The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

I’ve Got All The Right Words, I Just Can’t Put Them In The Right Order …
September 7, 2010, 6:16 am
Filed under: Comment

Let’s get straight to the point, if I could write as powerfully and evocatively as Marcus, Charles or NP, I would be a much better planner than I am.

Their ability to write words you can feel never ceases to amaze me.

They need just a few lines to communicate a message that not only gives clarity to the reader, but enchants them as well.

I can’t do that.

At least not using the written word. [As this blog testifies]

And that’s quite a big handicap when your job is all about being able to communicate and inspire feelings, viewpoints and ideas to others.

Fortunately for me, I realised this quite early on in my career so whilst I still believe you have to write a creative brief [if only to put your thinking on record so that it isn’t badly post-rationalised at a later date] I rely on a bunch of other methods to ensure my colleagues ‘get’ what I want to say.

One of the things I do is collect expressions.

You see I absolutely believe how you say something is as important as what you say.

Of course you know that, but you’d be surprised how many creative briefs I’ve seen where the proposition is written so blandly, that no sense of energy or personality comes across whatsoever.

Mind you, I find it even more shocking when that very same brief also states the brand in question has a supposedly very strong and unique tone of voice!

[As an aside, if you have ever written 3 of the following 6 words on a creative brief under tone of voice: FUN / HUMAN / POSITIVE / CONFIDENT / FRIENDLY / CARING then hang your head in shame because that’s not a tone of voice, that’s just a list of random attributes that serves no purpose other than to fill the box on the brief. As another aside, the best way to deal with a creative brief is to treat it as your bitch … if you end up feeling it rules you, you’re buggered]

Anyway I digress …

Being able to use words to clearly convey a feeling or a mood or a personality that triggers other people’s imagination is a skill … a skill I don’t really have.

My particular problem – as the title of this post suggests – is that even when I think I have the right words, I can’t put them in the right order so what ends up being written isn’t what I actually want to say.

Call it proposition dyslexia.

So as I mentioned earlier, I collect expressions.

These expressions can come from anywhere … books, films, music, conversation … but what is common is that they all manage to represent an idea that takes you somewhere so you don’t so much hear the words, you feel them.

I’ve been collecting these since 1989.

Yep, since before most of you bastards were even born, I have written down words or expressions I’ve seen, heard or read in a little book and then written what category or brand I think it would be best for.

You’d think that after 21 years I’d have thousands … but you’d be wrong, I have maybe a couple of hundred.

To be fair, that might have more to do with the standards of books / films / music / conversations I have rather than anything else, but a couple of hundred is all I have.

The thing is, whilst I do end up using a fair few of them – even if it’s not for the client/category I had originally earmarked them for – their real value is in stimulating my mind during the ideation process, so even if I never end up using “Lessons For The Future” for the History Channel or “Knees Come First” for VA or “The First Draft Of History” for The Times newspaper or “Some Memories We Choose To Remember, Some We’re Not Allowed To Forget” for Drink Driving” … they may have value for another client in another category and when they do, I know the creative team will end up with a thought they can latch onto rather than having to listen to me flail away as I try and capture the words I want to express the idea I want.

In short, the most valuable lesson I have learnt in adland is not what I am good at, but what I am bad at which is why I would always advise you to take a long hard look at yourself because once you’ve done that, you can start finding ways to overcome it, either through practice or – as I choose – by cheating.

58 Comments so far
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Great post with great advice.

I’m guilty of having placed random words on a brief and saying that’s the brand voice I want and have most likely used “fun” in there once or twice so I hang my head in shame even though you, George and Andy put me right eventually.

The list of expressions is a great one and ever since I saw yours I started doing the same and it not only helps open up directions, it helps speed up the process at times as well.

I thought we had done a “knees come first” spot for VA but if we haven’t, it’s great and I hope you haven’t just given some creatives some new ideas because they got bored of always stealing from YouTube. πŸ™‚

As I said this is a great post with great and practical advice, especially for those who can’t write as well as the guys you mention in this post.

Comment by Pete

no creative worth his or her fucking salt would be seem on here pete. i only come because of my care in the fucking community project.

and we did do “knees” but the fuckers never ran it (answers on a fucking postcard please trickie, stevie or hilly) so if someone is going to steal the idea they should take the whole fucking campaign because itll be better than anything they could do in a thousand fucking years.

this post might not have the mindless vindictiveness of yesterdays shit but it is quite good with some good pointers.

know what youre shit at is as valuable as knowing what youre good at and in campbells case, he knew stealing other peoples nuggets of the mind would help his colleagues do better fucking work and make them think hes not a total waste of space planning tit. now he just has to come up with a solution so jill doesnt think hes a waste of space fucking husband.

