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

I’ve Drunk The Kool-Aid, Which Is Why I Hate …
September 27, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Last week, when I was in Singapore, my mate Steve – a Regional ECD of a toptastic agency – came up to me and said,

“My only problem with you is you hate too much. If you hate this industry so much, why don’t you leave?”

It was a fair question, with just 2 issues:

1. He thinks I only have one flaw. Hahaha.
2. He thinks I hate the advertising industry.

The first point I can put down to him being a sweetheart despite being a gruff, rough, Scot … the second, I found really disappointing.

The fact is I don’t hate adland.

How could I?

It’s given me an amazing life – both in terms of life experience and standard of living.

There’s not many other industries that would let me work with incredible talent, talk to incredible people, visit incredible places, live in incredible countries and yet still allow me to be my birkenstock wearing self.

I don’t hate the advertising industry, I just hate what it’s becoming.

When I started out in this industry I was taught that commercial creativity was powerful, influential and transformaitonal … but more importantly, I was taught what you had to do to realise it.

It wasn’t good enough to sit on your arse pontificating about it, you had to get off it and do something about it.

In short, do interesting stuff rather than talk about interesting stuff.

I appreciate the irony given I talk about a lot of stuff on this blog, but none of what I say is interesting so it doesn’t count.

Anyway, while there are still a bunch of people – and a few agencies – that live by that mantra, I can’t help but feel it’s getting less and less.

When I look around, I can’t help but feel the industry is focused more on talking about creativity rather than doing it.

And doing scam ads to win a few awards from judges who let it happen because they [1] haven’t got the balls to call it out or [2] want their name associated with good stuff, even though it’s not real and – arguably – not good, doesn’t count.

The sad fact is a lot of agencies out there now make more money from the ‘process’ of managing advertising than actually creating it.

How mad is that?

How sad is that!

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate we have to bring in the cash to pay all our salaries, but to allow the value of ‘creativity’ to be devalued just amazes me.

And yet, despite all the proof that what we do is being valued less and less by society and business, we go around with our noses in the air and our heads in the sand, pretending we’re superior to the masses and that everyone appreciates our genius.

But we’re not and they don’t.

It’s time to wake up.

We have amazing people with amazing talent and can achieve amazing things but some of the first things we need to do is stop acting like clients and stop viewing our competition as advertising agencies so we can get back to infecting and affecting culture.

As I said previously, client don’t want us to act like them, they just want us to start listening – and acting – on their needs … not just ours.

Secondly, as horrible as it might be to admit, companies like Google or Facebook or HBO have done more to affect popular culture than pretty much all of adland put together … and what I hate is that as an industry, we seem to have chosen to either ignore that fact or seemingly not be bothered by it.

As I wrote a while back, adland should have come up with Square … the talent and capabilities are certainly within most agencies … but for some reason it didn’t happen.

There’s a bunch of reasons for it – some ours, some not – but what bothers me more is that rather than appreciate what things like Square achieve and represent, we decide to bestow all our praise on ‘ad campaigns’ like the National Australia Bank who spent countless millions promoting the fact they weren’t like other banks.

Don’t get me wrong, that campaign was good – and effective – but it just bothers me that we used to want to use creativity to change the World and now we seem happy with just getting a few newspaper headlines. For a day.

Yes I am being dramatic and no, not everyone acts the way I’ve just described – as I said, there’s some great agencies and a shitload of top people out there [many of which, are not in great agencies], of which I am incredibly fortunate to work with so many directly – but I suppose I just am frustrated that an industry of such potential is seemingly more happy to talk to itself, seek the praise of itself and slap eachother regulary on the back rather than do stuff that forces people outside ‘the inner circle’ to take notice of what we do.

What set this all off was that I saw this tweet from Australian advertising magazine B&T …

Seriously, is there any other industry that would send out a message where you would nominate yourself as awesome?

OK, so idiots that appear on reality TV shows might, but a whole industry?

“Hey, I’m fucking awesome and under 40 so include me” said absolutely no one with an ounce of humanity.

I am tempted to offer B&T cash to give me the names of anyone that nominates themselves so I can send someone over and hit them with a brick.

Adland wants to be rockstars.

Adland wants to be famous.

Adland is becoming Liz Hurley … famous for being famous rather than for doing things that are interesting.

It’s tragic and the sooner we drop all the pretense and posturing and get back to being as great as we can be – and fighting for that acceptance with business rather than selling meaningless processes and cheap everything – the better.

So Steve, I don’t hate adland.

I don’t want to leave adland.

I think we’re still a million times better than a lot of branding companies.

I just want us to stop acting like all is great while everything collapses around us and get back to proving how great we can be in ways that affects more than just our colleagues, peers & award shows.

