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Two peas in a pod?

“Much of the Simpsons’ success can be traced to two main sources: an independence from network interference and a complete dedication to the writing…”

                                       -John Ortved, The Unauthorized History of the Simpsons

 

The Simpsons TV show is the creative standard by which all comedy writing (perhaps all script writing) is measured. Few ever meet those standards. Many duck them all together. The Simpsons is also one of the most successful things ever created. Period. No part of popular culture (ours or anyone’s) is unaffected by this quirky cartoon. How and why can be summed up in the above quote.

As you might imagine, the above quote is sweet music to any creative person’s ears, especially if you’re a copywriter. Unfortunately, it is a song we seldom get to play or hear in the creative department. We get “network interference” all the time, so much so it is considered part of the “process.” And while we may have a complete dedication to the writing, few others in a typical agency do. And why should they? Writing is not their skill set. They are executives, strategists and managers. Their skill set, if you get right down to it, is to affect the writing, generally via “comments.” Comments can be good. Comments can be bad. My point is we don’t work in a vacuum.

The “curiously strong mints” campaign is my Simpsons. In my own unauthorized untold true story of Altoids, I make a similar statement to Ortved’s. A great campaign for many reasons but, in the early going, its meteoric success comes down to the same two things: autonomy and an obsession for writing. I obsessed over those headlines as my partner, Mark Faulkner obsessed over images, color scheme and typography.

In that first year we answered to no one, save for our creative director, who was only appreciative and supportive. Obviously, the client had to sign off (they were a joy by the way) but “network interference” was negligible. Why? No one in the agency cared. The budget was tiny and TV never an option. (Remember this was 1995 and this was Leo Burnett. TV was king.) Anyway, the rest is history: Wrigley bought Altoids and Lifesavers for $1.5 billion dollars.

Ultimately, many would contribute in the case study of Altoids (I’ve named them in previous posts as well as in an Adweek story) but year one it was just a creative team and an assignment.

So, what do we make of “network interference” aka the age-old battle between suit and creative? We are both on the same team, working for the same “network.” But the partnership is strained. Necessarily perhaps. And maybe that’s healthy. But for those once-in-a-lifetime campaigns –“Think Different” “Just do it.” “Curiously Strong Mints”- I’m guessing it’s the creative lonely man who called the tune.

Author’s Notes: This article first ran last week in Reel Chicago – If you would like a creative lonely man as cipher hit me up Portfolio

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“Say, buddy, do I need a password to log on?”

I’m having problems with my Internet. Maybe it’s the summer storms besetting Chicago or maybe one of my routers is faulty. Most likely it’s my Internet Service Provider but at least I’m considering the possibility that it’s something on my end.

In any event, all my tricks to get the Internet back failed. I tried rebooting my machines, the router, etc. Checked all the connections. Nothing turned the trick.

The last thing I want to do is get on the phone with a customer service representative from RCN. Besides I’ve already done everything he or she would tell me to do. If I must I will call them tomorrow morning.

Alas, I need a connection right now. I promised someone I’d send them some important documents, which is why I am now sitting in a Starbucks at 10 PM on a Monday evening.

Good old Starbucks: the office/library/den for so many students, job hunters and various oddballs…just like me. Currently there are about 30 people here, sitting alone, nursing “tall” coffees (the smallest size), logged on to some device and doing whatever it is they do.

What’s funny (though not surprising) is save for the innocuous drone of a CD they’re pimping this relatively full Starbucks is damn quiet. I very much doubt founder Howard Schultz (whom I’ve actually met) had this in mind when he coined Starbucks America’s “third place.” Either way, I’m sure he’s not complaining. Like I said the place is nearly full and it’s late Monday night.

And so I’m having an absolutely unnecessary cup of coffee and writing an absolutely unnecessary blog post…just like everyone else in this joint.

The artist works alone.

I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.

From Chad:

I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.

I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”

For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.

These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.

Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.

One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.

For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.