Comment by andy@cynic

So the briefs you used to give to me were the ones you wrote to prove to yourself you couldn’t come up with ideas that stoked the imagination. Glad my suffering served a purpose and helped others do the work of their lives. It’s nice to know how selfless I am.

Comment by Billy Whizz

why waste his limited resources on some fucker that wouldnt know what to do with it even if it came with instructions and was as simple as a dot to dot picture? or the positive caring sharing fucking corporate toady way to say it is you have so much talent that you could turn anything into gold so we wanted to leave the more creative thought provoking stuff to the less able so they could experience what its like to be you.

choose which version you prefer but if its the latter youre as deluded as the dames who go into playboy to boost their fucking serious acting credentials. that doesnt mean thats a bad thing, at least you/they please others even if its not for the reasons you think or fucking hope.

Comment by andy@cynic

You should be the new Anthony Robbins. I think he’s a bastard as well.

Comment by Billy Whizz

tough love is still love you ungrateful shit. but its not the sort of love that makes me think youre hot and i want to break the habit of a lifetime and do you. just like jemma.

Comment by andy@cynic


Comment by Billy Whizz

thats mr fucking bastard.

Comment by andy@cynic

The word you’re looking for is metaphor.

Comment by John

no its not. sometimes it might be but not always. what the fuck has happened to your brain doddsy?

Comment by andy@cynic

I know that, but the best ones in what is a really impressive list seemed to me to be metaphors.

Comment by John

Isn’t there a difference between being bad at something because you don’t enjoy doing it and being bad at something because you haven’t mastered it yet?

Comment by John

oh there it is.

Comment by andy@cynic

sometimes you never master something, youre just good at it. or youre a master at some things but not all the things hence being a thieving cheating magpie works. or it does for campbell anyway.

Comment by andy@cynic

Sometimes you’re a master at not being good at stuff. Media Arts for example is the world leader at not being good at comms planning

Comment by northern

So am I right in thinking you’re not the biggest fan of some of TBWA’s claims/philosophies and approaches?

Yep, I’m a planner so I instinctively can feel these things.


Comment by Rob

I agree with Pete that this is a really good and useful post. I’m always surprised when I meet planners who don’t have ideas and thoughts in their bottom drawer, even more so when they look at me as if that is the right of only creatives. I’ve been amassing thoughts for the past 6 years (thank you Rob) and it has helped me in many situations, especially sticky ones.

I love the history channel idea, you should definitely go and sell them that but you also had a good one for the times newspaper or am I mixing it up with George?

Hope people follow your advice on this one, it’s very useful.

PS) I never wrote “fun” on a creative brief. Ever.

Comment by Bazza

you fucking did. and im sure i came up with that history channel idea. i must have, its quite fucking good.

Comment by andy@cynic

No you didn’t – I got it from a documentary about a school drama teacher from the 70’s so there. Ha.

Comment by Rob

I’m with Andy, you definitely did … and probably had a bunch of other meaningless twaddle in there as well. Do you really want me to dig out your old briefs?

[Creative ones, not your underwear – just for clarification]

Comment by Rob

Great post.

I really like this idea of collecting “answers” to problems along the way. I’ll admit I don’t do it but I can relate to why you started to, because I often find myself frustrated writing a brief and feeling like it’s not “enough” to really convey what I’m trying to say.

One of the best things I learnt from this blog about planning was not to assume you know the answer, and that it’s ok to find someone else who can solve it for you – like getting the comedian to pitch, or strippers and prostitues to reveal real insights behind men etc. Not only does it bring in completely fresh and unbiased, brutal truths, but it does it in a jarring/creative way that makes you pay attention more than a planner scraping for some points off a TNS or McKinsey article. Those were great lessons and this is another one to add.

I’m interested to know though, just logistically, how you go about it?

Comment by Age

you learn shit from this blog? shit that tells you what to do not what to fucking avoid? unbefuckinglievable.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’m with Andy on this Age … though maybe you’re being nice because I’m taking your beloved out to lunch on Friday and you don’t want me to start our food with:

“So just why the hell are you with that Age bloke?”

I still will, you do know that don’t you …???!!!

Comment by Rob

LOL, I know you will. In fact, I warned her about it in advance. I know you too well Rob, haha!

Comment by Age

Always wanted to work on a brand whose character was dour, bleak and nihilistic.