I have faith in what we can do … who we can be … what we can achieve, but the difference between the industry I started in and, exceptions aside, the industry I am in now, is that one strove to create fundamental change whereas the other – despite all the claims, hype, technology and scam – is happy just doing ads about it.

45 Comments so far
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Comment by George

Apologies for the above comment, I just wanted to be assured I finally achieved the accolade of being first to comment on here. That is a tragic accolade I admit, but after being pipped at the post yesterday by Ciaran while writing a long comment, I wasn’t going to risk that situation occuring again.
This post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anyone who thinks you hate the advertising industry obviously doesn’t know you. It’s never been about hating the industry for you, just the standards it is celebrating and promoting. After seeing that tweet, I am even more convinced you’re right in how you feel.
While advertising gave me some of the best lessons and experiences in my life, I’m glad I’m no longer working directly in it. My feeling is that unless you are at a W+K, BBH or a couple of the smaller, independents, you won’t learn as much or experience as great by the sheer fact the majority of agencies are driven by a production house mentality, not a behavioural change through creativity mentality.
It’s ridiculous to tell you to never change because you won’t. But don’t change, it’s what drives you and helps fight the corner of high standards.
A long, but passionately enjoyable post and the square/Australian bank comparison is excellent.

Comment by George

I have just seen the length of my comment. I apologise. I literally do not know what came over me.

Comment by George

Needing to be first in the comment thread then writing comments that rival Rob’ posts for length?

Please stop it George, before I have to start hating you.

Comment by DH

I stand here, apologetic and begging for your collective forgiveness.

Comment by George

George, what do you think initiates a production house mentality in agency? Is it the avoidance of taking creatives risks and a fear of failure or rather the lack of spirit to achieve greatness and instead earn an easy buck (or something else)?

Comment by Paul

what the fuck has got in to you auntie? are the family away and you dont know what to do with your time?

Comment by andy@cynic

I have already apologised for my indiscretion Andrew, I see no reason to do it again.
@Paul. My comment about production house mentality is that agencies are becoming more and more about executing their clients particular executional requirements rather than identifying and then solving commercial business problems. What was once active has now become passive, if you get my drift.

Comment by George

Congratulations George – you’ve finally made it.

Thanks for the hefty comment and [sort-of] compliment … at least more of a compliment than the backhanded one you gave me yesterday.

One thing I should say is that working in a multinational agency, doesn’t mean you’re not good. I know you know this – and feel the same way – but I thought I’d clarify it.

The reality is there are tons of amazing people throughout the industry who work in a whole range of agencies – from the highly respected to the lesser so.

In my experience, the issue is far more with the standards the company expects from you than the standards an individual has, at least in the main.

You can tell the people who aim higher … they’re the ones who get upset and frustrated when they find their standards and expectations are higher than their employers and clients.

I say this because the last thing I wanted was for this post to read like I was saying ‘respected agencies have good people, lesser respected agencies don’t’ … because that is plainly bollocks.

Comment by Rob

I’m basing my comment on George’s because I don’t have 5 hours to read the post. I hate to say it but I think I agree with you Rob. You are driven more by quality than hate, you’re just really good at doing it in a pissed off, bitchy bastard way.

And anyone who responded to that ad tweet needs to be shot.

Comment by DH

I’m not sure there is that big a difference between where the industry was and is. While I understand what you are saying, I also understand your friend’s point of view. For the second time this month I find myself quoting Howard Gossage, who said: “I love the advertising business. I truly do, although it is no business of a grown man. I love it because it’s such a lovely Augean stable to clean up.” And he tried. As did a number of others that we all could name. Right down to today, to the man who’s name is on your shingle, and there are are numerous others. Like the poor, the assholes are always with us.

Comment by Ciaran MCCabe

Excellent point Ciaran and I love the Gossage quote. What a man. Maybe the difference is less about a change of good attitudes to bad because, as you point out, the industry has always been littered with the foolhardy and terrible. Maybe the difference is that many of the companies that built the standards that helped build the industry are now the ones who are happy to push them aside for a chance of a contract with a multinational corporation.
It’s less the amount of companies who are embracing the lowest standards and more a case of who they are.

Comment by George

That’s a good response to Ciaran’s great point. Need to think about it, but it might be what I was trying to say.

And failed.

As usual.

Comment by Rob

I’m currently reading a book on Gossage that someone kindly sent me. I knew of him of course, but reading the whole story shows a man who was the Rolling Stones to Ogilvy’s ‘Beatles’.


Comment by Rob

I agree with George, if someone thinks you hate advertising, they don’t know you very well and they certainly don’t talk to you very often.

