I've been super screaming busy the past week and a half. Occasionally, there's: "Too busy to post." This has been: "Too busy to even think about stuff to post about."
Busy is good, but so is posting. So I'm back at it.
Went to a round-table breakfast about Web 2.0. Interesting discussions. Then got home from the office, to see Seth's post about how You Tube is all about people right now, but is probably going to get overrun by corporations. There's already a budding nostalgia for the good old days of Web 2.0 - before the agencies and filmmakers and professional writers take over, as lots of folks kind of assume they will.
I'm thinking it might be more like peaceful coexistence. Professionally produced stuff alongside homemade. The filter for what people want to watch won't necessarily be production value -- it'll be content. (Sometimes production value = content, but not always.) On that level, the kid next door beats Hollywood sometimes -- and sometimes Hollywood or Madison Avenue wins. Hardcore 2.0 evangelists want backyard content producers to win, simply because they're backyard producers. Big corps want big corps to win, because they're investing a lot on the bet that they will. Thing is, the people watching get to decide.
The way I see it is: content wins from now on.
Delivery cost is the equalizer. Before the web, it was too high for anyone but large organizations to have a chance. Now everyone has a chance. A chance. Not a guarantee. Just because you can type doesn't mean you can write. Just because you have a camera doesn't mean you can make a video that will be popular. But the web, now, at least, gives you a chance to try.
Make something cool for a buck, and ultimately, it's still cool.
Make something cool for 2 or 10 million, and it's still cool, too.
Applies to the web. Applies to advertising.
Make garbage, and it doesn't matter how much or little you spend.
Seth writes about feedback. Excellent post. While he's talking about all proposals, I think the really salient point, when it comes to creative, is this first rule:
The first rule of great feedback is this: No one cares about your opinion.
I don't want to know how you feel, nor do I care if you would buy it, recommend it, or use it. You are not my market. You are not my focus group.
What I want instead of your opinion is your analysis. It does me no good to hear you say, "I'd never pick that box up." You can add a great deal of value, though, if you say, "The last three products that succeeded were priced under $30. Is there a reason you want to price this at $31?" Or, "We analyzed this market last year, and we don't believe there's enough room for us to compete. Take a look at this spreadsheet." Or even, "That font seems hard to read. Is there a way to do a quick test to see if a different font works better for our audience?"
Analysis is a lot harder than opinion because everyone is entitled to his or her own taste (regardless of how skewed it might be). A faulty analysis, however, is easy to dismantle. But even though it's scary to contribute your analysis to a colleague's proposal, it's still absolutely necessary.
Young creatives stretch the limits of what's been done a zillion times when their older, more jaded creative directors (me), get out of the way, and let them think in ways we won't, or can't. Of course, getting out of the way doesn't mean anarchy. Nor is experience or creative opinion useless. But understanding (and applying) the difference between creative opinion and creative strategy is probably the most important element of decent creative direction.
Most businesspeople feel like it's their job to know the answers. That's why they were hired, after all - because their degree, or experience, or both, said to their employers there's a good chance they're going to have the answer to whatever comes up.
I think agencies, and agency people, should think less about the answers, and more about the questions. Because knowing the answers, or pretending to, just means someone else has thought up that answer before you.
But there are good questions, and bad questions.
The bad question agencies are famous for: "What do you think?"
Not bad if you're looking for insight. Very bad if you're covering your ass.
How can this be better?
How can this be different?
How can we surprise them?
Today, Seth writes about the Trend to be the Best Available.
Interesting position. For some products/services, I think it's probably a really good way of looking at things. It certainly opens doors to some markets, especially if you market geographically.
For agencies, though, geography increasingly has next to nothing to do with who you can have as a client. If you've got the guns, you can go after anyone, anywhere. It's a small world, and in our world, that fact favors talent over proximity. Where the ad was created, or where the client's home office is, has nothing to do with anything once it's placed. It either gets someone's attention, or it doesn't. Simple as that.
But for most agencies, best (in category) is what they're after. Best B to B agency in the Midwest. Best direct agency in the Carolinas. Best of show in the local Addy's. My gut instinct is that they don't, really and truly, want to have to qualify their "best-ness." But they have to. Because some other agency is really the BEST-best.
The good news, though, is that nothing is forever. The best agency today won't be tomorrow. Our business is just too volatile for anything else. Before I was born, Burnett, or JWT was the best. When I was just starting to make some noise, Fallon was the best. Now it's arguably Crispin. But it'll change again and again, ad infinitum.
But you won't be the best, ever, if you set your sites with limits. (In your discipline, in your client's product category, in your local market, etc.)
Your local addys aren't as valuable as a One Show pencil, or a CA winner. That sucks, but that's the way it is. And a local addy from Minneapolis is worth more than one from DesMoines, though I'm sure DesMoines is a really great place. The world is small, and your work competes with Crispin's. Not just at the awards shows. But in every break, in every publication, and on every URL.
I don't mean to sound like a prima donna. Because I'm not one. I am, however, someone who wants to be the best. I want my agency to be the best. And I know that we won't get there by working to be the best (in category.)
Advertising Marketing Creative Interactive Online Marketing Design Digital Design
A friend of mine once called me a “Local Lore Nerd.” I think she might be right. Wherever I’ve lived, or even stayed for extended periods, I’ve always studied the history, dug into the culture, and found the stuff only the locals seem to know about. It’s what appeals to me most. Most people who know me know I try not to eat barbecue from barbecue places that have more than one location. If I can help it, I’d prefer they not have seating.
