Recently, I was able to use a modest but working knowledge of art history in the formation of a creative marketing idea. How about that? Apparently, those “vanity” classes I took at the University of Wisconsin actually did come in handy. As a matter of fact, we not only used examples from the Renaissance and other important periods to inform the execution of our idea but also to help sell it. It isn’t everyday you see a Raphael or Tintoretto in a PowerPoint presentation. But you did in ours. We even used the word chiaroscuro…correctly!
Saying this was gratifying is an understatement. Especially considering the extent everyone in marketing (including me) obsesses about new media. We get so amped up on chasing or creating the “new new thing” we utterly lose sight on just how vital certain old things can be.
For centuries, paintings and illustrations were humankind’s primary visual media. Instead of clicking through myriad links and cable channels, man sought inspiration or entertainment from still images, the best of which were generally paintings. Earlier generations gazed upon frescoes in their church and if they were lucky got to see masterworks at a salon or museum. Granted, lewd and crude drawing have always pervaded popular culture but the high road was pretty damn high for those electing to take it.
What we make is so ephemeral, isn’t it? The best marketing campaigns in the world quickly fade and die, perhaps lingering as a bit of trivia. The winner at Cannes this summer will be entirely forgotten in five years. Probably sooner. Our masterpieces might be game changers within our industry, and even in popular culture, but most have no lasting value or meaning beyond selling. Few things are more irrelevant than last year’s Gunn Report.
Yet, this isn’t about the dumbing down of society. Or a hate on advertising. For one thing I’d be a hypocrite. I haven’t been to an art museum in years and the SFMOMA is ten minutes from my office. I stay up late to watch horror movies. I blog about advertising! In other words, one finds me on the low road often enough.
How fine knowing the old masters could still be relevant to the creative process, especially mine.
A while back a guest writer on AdAge, Lauren Warner took some heat for an essay she wrote about the briefing process. Among other things, she claimed one should address “creatives on your shop’s team like they’re in kindergarten.”
Others may have been offended but the story made me smile. I recall an evening spent at my children’s school, meeting their teachers, discussing the upcoming year. During this visit, I became aware of how “creative” so much of my daughters’ curriculum really is. Colette’s science teacher explained how “experimenting and taking chances” shapes her powers of intuition. Lily’s drama teacher rhapsodized about “connecting to the inner fantastic.” She used the word “connecting” over and over again. “At this age,” she said, “the creative gene is ready to explode!”
I couldn’t help but think of all the “connecting” strategies I’ve puzzled over as a copywriter and creative director. “Connecting people” is the default strategy for all telecommunications, personal technology, and, frankly, just about everything people use in their waking lives. Connecting folks is Coca Cola’s uber-strategy. “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”
Even more interesting was this business about creativity “exploding.” I believe the teacher was saying that our creative muse is born in these opening years of life. That stimulated and nurtured, we begin to understand and respect our intuitions. Kindergarten is a creative department. Experimenting with ideas on the stage, colors on paper, sounds in music class… That’s what I do!
Or that’s what I prefer doing. Much of my day, however, is spent lawyering on behalf of ideas. Defending them. Subjecting them to all manner of worries and concerns, making them more appropriate, more coherent, more on strategy. It’s inevitable. It’s my job. But it’s also like killing the butterfly in order to appreciate it.
The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay “connected” to my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly snapshots on Facebook. Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable. Imposing MBA logic in Romper Room is bound to create problems.
But our muses shouldn’t be stymied: the ability to ideate, to find that “inner fantastic” is necessarily petulant. What’s regrettable is marketing’s obsession with guaranteeing results…or else! Research. Testing. Groups. I say Bleh! Intuition, if cultivated and nurtured, is the most important tool the creative department. The old saw is wrong. Ideas are not children. We are.
Author’s note: I reworked this post from a previous one. Please don’t send me to the principal’s office.
San Francisco is the land of tech. This is where all those companies that advertise in airports live. You know whom I’m talking about. But do you know what they’re talking about? Sometimes it’s hard to tell from their ads. Even their names are an enigma. With all those “Q’s” and “X’s” and “Z’s.” And what funny logos they have, those swishes and swirls and crazy colors!
Many are important, big companies. Billion dollar companies. Fact is the modern world could not exist without them. We recognize a few, especially the ones that make hardware and, of course, that one with the cute Apple.
But the other ones.
Mostly makers of software, they represent the lion’s share of companies in Silicon Valley. No surprise some of them are my clients. Or will be, God willing. Hi guys. What’s up?
Do these creators of the hidden wow intimidate me? A little. I did not take computer science in college. The only code I know is the one I punch in the alarm system at home. But it’s not the technology that worries me. It’s the jargon. Especially when it comes to advertising messages. I do not use the word “solution” in every sentence. Or “optimize.” Or “data.” Must they?
In terms of tired imagery, technology has its pets, in particular the ‘Man and his Server.’ Like every cliché this one might have been cool the first 100 times. Now, it’s practically invisible.
I realize these businesses are not “consumer facing.” (Eek, there’s a phrase.) But that does not mean they have to talk to one another in code. It’s an ad for cool-ass software not a service manual.