I agree with pretty much everything you have said here which is possibly why people love the show “Mad Men” so much. It isn’t the story or the characters, it’s because it reflects an industry they wished they worked in for the respect and status they receive and the quality and standards they produce.

Good read Rob.

Comment by Pete

Though I think in Andy’s case, he loves it for the sexism.

Comment by Rob

This is what happens when you learn your trade at the amazing HHCL. #RIP

Comment by Pete

yeah blame hhcl. who the fuck do you think you are, shane fucking warne?

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes. All their fault.

HHCL are still the most progressive agency I ever worked at. That is meant as no disrespect to the wonderful W+K or my beloved cynic [or anywhere else I’ve earned a living] it’s just my point of view.

Though to be fair, that could be heavily influenced by the fact it was my first job, I knew even less than I do now & the industry was a very different place back then.

Comment by Rob

dont blame the poor fuckers working in the shit agencies, its not their fault. its the fucking agencies and industry media that tells them acting like a twat is ok. unless theyre hipsters then they came in that way.

and for the fucking record campbell, good agencies have shit people in them as well. just stand in front of a mirror for an example.

got to fly. literally and fucking figuratively.

love and hugs.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes. I know that – but I don’t want to say it out loud in case the lovely powers-that-be come to their senses.

Comment by Rob

Yes. (I’m actually doing other stuff, no time to write a longer comment – and just like George I wanted to make sure I am the nth person to comment)

Comment by Willem

I agree with George. An enjoyable, thought provoking post. You should write more of this Robert, not less.

Comment by Lee Hill

you should have just told the twat to piss off….

…..hold on, Steve, Scot, gruff, rough, (devilishly handsome windswept and interesting I translate that as)…. ah yes.

I think it was a more rambling question by me about the persona on this blog, rather than the man in the flesh.

But I suppose, by definition, the blog is a little bit of a spiel about the crap, frustrating bits of advertising, rather than sometimes celebrating the good bits a little more.

So I can now claim it was all part of my cunning plan to get you to post something like:

“It’s given me an amazing life – both in terms of life experience and standard of living.

There’s not many other industries that would let me work with incredible talent, talk to incredible people, visit incredible places, live in incredible countries and yet still allow me to be my birkenstock wearing self.

I don’t hate the advertising industry, I just hate what it’s becoming.”

Cos they are words I could have spoken as well. wholeheartedly agree. Apart from the Birkenstock bit obviously.

It’s a great biz if you are lucky enough to get the right opportunities and meet the right people who ‘love’ the biz enough to get passionate about it. as you obviously are.

Give me someone who cares about something versus someone who doesn’t any day.

Can I add, as a formerly wee working class kid with a bag of chips and haggis supper on my shoulder, it’s probably one of the few industries still something of a meritocracy.

(Yes. There’s the dark side and a spectacular amount of venal knobs out there… but I rather suspect quite a few other industries have the same.)

And for anyone who knows me, well they probably think it’s rather rich I was accusing you of being a grumpy opinionated bastard!!

Bit like the Weed calling the Tefal black.

Comment by steveelrick

First of all, I’m shocked a man of your intelligence would lower your standards by coming here, let alone commenting on here.

Secondly, you’re being a bit presumptuous thinking this post was a comment that you made to me.

OK, your name is Steve.

Yes you are a regional ECD.

Yes you work at a toptastic agency.

Yes you live in Singapore.

OK … OK … it was about you, but the thing is, it’s because I think the World of you, otherwise your comment wouldn’t have bothered me.

So I’m glad you like it … and I’m glad, as I said to Chaz, that while we might have different styles to express ourselves, the beliefs are pretty much the same.

And obviously, when I say “while we might have different styles to express ourselves, the beliefs are pretty much the same”, I am talking about Chaz – because unlike him, you are a foul-mouthed, opinionated bastard.

Which is why I love you.

Thanks for the comment, means more than you’d know.

Comment by Rob

Oh, and finally – the reason I tend to write about things that frustrate me is because the industry tends not to discuss these things. They put on a veneer of “everything is great here” and that bothers me because of the talent I know exists and the capabilities we have, when we are encouraged, supported and challenged.

Sadly that sort of environment is getting more and more rare … driven by agencies and clients focus on profit rather than identifying and executing ideas that drive great profit as a result of their audience understanding, inspiration and involvement.

Wow, that makes this blog almost sound like a saint, but then compared to the blind slagging and backstabbing that goes on on industry media blogs, maybe it is.

How about that for a planner coming up with a completely over-the-top, self gratifying ‘brand vision’!!! What a tool I am.

Comment by Rob

As the Quakers would say (referring to those last 3 comments) those men speak my mind.

