The Unreasonable Man

I was reading this post on Dave Trotts excellent blog the other day, and it reminded me of this great quote by George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Sometimes in ad agencies, as in life, all people want you to do is to make their lives easier. To not rock the boat, or come up with anything difficult to do. The don't want you to be unreasonable.

Back in the old days in my first agency, my smashing partner and I earned ourselves a bit of a reputation for being difficult. What this meant was that some people in the agency didn't find it easy working with us. Traffic people, production, account managers, they would look at us with withering expressions as we explained exactly how something should be executed to make sure it was excellent, not just ok.

On one campaign for an important client, we had an idea that would be very hard to ignore if it was done well, which was difficult, but a bit so-so if it was just done the easy way. So we pushed and pushed for it to be done properly - clients rarely get to see just how passionate ad people are about making their advertising as good as possible, which is a shame isn't it? Eventually one of the creative directors at the agency took us to one side and gave us a little lecture about being less difficult. I thought it was a bit stupid. It's nice to be nice. But sometimes to do something truly interesting, or change the way something is done for the better, you have to be a bit unreasonable. That was one of the first times we realised that we needed to start our own agency.

It's true of clients too, some just want an easy ride. They just want someone to agree with them, or give them unremarkable work that will be easy to get signed off by the board, or won't potentially cause any fuss. Well there's plenty of people out there in the world of advertising willing to oblige. More than plenty. Those clients find themselves overwhelmed with choice. But the very best clients are always happy to be challenged, they realise that they're paying people to think, and they want their expertise. Those are great clients to work for. We're lucky to have a couple of those.

If you adapt yourself to the way the ad industry works, the systems, the conventions, the accepted norms, the consensus of what's good, the awards, all you'll be is another reasonable cog in big reasonable machine turning out reasonable stuff. Go into work, be reasonable, eat lunch, be a bit more reasonable, go home. It's the kind of reasonable behaviour that's turning advertising into just another corporate ladder for dull, reasonable people to climb.

All progress in advertising depends on the unreasonable man. As George Bernard Shaw didn't quite say.


  1. So right. It takes two qualities to make excellent ads -- talent and will.

    I've seen many talented people who just did not have the will and consequently never did anything great.

  2. Can I come work for you guys?

  3. Cheers Bob.

    Sophie, cheers we're not hiring at the moment, but you can send us your details at doubles [at] if you like.


  5. Happy Christmas Sell! Sell! Great post - I'm all for a bit of unreasonable behaviour!

  6. Along the same lines, and with the approach of Christmas in mind, it's worth noting that most major religions/creeds began as heresies.

  7. what was the idea?

  8. I'd rather not say publicly, anonymous person, just to be polite.

  9. This is a great blog. I'm more interested in how you think, what you say and why you do what you do than your work. I mean that in a positive way. It's exciting. It's different. It's fresh. It's how I think and what I believe in. Glad I found you, it's made my day.


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