Comment by simon billing

You’re right you can’t write as well as NP, Marcus, Charles but that won’t stop me asking you to write out all your thought starters to maybe save me the hassle of having to do some work for a few months.

Nice post by the way. Keep it up.

Comment by DH

Steal your own nuggets of inspiration you lazy bastard.

Besides, you had your chance to nick mine and didn’t take it. Just how much of a loser are you Dave? Ha.

Comment by Rob

Nice post – It’s actually useful! ha! I’m sure unintentional, right?

I’ve been collecting quotes evocative / ideas, but haven’t really been able to use them as much or effectively as I would have liked.

Comment by bhaskar

Glad – or should I say, amazed – that you found it useful. Maybe the reason I’ve had more luck at using them than you is you’re better at this planning stuff at me. Infact I’m sure that’s the reason.

Comment by Rob

Thank you.

Comment by The Kaiser

There’s no need to thank me, it’s true. You bastard. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Thanks for the compliment Rob. I write with starts and stops, sometimes full speed ahead, and often at an impasse, waving my hands about in the air grasping for something I ‘feel’ in my heart and desperately hope I have a word for in my head.

It looks like gospel church praying funny enough. The other thing though I wonder if it’s helpful is learning to touch type. I’m a pretty fast typist when in full flow and sometimes even though I’m making many mistakes I just get it out and clean it up later.

That sounds smutty no? πŸ˜‰

Not sure if that helps anyone but when it comes to writing one of my better briefs it was just a bunch of songs tied in with the news history of the time. Something along the lines of they were born to this, went to school as this played, disco’d to that and so on. Soundtrack of their lives proposition.

For a radio station in Singapore.

Your strength I feel apart from dogged determination (and a recycling policy exemplified by that bloody pic again on this blog post) is a genuinely creative approach to illuminating problems with tools that are outside the usual framework. Which is why you’ve always got hookers, priests, pimps, pushers, gym jockeys and Angeline Jolie lurking around you in agency pitches and/or meals in a restaurant focus groups. Which incidentally is the best way to get Asians to open up and talk proper stuff instead of sodas behind two way mirrors.

Oddly enough inebriated Asians are even more candid than Europeans/Occidentals and we ply them with as much Asti Spumante as possible. It’s the setting that is wrong.

I digress as ever.

Comment by Charles

Good to know your social life is blossoming Charles.

Comment by John

You’re being overly generous to Rob because the truth is if he can’t steal, he gets his wife to do it for him.

The touch typing is a great tip, very true, something I’d not given much thought too.

Comment by DH

It’s not a compliment – it’s a fact – and I agree with Dave that the touch typing thing is interesting in helping get the ideas out your head and onto paper. Trouble is I can touch type but it only helps me write lots of crap, not lots of beautifully evocative stuff.

And let’s face it, the only reason I mingle with the weird is [1] they make me feel at home [2] it excites/scares clients and [3] without them adland would be very boring indeed.

Comment by Rob

I’m not good at detail, but you know that, you’ve seen my spelling – but I was the suit that never ever dropped the ball – sometimes knowing you’re crap at something lets you work so hard at it it becomes a strength. Now I don’t have to bother.
I’m also very bad at not being rebellious, it gets quashed for a awhile, but big mouth always strikes again.

Comment by northern

You’re good with the detail that matters – though as my post last week said, sometimes that isn’t the only detail you get measured by.

Comment by Rob

Publish it as a free downloadable PDF Rob – you know you want to! Hahahaha!

Comment by Anjali Ramachandran

If I call it a book, I can claim to be an author and pretend to be smart. Emphasis on ‘pretend’.

Comment by Rob

We all need our pretend worlds to keep us sane. The real world is enough to make anyone go mad.

Comment by Anjali Ramachandran

i know it’s not the same as collecting words, but sometimes i hate the fact that i collect ideas. i just know that there will never be enough time to see them realised.

sometimes i just give them away ‘cos that seems like the right thing to do. and now, having read this, i also think i need to at least write them all down properly.

age, lots of artists i know have a “filing” system with their unborn ideas: index cards, or notebooks, or at least shoebox with words/images in it.

Comment by lauren

Funny you should say that Lauren, I collect words too.

God I sound a right sad fuck don’t I.

And you know what, I totally get what you say about ‘giving them away’ because you’re worried they might not otherwise be used – but while I’m all for that [and have done it many a time] I can only do it for/with/to people who I know will actually do something with it and understand it’s layers rather than some fuck who will just bastardise it because they haven’t got the patience/skill to explore what it could mean.

