What Advertising Needs To Learn From Gaga

Don't do this. It's not nice.
Lady Gaga. Like her or not, it's not easy to ignore her. I quite like her for what it's worth. I'm not a particular fan of her music, but I love people who dare to be different. You might argue that's it's all contrived publicity hunting and PR stunts. I don't know if that's true. And I don't much care either way. She invigorates the mainstream music industry. An industry that has been insanely sanitised and packaged.

Stefani Germanotta could have easily been another music business product, turned out with smoothed off edges and an airbrushed persona. But she isn't. She has become her own category of one. Forbes recently named her the most powerful celebrity in the world (mind you, Mel Gibson was once given that accolade, so read into that what you will).

The thing is, what Lady Gaga has done isn't that crazy. She isn't that out there really, is she? That's not to attempt to take anything away from her, it's just an observation. She has an excellent line in weird and wonderful clobber (who could ever forget the dress of meat?) and she has put herself out there in support of causes, controversial and otherwise. Her behaviour and persona stand out so much further because everybody else seems to fit so neatly into a comfortable, safe status quo that the business has created.

It got me thinking about the advertising business and how mind-numbingly safe and confined the status quo is in the industry. Almost all advertising today seems to fit within a very narrow band of what is considered to be 'good advertising'.

When you think about the full span of all the different ways and styles in which it's possible to communicate, and the full spread of what it is possible to communicate, almost all advertising today falls with in a very, very narrow slice of that. It feels like advertising is more narrow now than it was in the 1950's, before the creative revolution. Everyone is saying similar, bland things in similar twee ways to similar audiences (I once read a brilliant definition of this as wind-tunnel marketing).

Where is the extremely simple? The extremely complicated? The visually stunning? The shocking message? The stunning truth? The new point of view? The crudely stripped back? The output of ad agencies and the brands they work for bleed into one another. A bland soup of messages and output that sit there on the periphery of everyday life, not daring to interrupt. Not bothering to be interesting.

Why? I think that it's somewhere between clients looking too hard for safety, for familiar territory, and agencies not having the balls or the ability to direct them to more fertile ground. Agencies themselves seem dominated by people who got to the top by being the least controversial, upsetting the least people. Their character shines through. Bland. Agencies that still bear the names of the energetic, witty and daring individuals who founded them are now largely steered by the beige, bland and the safe-pairs-of-hands people who look to create things that they think other people would approve of.

Which is all a crying shame really, because to stand out massively today, you only need be like Lady Gaga. You only need to stray a few degrees from the confines of the safe accepted beige-ness of the accepted norm.

3 comments:

  1. the problem is clients don't want to be Lady Gaga.

    they want to be Justin Bieber.

    and they use Bieber-arguments to prove you it can be done.

    that's the fight we're fighting.

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  2. The problem is that lots of people are more than happy to be beige and blend in. Creatives that are too comfortable become lazy. Why would they step out of that comfort zone - they would be paid the same and have more hassle!

    What they need is THE FEAR to spark them back into life, which is weird because there are more creatives looking for work these days than ever before. The employed ones should be fighting everyday to do the best work possible and keep their jobs!

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  3. Riki - Putting the blame solely on clients is the easy way out though. There is a dearth of great account management and creative ambition, and of agencies' willingness to be daring and provocative, and take the lead in their relationships.

    Clients can only buy or not buy the work that is put in front of them.

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