Breaking The Myth of How Great Work is Created

We need to break the myth of how the best advertising is created.

The advertising industry has to realise that its value to clients lies in its talented people – not process.

It needs to be confident of that fact, and put it proudly back in the centre of the business.

That means agencies need to stop making out it’s their proprietary process that creates the best solution, and accept that it is talented people that really make the difference.

Agencies have unfortunately become moulded in the image of what they think clients want.

So they over-emphasise process, because they believe it makes clients feel comfortable that the agency can consistently produce the goods.

Whereas, in reality, smart clients know the best ideas come from talented people

But agencies seem to find it really hard to be honest about that, maybe because people are complex – they leave, they have bad days, they get sick, and let’s face it – not all agencies have the most talented people.

So they put the emphasis on their process or system.

The truth is, the agency’s most valuable product – brilliant creative thinking that helps clients meet their business objectives – comes from the brains and talents of good people.

Unfortunately, in modern agency set-ups, these talented people are all too often stifled within poor systems.

They need to be freed from the shackles of these counter-productive processes that prevent them from tackling problems effectively. 

An excerpt from our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ is available exclusively at the Design Museum. (edit: although it might be sold-out oops!)

Thought For The Day #1

Thought for the day:

Good advertising makes you think "Ooh that's a good ad"
Great advertising makes you more likely to buy the product...

Any thoughts on that?

Some Good Work This Week: Giff Gaff Diving Lady

It's not often we get the chance to use this blog to compliment another agency on some good contemporary work. But thankfully the guys over at Who Wot Why have provided us the opportunity this week with their new spot for Giff Gaff. What makes this good? In our opinion, it focuses on one thing - yes maybe obvious but so many people are trying to cram too many messages or thoughts into things these days, and secondly it's very, very well crafted – again something of a rarity at the moment. It stands out, looks great, sounds great, and makes a good point. Hats off to them, and to client for going with something like this.

The Intersection

I think in general the best advertising ideas come from the intersection of creativity and commerce.

That means someone who has pressing commercial needs, and someone else who wants to use creativity to help solve the problem, be that in a piece of communication that means something to people, or some other idea.

It's that meeting of different minds that I think leads to interesting work – the commercial imperative on the creative, and the creative challenge to the business. That meeting of minds can be exciting, it can be tempestuous, and can be challenging. But it should lead to a better solution than if either of the two parties had completely their own way.

I think this is why, when you hear about the stories behind great campaigns, there tends to be some personal relationship between the creative person and business person behind it – the boss of the client company, and the creative director or senior creative on the job actually talk to each other.

I think the way that agencies are set-up currently is getting in the way of allowing this to happen on most accounts. The production-line method of creating advertising, which almost all agencies now employ is, I think, the worst way of getting creative solutions. The meeting of minds is never really allowed to happen. The tension or clash is avoided at all costs.

I think this is because agencies are scared of their clients, and many clients seem to believe that everyone must agree with them or there's something wrong with the relationship – by the way, very few owners or CEOs seem to think like this, it's mainly marketing people. I've found that, in general, business founders, owners or CEOs enjoy being challenged.

What we saw happen with Pepsi last week I think is a twisted product of the lack of this kind of relationship, albeit not due to the usual agency or client problems. Here it seems the clients lacked the outside perspective of someone to reign them in or challenge what they wanted to do. But also, on top of that, it seems the people on the client side lacked the commercial imperative themselves, too. From reading quotes from the clients involved, it seems like they were off on some flight of fancy that wasn't rooted in the thing that they make and sell – a fizzy drink – but rather some terrible misunderstanding of their role in their customers' lives and the world. They were like the worst kind of creative, and allowed to go off and indulge themselves.

However, to see the agency world jump gleefully on this is quite unseemly – the Pepsi ad is truly awful, but really only degrees worse than recent agency-made efforts I could mention. I don't think it's that crazy for some clients to be exploring the idea of taking the advertising function in-house – but what is vital if they do, is that their own people are empowered to be as challenging as a creative agency should.

It's a people business, advertising. Putting the right people together and empowering them and listening to them and embracing any resultant tension or challenges will give you the best chance of a great outcome.

Happy trails.

Just Another Sunny Friday in Advertising

Good morning out there. How has your week been, good I hope? There's been a lot going on in and around the world of advertising this week...

Pepsi have made a bit of a hash of things, haven't they? Messing up your advertising is a very public affair. You can see why clients are often so worried about taking a chance on interesting ideas - they're worried it'll turn-out like the Pepsi debacle. Not that the Pepsi ad was a great idea - far from it. One thing I found fascinating was the extra kicking that some industry people were giving it because it was created in-house. I saw plenty of people saying things like this is what happens when you don't use an agency, or the value of an agency is an outside point-of-view so this doesn't happen. I mean, the ad is truly awful, but agencies have been churning out this kind of rancid, misguided, virtue hustling (TM Bob Hoffman) guff for ages. Even with their precious outside point-of-view. And some in-house work is good, Specsavers for example. The problem isn't in-house, the problem is people on both sides of the agency-marketing world thinking that their brand should get involved in issues that have fuck-all to do with their fizzy drink or soap or beer.

