Strategy is not a department. There. We've only gone and said it.
"Ideas can come from anywhere" is a phrase that's often spouted by anyone who doesn't work in a creative department keen to add their tuppence ha'pennyworth into the melting pot of the advertising development process.
It's true. Ideas aren't the preserve of a single department. They can come from anywhere.
However, in my twenty years of working in this advertising business lark, I’ve found that great advertising ideas have always come from the creative department.
This might be something to do with the fact that creatives are paid to come up with great ideas. It's their job. It's what they do. It's why they're called "creatives".
Over the last two decades I’ve also observed that it’s become increasingly harder and harder for creatives to do great advertising.
The single biggest reason for this in my ‘umble opinion is that there has been a seismic shift in the role, influence and importance of a certain kind of planner in the creative development process.
The kind of planner who always wants to take the lead and decide what the advertising should say. The kind of planner who wants to be the architect of any great leap in thinking. The kind of planner who thinks his brief must be obeyed. The kind of planner who wants his “idea” to be unquestioningly executed by a lapdog creative team. The kind of planner who lives in cloud cuckoo land rather than the real world.
Agencies seemed to have willingly embraced and actively encouraged the involvement of these planning geniuses and it’s no co-incidence that a lot of British advertising has become unnecessarily complex, confusing and oblique as creative teams have been forced to work with bullshit or nonsensical strategies.
The fact of the matter is that great advertising can be easily created without the help of a planner. All the best creative people I’ve worked with are also great strategists. They’ve worked on crafting their books in their formative years without the help of a planner writing briefs for them and developed a strong instinct for generating engaging and impactful ideas that contain a single-minded central thought.
I think the outburst of “planner-baiting” that we’ve seen on the likes of Scamp’s blog are symptomatic of a widespread and deeply felt frustration from creatives that contrary to the original spirit of planning pioneers Pollitt and King, planners aren’t helping to make creatives ideas better. They’re making them worse. Much worse.
I was recently idly leafing through a back issue of campaign (April 18th 2008 – we’ve got our finger on the pulse of the trade press here at Sell! Sell!) when I came across an article which illuminated the scale of the problem.
The theme was about the imperative for speed of strategic thought in these challenging times.
Here were some of the words o’ wisdom for some of Britain’s finest planning minds on how to successfully nail a strategy quickly. They range from the mind-numbingly banal to the bleeding obvious to the esoteric and unfathomable.
Take a deep breath;
"Ask your mum"
"Swipe something that's been used in another category not your own"
“Base your strategy around the right business objectives”
“Continuously think of interesting strategies so when a brief comes you’ve got a beauty that’s ready and waiting”
"The most important behaviours are ritualised. Find the ritual and you've found the key to a better idea”
“Consider a brand’s unspoken truth, quiet regret, path not taken. Because in its silence and inaction may reside its strength and identity”.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Of the 25 people who commented, only one, yes one, person mentioned the word “creative”.
Step forward, Stuart Smith the then head of planning at W&K, who said the following;
“Dovetail your strategy and creative. Develop creative ideas from day one, while developing the strategic brief. Don’t be proud, turfist or old-school linear. Allow early creative ideas to inspire strategy, which in turn inspire better creativity”
(It’s a somewhat sad irony that this voice of common sense is no longer working in the ad business as he left to join Google last year).
I wouldn’t deny for one minute that speed of thought is mandatory for agencies nowadays. But if agencies want to arrive at an exciting, relevant and ultimately workable creative solution then they need to get creative people involved from the get go.
Show them the client brief. Let them meet the client. Let them ask questions. Make them take responsibility for what the advertising should say. You’ll get much better creative work if that happens.Remember, strategy is not a department.