Hard to believe, but this year marks my 25th year in the advertising business.
Along the way I’ve made more mistakes than I care to acknowledge. But have also managed to do a lot of things right. After thousands of meetings, hundreds of campaigns and more than a quarter century of trying to do the best creative I could for my clients, I’ve come to believe in certain things. I’ve come to hold onto certain truths that I believe are critical to being successful in this crazy, ever-evolving business.
The list below is admittedly simplistic. And many of these thoughts were collected from early in my career. But I think they still hold true and hope you might find a thought of two that might be helpful to you in your pursuit of great work.
- A great ad stands out by first standing apart. It leaves you a little smarter, a little changed once you’ve seen it.
- The best ads are a wake-up call. But you don’t shake someone from their sleep unless you’re sure they’d want to hear what you have to say.
- There is no monopoly on creativity. Brilliant ideas can come from anywhere (and anyone). All it takes is an environment where everyone’s encouraged to contribute.
- Too many ads underestimate people’s intelligence. The surest way to undershoot your audience is to plan to appeal to the so-called “least common denominator.”
- Every ad has a responsibility to give back to consumers who “pay” attention. For their time, we owe consumers a little information, a compelling thought or just a smile.
- Great advertising starts a relationship between your product and your audience. It makes them root for you. We don’t believe in conning consumers, but converting, commiserating, co-conspiring with them.
- While it’s the responsibility of every ad to create results, there is no one specific formula for achieving them.
- Great creative doesn’t necessarily stop the audience in their tracks, but makes them step comfortably into step with your product and all it stands for. The best advertising doesn’t simply grab attention, it earns a following.
- Clutter is real, but overrated. A crowded field makes for better competitors. Good stuff is no longer good enough, but great stuff always cuts through.
- To create great advertising you have to love the work so much, it’s never a job.
- Passion is a prerequisite in our profession – the price of entry. And passion doesn’t punch the clock.
- It’s smart to ask dumb questions. Having the courage to look a little foolish in the beginning usually makes you look smarter in the end.
- You can find a “unique truth”, a compelling story, in every product or service. You may have to beat it out into the open or tickle it free, but look harder – it’s there.
- There’s no such thing as a “parity product” in the eyes of consumers. Products might share functional attributes, but every brand is different in the minds of consumers.
- Only creative strategies with teeth can yield bold, single-minded ideas. Hitting the consumer over the head with a catalog of copy points is the surest way to give them amnesia.
- The way you say something is as important as what you are saying. I, for one, am tired of cut-n-paste creative briefs with tone statements that inevitably read: fun, upbeat, contemporary.
- Selling work to clients is also the creatives’ responsibility. And no amount of conviction can work without anticipation. Know the client, expect his/her questions if you want to convince them you’ve got the Big Idea.
- Politics are for politicians, and when required, are to be suffered, not embraced. I believe in teamwork, encouraging and empowering – in acknowledging the contributions of others, not in miserly internal campaigns to claim all the credit.
- Crafting the best advertising requires follow-through. Creating attention-getting ads requires constant attention, from conception to pre-production to post. I’ve seen too many ideas executed by their execution. While you might feel relief in finally selling a board, you can’t afford to relax.
- Compromise can be a killer. That preserving a powerful idea requires passion and perseverance, not negotiation. I believe in respectfully starting from scratch. You can’t bend an idea until it breaks and expect to break through.
- “Know-it-alls” and “smarty pants” have no place in our business. Our industry changes so fast, it’s for learners not teachers. If you think you know it all, you’re already a dinosaur.
- The best ads are created by agencies who’ve earned their clients’ trust. By those who don’t simply do as they’re told, but tell clients what to do. It’s easy to complain about clients killing work, but easier still to ignore the agency’s own lack of backbone.
- The “good old days” of advertising are ahead of us. There are still plenty of agencies where loyalty thrives, where clients defer to agency “expertise”, where relationships are built on respect. You can’t surrender to negativism and cynicism.
- We have little right to complain about how clients treat us like vendors, how they think they can do our jobs better than us. Clients didn’t start acting like agencies until agencies started merging and going public and bowing to the bottom line- until we started acting like them.
- Common sense, common courtesy and the appreciation of our common experience don’t seem that common today.