It's been heartening to see a few people in the big agency world and the trade press start to talk about the some of the problems with ad agencies and advertising that we've been banging on about for ages. Things like how agencies are set-up, how they work with clients, how they charge, the work they produce. I'm glad this stuff is starting to be talked about, but where were these people five and ten years ago? I guess the industry people are just starting to wake up? Those people I would point in the direction of this we've actually been doing this stuff for the last ten years.

It's an interesting time here at Sell! Towers, we've met some very smart people over the last few weeks and had some great conversations about the business and the future of agencies. We've also met a couple of very interesting clients, smart people with good businesses who I hope we get to talk more with soon. We're working on a couple of new projects that are each very important in their own way, I look forward to sharing those with you at some point.

And lastly, I wanted to point you in the direction of this blog: subtitled Standing On The Shoulders of a Giant, it's dedicated to Ron Anderson, the creative director it describes as the godfather of Minneapolis advertising. There is a ton of great work on here, and some excellent stories about Ron and working for him.

Over and out - enjoy the sun...

Free Fire Posters

If you've been swanning around Shoreditch lately, you'll have no doubt spotted these Trainspotting-inspired posters for Free Fire. Placed side-by-side in Old Street Underground, these poster are a veritable feast for the eyes. The finest 'seen-it-in-real-life' design guff I've seen this year.

There's no reason why design/advertising can't have an aesthetically positive effect on it's surrounding environment. These posters are proof.

These palm-moistening posters were designed by Empire Design (I think, don't quote me on it). 


10 Years of Sell! Sell!...

Something that we've always been monumentally crap at here at Sell! Towers is shouting about what we do as a company and PR-ing ourselves. I suppose we're just constantly looking for the next opportunity or concentrating on working on the next piece of work that we can make into something great, so rather than looking at what we've done or what we're doing and shouting about it, we're getting on with stuff and looking forwards. This was brought home to me the other day when I realised that we had let pass the fact that we've been doing this thing for ten years, without so much as a nod. No PR puff-pieces, no big party, no shouting from the rooftops. So I said let's sit down for half an hour put down some of the stuff from the ten years of Sell! Sell! that means something to us, and this is what came out....

Ten years of Sell! Sell! — 15 years ahead of our time 10 years ago...

In ten years we have:
Always put the quality of the work first
Given ourselves a stupid name that confuses people
Changed the way an ad agency works
Invented an action figure 
made people more important than process
Helped a paper publisher become a successful digital brand 
Retained the IP of a big idea
Designed products
Named new beer
Helped people live healthier and happier lives 
Never gone to Cannes
Spent too much of our startup cash on a cash register from 1901 
Brought media back to the table
Introduced a legendary junk food to the UK
Had people work together rather than in a production line
Helped reduce copyright theft
Fixed our pinball machine a million times
Produced health guides that save lives
Hand-printed our own newspaper ads
sacked-off the pinball machine
Written a manifesto for a new creative revolution
had it published and sell out many times over
Helped create a kids’ social media platform
Campaigned to make 29th February a free day for everyone
Missed the big call from BBC news
Made an ad videogame before it was a thing
Created the concept for a city restaurant & Bar
Laughed at ourselves 
Breathed fresh life into a dusty old bottle
Made weekends sacred
Walked the walk that others talk 
Picked fights with the big guys
Put the client’s interests before our own interests
Made Paul McCartney laugh
Then helped him to advertise his family’s brand
Been close to the edge more than once
Stood firm against procurement for the value we add
chucked 12 pies off 12 bridges
Made it into a film that was screened at the Renoir
Set fire to the production line
Made some great friends
Made some good enemies
Never used PowerPoint
Brought surrealism to the big screen
Challenged the orthodoxy of the ad business
Been down to our last teabag
Made a dusty old liqueur the most extraordinary drink on the bar
Given everyone their birthday off for free
Not entered a single industry award
Had a client hire us three times at three different companies
Stayed humble
Remembered the value we add is in creativity not technology 
Given a keynote in Delhi
Weirded-out some regular agencies in Miami
Helped a challenger grow over 300% 
Made commuters crave a proper breakfast 
Sold the IP for a big idea separately to our fee
Failed to improve at darts
Directed Madness in a fake detergent commercial
Helped a tech innovator to appear as good as it really is
Created ideas to last and grow not to be flashy
Named technology
Said ‘no’
Never taken no for an answer
Taken a poker millionaire back to his roots
Accidentally took him out mid-shoot with a football to the danglers
Changed the way a creative company works with clients
Not been afraid to be unpopular for doing the right thing 
Charged for the idea not for the time
Never let a single piece of crap out of the door
Brought an old brewer into the 21st century with their first ad campaign
Retained clients for years through the work not contracts
Annoyed the wrong people
Presented ideas that scared the shit out of us 
Been rubbish at PR
Beaten big agencies in shootouts 
Been hard on ourselves
Run a global campaign from a five-person office
eaten more Tandoori than is probably a good idea
Said goodbye to a dear friend and partner
Scared ourselves
Questioned ourselves
Stuck at it
Had a great laugh
Waited for the business to catch up
Probably still at least five years ahead of our time...

We’re just getting started...