I guess because I’m like that, I have a tendency to learn a little about a lot of places. Which, weirdly, makes me weird. Because most Americans know a lot about their immediate surroundings, but very little about other places or customs. That’s just the way we are.
I promise this is leading somewhere.
I’ve written a lot about this, but I’ll say it again: As the bandwidth gets wider, the target gets narrower. It’s always been a problem that what makes a New York copywriter laugh might offend a farmer in Florida. But now, it’s a bigger problem. Because the whole world is wired, and now you’re potentially talking to everyone.
Yesterday on Fox and Friends, the talking heads were going on and on about the guy who’s giving away a house on Craigslist. It’s free to anyone who’ll move it off his property. The “journalists” were flabbergasted that anyone would ever attempt to move a house. They went on and on, ...and…on about it. Never heard of anything like that before.
In the South, in many places, especially near the coast, houses are built above ground, on pilings. Sometimes short ones, sometimes long ones. Because the water table is so high, basements are non-existent. So, moving a house isn’t all that scary. Or, really, all that uncommon. In short, they looked like idiots to me, and I’m sure, to a chunk of their viewers.
About a week ago, Seth posted something called “it’s not weird when it’s your weirdness.”
His point was mostly about targeting, and niche markets. Mine is broader than that.
Increased bandwidth, and personal, immediate access to the world via the web mean that “journalists” should probably do a bit more homework before they make fun of something that never, ever happens in New York. Because there’s a chance (I know this is crazy) that it just might happen all the freakin’ time somewhere else.
Now read the above paragraph, and change “journalists” to “advertisers.”
It’s a small world. You have to think about all of it.
A couple of months ago in Fast Company, there was an article on a chef who uses weird science to prepare innovative recipes. He’s especially fond of quick-freezing stuff in liquid nitrogen, and the occasional use of blowtorches.
But that’s not how you cook. Right?
You’re supposed to used ovens, and burners, and grills, and stuff. Cooking innovation is supposed to come from ingredients, and combinations of ingredients. That’s how it’s done.
Except, by doing it differently, he’s now got a hot restaurant and a magazine cover. The food could be good, or marginal, or it could be great. The reason he got the attention is because he did something different. He didn’t do it the way it’s supposed to be done.
It’s not about: How it’s done. It’s about: How can we make it happen differently?
A dragster is a racecar. It’s made to accelerate in a straight line to just over 300 mph, run for under 4 seconds, and be completely rebuilt before the next race, which might happen in about an hour.
A NASCAR restrictor plate car is a racecar. It’s built to maintain stability and safety at speeds approaching 200 mph, continuously, for several hours. It goes in a counter-clockwise oval, or tri-oval.
A Formula-1 car is a racecar. It’s built to turn, literally, on a dime. Negotiating twists and turns, uneven pavement, and sometimes rain, it can take a U curve at 80 mph that would make you nervous at 10. Oh, yeah, then it can accelerate to about 150 in a couple of seconds.
You’ve probably heard of all three.
But there are thousands of different kinds of racecars.
A Pinewood Derby car is about 10 inches long, carved from wood, and is powered by gravity. It’s built to make an eight year old learn about craftsmanship and competition.
A sand rail is made from steel tube, powered by an air-cooled rear engine, and can blast through desert sand at triple digit speeds.
A swamp buggy looks like a boat on wheels. Tractor wheels. It’ll take on knee-deep water and muck fast enough to get you a speeding ticket in Montana.
So, what does that have to do with advertising?
Sometimes clients need just one kind of racecar. But increasingly, that’s unbelievably rare. Most times, they need a combination of several different kinds to get where they want to go. And the combination they need isn’t always exclusively made up of the big three.
The operative word here is, “combination.” That implies several things working together.
If your agency only knows how to build one kind of racecar, you have a couple of choices. A: you can learn how to build (or source) different kinds; or B: you can be a supplier of just your kind to another agency.
If your agency knows how to build different kinds of racecars, but can’t make them work in combination – which means, together – you also have choices: A: learn how; or B: lose the race.
There are three ways to cook things in the South.
1. Fry it.
2. Use smoke/fire.
3. Boil it all day.
I like all three. I especially like meals that include all three.
But when I think, I think like number 3. I boil things.
Because I want to get whatever it is down to its essence.
Truth is, I think most of life is really simple. But we, as a society, have an ability to complicate things that, if you think about it, can be boiled down to far simpler terms. If you’re in advertising, which is a hyper-magnification of society to the Nth degree, the complexity gets more…um, complex. It helps to simplfy.
Think about it: How much of the most complicated advice on financial markets is really anything more than the old joke/adage: Buy low,sell high? Not much, really.
What is any business? Someone who buys at wholesale, adds something, and sells at retail. Doesn’t matter what you add – might be service, might be assembly, might be transportation. The principle is the same.
So, what does an agency do?
Do we make TV commercials, or do we design print pieces, or develop websites, or craft communications strategies? Yeah. But boil that down.
We talk to people.
We try to persuade them to do things.
Our mission is to make our clients famous.
There are lots of ways to do that. You’ll find more interesting ones if you boil the mission down to something that simple.
It’s July 2. One day after Canada Day, and two days before July 4. Which reminds me of the old joke: Do they have July 4th in England?
I’m obviously behind in my posts. The first week of work at a new job, in a new city, tends to put you behind in some areas of life. Don’t know when I’ll catch up with everything, but do have a couple of posts ready to go – but I’ll wait until the 5th, because nobody (on this side of the Atlantic) is working much the first part of this week. Not that reading my posts is work – but rather, I hope, a diversion. But I can’t compete with fireworks.
The short story of week one is: This is a cool place. We’re going to make some very cool things happen.