October 17, 2012
Had coffee with another soldier in Adland. “Why are client’s so difficult?” he asked, rhetorically.
Those of us in creative departments have asked the question so many times it has become rote. Clients are difficult. Period. Especially with regard to buying and approving work. We expect them to demand changes to the concepts, to the script, to the voiceover, to the scene, to the CTA, to the size of the logo and so on.
We have become uncomfortably numb. We expect our work to be criticized. So much so the creation process has “revisions and changes” baked right into it. Furthermore, we are told –indeed, I’ve said it myself- if we were in our client’s shoes we’d do the same thing. To use the ultimate cliché “it is what it is.”
But you know what? That’s bullshit. I am far from perfect but I am usually a damn fine client. When I hire someone to do a creative job –be it a director or an architect or whomever- I never give him or her the kind of scrutiny that is typically given to me and/or my team. An interior designer shows me some designs I tell him which one I like, we discuss time and money, and I pay the man. This even when things are late and over budget, which they invariably are. Once in a while I have a question or an honest mistake has been made. We address it. Done. On to the next. Even though it’s my thing and my money I am seldom a dick.
Chances are you’re the same way.
So, why are advertising clients so difficult? Why all the concerns, tweaks and rejections? Like most things in the negative pantheon, I think the answer is fear based. CMO’s and their get are terrified (sometimes understandably) of losing their jobs. Often their counterparts at the agency feel the same way. Every tree we plant better bear fruit. Or else! With all that pressure (much of it self-imposed) it makes me wonder how they (or we) even get up in the morning.
Yet the resulting behavior –hacking at the tree or chopping it down- absolutely guarantees the tree will be barren. Or its yield will be paltry. In the end death by a thousand cuts is no different than doing nothing at all. Either way, the very thing one fears happening happens. The team is blown up. Another CMO is brought in and in turn another agency. The process begins all over again.
Creating campaigns is thrilling. Yet, their potential is and always will be unknown. Hence the thrill. No one can be sure how an audience will react to a thing until the thing is out there. What makes a client nervous might be what makes the thing truly great. We all know the story behind the world’s greatest advertisement, Apple’s “1984.” When it was screened to dealers everyone except its creators and Steve Jobs hated it. The agency, Chiat Day was asked to fire-sell the media, which happened to be two slots on the Super Bowl. One insertion was not sold. And the rest is history. Granted the follow-up commercial, “Lemmings” was an abject failure. Still, was Apple really hurt by it? No. Being reckless and cavalier has never hurt the brand. Failure can be the most excellent teacher.
Follow up to Apple’s “1984″ was considered a failure. So what?
So put it out there. Instead of ‘why are we so afraid?’ let’s ask ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ If it doesn’t work as planned we try something else.
Were it that simple, right?
Timely piece in AdAge on the virtues of failure.
Virtues of being “unpopular” from Tedx presentation.
October 8, 2012
Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs died one year ago. However, I’m just now reading his biography by Walter Isaacson. Among the book’s many surprises, none are as jolting (to me) as the endless examples depicting Steve Jobs as an egomaniacal asshole. Since so much has already been said regarding these controversial passages, I won’t go into them here. Among other things, he publicly berated his staff, stole ideas, took credit inappropriately and was unpardonably cruel to his family.
This by no means diminishes Job’s enormous contribution to Apple and, indeed, the world. Case in point, I’m writing this on one of his inventions, an iPhone and iPod are in my backpack. I use his stuff every day, constantly. So do most of you. Apple has become the most impressive brand in the world. And Steve Jobs had a lot to do with it.
Yet should that excuse him for having been an “assoholic” as one of his peers called him?
In a rare bit of self-awareness (apparently, he mostly had blinders on), Jobs admitted to being overly rough on his people but he remained unapologetic. He claimed the Mac would never have been created if not for his intolerance and meanness. Many people, including some he was ruthless to, concurred. In the end, according to Isaacson, they didn’t mind getting fucked over by a visionary.
Makes me think. In my time on the planet I’ve been intermittently difficult in matters of social discourse. I’m uncomfortable making small talk and listening to it as well. I’ve been an ass. Perhaps my record at work isn’t as spotty but it’s hardly immaculate either. I can be socially inept.
Granted, I’m not a creative visionary like Steve Jobs was but I am always trying to improve my behavior. What struck me about Steve Jobs is that he never bothered. When a brave insider called him on his bad behavior Jobs berated the man: “You don’t know what it’s like being me!”
Well, now we do.
