Marketing Department. So: “What’s really the problem with the strapline?” becomes “Red fish yellow football plane.”
Marketers further down the line do everything they can to justify their existence. They become fanatic at guarding something once it’s been said and signed off by the executives up the line.
So, basically I’m confessing to three things: 1. The more someone in this industry is sure of what works, the less they can be trusted. 2. The excessive trail of accountability makes for butchered ads. And 3. The rank and file marketing professionals are stuck religiously digging their heels in to guard turkeys.
I’ve often thought that if the workflow in marketing and advertising were applied to a range of other professions, that the other professions wouldn’t put up with it. Can you imagine a client coming to a lawyer, telling them a problem and asking for their advice, only to reply that they don’t really love the legal argument the lawyer has chosen and could they combine all the sections and plea ideas together?