I know … I know … I sound a primadonna, but when we first started cynic and had to work with whatever other agency our clients had, we soon realised that too many of the fuckers didn’t like the idea of using someone else’s work so would just screw with it or simply not embrace the meaning and try and put their own stamp on it, just for the sake of putting their own stamp on it.

That wouldn’t be so bad if we respected and trusted them, but half of these people acted like machines which is why I can only give these things away to people who I think will think about what to do with it … so even if they end up making something I personally don’t like, I know it’s been done with purpose not just speed.

Fuck, I sound more like a creative tosser than most creative tossers.

Comment by Rob

oh, perhaps i should have clarified what i meant when i said ‘because it seems like the right thing to do’. that ‘right thing’ includes never giving my ideas away to fuckheads. only if it really will work for the person i’m talking to, or working with.

although, having said that, i often throw away insight to a certain lecherous balkan-dutch charmer we know, but i’m working on the ‘what goes around comes around’ principle there.


and yes, you sounded like a creative tosser. but only a little – i think you could do better if you chucked in some post-modern post-rationalisation language too.

Comment by lauren

is this a post about finding your very own (writing) voice? you already found yours, i guess. its human; confident; caring; sometimes friendly, sometimes not; lo-fi, i.e. not pointlessly bloated and wearisome; overall positive and motivating (you usually put a conclusion to a problem at the end). it can even be fun! its also powerful and evocative. otherwise there wouldnt be any comments here, right?!
wait… are you fishing for compliments? πŸ˜›

Comment by peggy

Seems that internet hypnosis program really works!

[Thank you. You’re mad, but thank you]

Comment by Rob

Nice post, and particularly resonant since I’ve been asked to design a campaign evaluation project for a brand whose desired image statements include “modern”, “stylish” and “confident”. Unfortunately, my list of collected statements seems to consist entirely of Alan Patridge quotes, so I may have to freestyle.

Comment by Simon Kendrick

at least partridge makes you laugh. planners make me fucking cry into my big bag of smack.

Comment by andy@cynic

Not a good week to try and give up the drugs eh?

Comment by Rob

I love it when companies tell me there desired image attributes because I just tell them to do stuff that reflects it.

Funny how they always laugh nervously when I say that.

Comment by Rob

‘I quote others to better express myself’
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Comment by northern

I quote others to try and make myself look smart. Bit like a division of an ad agency that is rather popular at the moment.

Entries on a postcard to the usual address …

Comment by Rob

its all nice and good to get different points of view, get inspired, as a thought starter. nothings really new is it. its all just a recombination of things i guess… but its a complex (thought) process, fuelled by experiences and whatever else that gets people to their ideas/points of view. thats the uniqueness. the origin. the source. no one can steal that. yet lol. and eclectic copying, without further thought, doesnt cut it. if something is not a product of ones own mind, it is something static, or just ridiculous if its proclaimed as ones own.

when it comes to stealing, what comes to my mind is, firstly, that its illegal and you end up in jail, and secondly, the ‘working for free or 2 cents — you never know — crowdsourcing’ version. cant help it.
i read that the age of busines ethics has begun a while ago. ive also read a comment somewhere i couldnt forget. it talked about greedy f*ckers who cash in while they let the serfs work for free or next to nothing. and that people should be paid decent money for work… it went on for much longer, talked about incompetence and ruthlessnes or something and had a decent amount of swear words and insults in it. i cant find the link tho, unfortunatly.

nice quote np πŸ™‚

Comment by peggy

Seriously Peggy, what the hell have I done to deserve someone like you to comment on here. Whatever it is, I’m grateful and I think you’re going to particularly like my post of tomorrow – especially as you used the phrase “greedy fuckers” which isn’t quite the point I’ll be making, but is certainly associated with it.

Comment by Rob

shes not here for you is she, its the rest of us she wants to associate with and im front of the fucking queue. as if anyone would come here for you except the freaks or the police.

Comment by andy@cynic

jesus andy, you’re on fire at the moment aren’t you? did somebody steal your drink or something?

Comment by lauren

no one ever steals my drink. well no one whose fucking currently breathing.

Comment by andy@cynic

the word you wanted to use is ‘annoyed’ rob. just ask the two peeps who tried to watch that lame kick-ass movie last week. i guess grateful wasnt exactly what they had in mind when i starred as the real-time commentator πŸ˜‰

Comment by peggy

that internet hypnosis program does work, but in the opposite direction it seems πŸ™‚

Comment by peggy

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