Jobs’ claimed he was perpetually hard on Apple employees because otherwise the company would have softened, invariably inviting “B” players and eventually “C” players; which, of course, was unacceptable (to him).
Reminds me of Vince Lombardi.
Few of us are “special” like Steve Jobs but then we are not as cruel and unfair as he was either. Does that make us “B” players? Can an “A” player be a nice person?
Precious few creative geniuses grace Adland. Yet, I’m privileged to have known several of these men and women and can say, with a fair degree of certainty, that they’re not assholes, professionally or personally.
Obviously, there are jerks. Talent does not always predict good behavior. The backstabbing, cherry-picking, credit-hogging SOB is alive and well in Adland. While they are sometimes foiled by their own hubris, most hide inside the lingering fat of big agencies, manipulating people and the truth, and making too much money on the backs of others.
We are quick to call them hacks. But that might be a specious declaration. For hacks often possess great people skills. It helps him or her succeed in lieu of talent.
My wonderment is about the very best in our business, past and present. The true creative geniuses. Are/Were any of them assholes? If so, is/was bad behavior tolerated because of exceptional talent? Is “thinking different” a license to kill?
September 24, 2012
I am officially, unequivocally amazed at the relentless fervor over Apple’s release of their newest iPhone. It’s almost as if the object came with the gift of immortality or offered some kind of glimpse into the meaning of life. People the world over want the damn thing. Are obsessed over it. Will wait in line for it. Over night! On the street! Will pay others to wait in line for it. Over night! On the street!
No matter it cost hundreds of dollars.
No matter it is only incrementally better than the previous iteration (which I own by the way).
No matter it will require costly peripherals to operate.
No matter Apple’s guru, Steve Jobs is dead.
No matter Samsung has arguably a better product and they are advertising it quite effectively. The “waiting in line” campaign by agency 72 & Sunny is hysterical.
No matter Apple’s advertising isn’t what it used to be.
People don’t care. The iPhone 5 is another hit in a long line of hits going back years: iPod. iTouch. iPad. iPhone.
I can’t think of a brand that has created so much heat for so long. Can you? Maybe Starbucks. Maybe Nike. Maybe the Simpson’s. Maybe not. We’re told nothing lasts forever. Especially in the ephemeral world of technology. Motorola. Nokia. I remember when Sony was the shit. Now those brands are also-rans, fading like embers from yesterday’s barbeque.
Even Christianity has seen better days. (Ironic it started with a man biting into an apple!) Cynic that I am I keep wondering if the other shoe will ever drop on Apple. Not when, mind you. “If.” Given there are more Apple products in our house than children and pets combined I’m not holding my breath. Or selling my stock.
First in line…
Fresh news: Apple worlds first trillion dollar company? 49141878
When I first heard the opening strains to the Beatles’ iconic song “Help” coming out of the car radio I thought: Cool, the inane radio station my kids listen to is finally playing something worthwhile. I nearly spit my Rockstar energy drink when a voiceover started babbling about home electronics on sale for Labor Day.
Unbelievably, It was a spot for hhgregg, an appliance and home electronics store. I’ve never even heard of them but apparently they’re a southern retailer making inroads up north. One look at their website and you find a hard core retailer in the realm of Best Buy or the recently defunct Circuit City. Their theme line: “We Help.” Ugh. Ironically, Circuit City had an identical mantra. It didn’t help them any.
As I immediately Tweeted and put on Facebook: How in God’s name can a hokey retailer get the rights to the Beatles’ “Help” for their crappy commercial? A first responder adroitly replied: They can’t. A cease and desist is imminent.
Indeed. There is NO WAY this is a legitimate usage of the Beatles catalog. After all, it took iTunes until last year just to get the rights to offer Beatles music for sale to consumers. With all do respect, Apple has a lot more credibility and money than hhgregg. A LOT MORE. But even if it were Apple, I’d be bummed.
I know not much is sacred in Adland, particularly when it comes to using popular music in modern marketing. But the Beatles? I don’t know what to say: Too soon? Not ever. That it was done in such a lame commercial makes the whole thing even more mind-boggling.
So what gives? I agree with my Friend on Facebook. This smacks of a sleazy attempt for some nobody-retailer to suddenly get noticed. By the time the lawyers force them to yank the campaign they will have achieved their awareness strategy. I’ve often wondered if stunts like this were legal. It’s certainly the way popular culture is going. Yet even if somehow the store acquired the rights to this music (naked photos of Paul McCartney?) it was still wrong. Way wrong.