Ruminating on the dogma of agency process and the purity of divine inspiration.

July 2, 2014

stock-photo-man-drawing-idea-board-of-business-process-105905063
The “ad” scientist…

One of the things I’ve come to disdain about our business is how damn serious we take it. Not the craft itself, which I think is beautiful and even pure, but rather the extemporaneous crap we built around it over the years. Stuff like process and proprietary tools; the things we fill our slides with that come before we actually do what we do, which, for those who’ve forgotten, is create work that gets people to think and/or behave in a favorable way to our clients. I was going to say: we make ads; but I realize that “advertising” has become an outmoded term. Still, we are always selling something, even if it’s just a philosophy or an idea. Yet, because of this variable I accept, begrudgingly, that advertising isn’t all we do.

Whatever your take on the matter, you must agree we have complicated what we do beyond what is necessary to doing it well. This is why briefs are no longer brief. This is why Cannes has become a cluster fuck. This is why I am writing this post.

By definition, planning and strategy are the progenitors of creativity. The agency gets an assignment and we formulate a team. The left brains give us facts and insights. The right brains turn them into ideas. In a healthy agency the two sides work together. Part of this is collaboration. Part of it isn’t. Each assignment predicates a different balance of both. Inviolate in all this are the people. The better the people the better the outcomes.

Yet, as obvious and true as all this seems (to me anyway), agencies (not just mine, not just yours, all of them) have endeavored to codify every step we take in getting to our outcome. We call it our process. Basically, process is how agencies mitigate the fear involved with taking a risk. We create the illusion of proof to support an idea. This insight divided by that challenge equals a solution. Ta da!

Another bit of reverse alchemy occurs when we justify an idea after the fact. True story. My one-time creative partner at Leo Burnett, Mark Faulkner devised the brilliant green color that to this day represents the iconic Altoids’ campaign he and I created so many years ago. Taken for granted now, in the campaign’s infancy it was questioned. After all, the client reasoned, the product was white not green. As was the packaging Altoids came in, with red piping.

Altoids 1

I recall vividly my longwinded reply to this client. I stated that Mark’s color scheme evoked the “industrial strength” of a bygone era, like battleships and tough guy locker rooms. I talked about the “steam punk” phenomenon, likening the color to a powerful nostalgia “locked up” in every tin’s DNA. I said a lot of shit that day. And I’m pretty sure everyone in the room bought it. Everyone, that is, accept my partner. Mark rolled his eyes at me (not the first time) and stated where the color really came from: “I chose it because it looked cool.”

It looked cool.

In the end Altoids became a billion-dollar brand and the campaign a perennial award’s show favorite because he made it “look cool.” All that came afterwards –a textbook full of complicated nonsense- had less to do with Altoids’ success than Mark’s divine intuition. Food for thought next time we pray at the altar of agency process. For though we have made our agencies into churches of organized religions, divine inspiration often has nothing to do with it.

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3 Responses to “Ruminating on the dogma of agency process and the purity of divine inspiration.”

  1. Thinking… In a place like India there are so many colors to choose from. It’s a colorful fairy land here!

  2. This is what my blog is all about! I email companies, I ask them for stickers, and if they send them I write a review about their company in return. I have gotten a lot of good feedback from all the companies I work with (currently 3). I started off by emailing them to see if they would sponsor me, and not many people said yes. But then one of my teachers at school said I should start a blog. And when I did this it really took my ranks with these companies to another level. I have always wanted to do thus for a living, but my true calling is a diesel mechanic. So I have tried to tie the 2 together. So I am now writing reviews for companies. Showing them that I want to work with them, hopefully they will do so in return. But marketing itself is a tricky thing for a company. I mean any company would let me start writing reviews for them without compensation. Each company needs to think carefully about who they are endorsing, what they are saying, what they believe in, and even how they react in a social and business setting. So I would agree that marketing and advertising is complicated, and not just anybody can do it. There are a lot of steps and tools involved in marketing, and you have to know how to use those in order for a company to use you in a money making way.

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