Comment by Ciaran MCCabe

Excellent, excellent. We only get really frustrated at or with the things we care about. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when Mrs Northern gives you another bollocking for being useless.
You should write a book you know.

Comment by northern

A dot-to-dot book?

Comment by Rob

Less of the false modesty. A proper book. Not only on how life as an angry outsider has made you good at your job, an inside point of view of HHCL, the different cultures of London, Australia and Asia, but how to do planning the Cynic/WK/HHCL Campbells way. And an entire chapter on Boucher.
You have much to give.

Comment by northern

I could do it all on a pamphlet entitled, “Copy & Paste”.

Comment by Rob

No, that’s the internal rule for planning at the Disruption agency

Comment by northern

are you out of your fucking mind groper? it would end up being his fucking queen scrapbook or some other shit. fuck me, he writes one half decent post and everyone loses their fucking load over him. am i the only bastard who has any taste around here? yes i fucking am.

Comment by andy@cynic

I would buy that book for the chapter on Andy alone.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Great post.

The industry should hit the implode button and start from scratch. But of course that’s impossible since the machine can’t just restructure and recalibrate overnight. Truth is, the model works right now. It pays the bills. Spend is up. Clients ask for media that’s idiotically been bought a year in advance to be filled. But we’re all antsy simply because we know what’s up.

The entire model is built on servicing as a middleman – adding costs and layers, obscuring the engine – the talent – to sell the model itself. But all of it is constantly called into question in a new age of transparency that puts creators and builders in direct contact with clients.

Except for some relatively small standouts, the advertising industry is set up with the pretty much the same 1960’s model (which I pointed to this over a year ago: )

Agencies of 2012 are structured to do the advertising of 1960. And to enter the same award schemes as they did in 1960. And to promote and sell themselves based on those awards. In an echo chamber that gets louder every day.

Yet, this model is supposed to ‘create Square’? Ha. Sorry, not going to happen. Not with a huge team mostly adept at using word, indesign and keynote at least. And billing hourly for it. And answering advertising briefs instead of marketing briefs that solve actual problems and don’t just fill media.

So, many agencies are in a Catch-22: Continue to churn out work in the advertising industry of today in order to pontificate on the advertising industry of tomorrow…all the while knowing (or not knowing) that tomorrow’s industry won’t really belong to the industry of today. Which is why it’s already losing some of that talent. Software companies. Gaming companies. Production companies. Branded content specialists. Leaner, meaner, set up to do what’s starting to be needed.

Still, I think we are filled with some sharp minds and many will be smart enough to stay ahead of the game, wherever it ends up. But for those who don’t, I’m sure there’s always going to be some regional award festival in Bumblefuck worshipping double page spreads for Lego. We won’t lose those for awhile. Too much ego at stake, for now. As for the money and the eyeballs though….

Comment by Tim Geoghegan (@timogeo)

Thanks for the very detailed comment Tim – it’s great.

I suppose the only thing I’d disagree with [even though it’s not really disagreeing] is that while the model agencies use is out-of-date, that shouldn’t stop them having the capability of thinking of ideas like Square.

In fact, maybe they did – the problem was probably how to make it happen and how to charge for it. We faced this issue at cynic which ended up in us having to fundamentally change our remuneration system [hence I agree with you] but at it’s heart – as much as there are many factors that can change the potential of brilliance into the reality of brilliance – it all starts off with the attitude and mindset of the people within the organisation … and sadly, it appears far too many seem happy either ignoring the commercial circumstances/realities/opportunities of their clients business or simply are content making the ads.

Changing the system would help. Changing the mindset and attitude would help even more.

Comment by Rob

In terms of changing the mindset and attitude, I think you may be giving too much credit that the majority of the industry ‘gets it.’ I used to think the same, but then my eyes were opened to the actual roadblocks – which is a way of thinking.

You’re preaching an abstract, layered, ‘baked in’ approach to problem solving to many who thrive in a linear ‘service’ system. Doesn’t mean people are less/more intelligent, it just means they’re not looking at the problem the same way.

If we want to make Square, we need to be more fluid. Core ‘brain’ teams with as many possible exoskeleton outfits to don. Only one is traditional advertising.

But yes, the momentum is what we need. And the ability to make it. I’ve seen that over and over. Ideas get to stage 2: “Ok, now what?” A week later, back to the tried-and-true. Agencies need to be allowed to experiment and encouraged to push ahead. Yes, some do, but they really are the exception.

A few years back, I wanted to make a handshake/ hug robot that pretty much did something like this: as the main campaign. It was for a technology client that was all about ‘connection.’ It would let people “hug” family members overseas or on the battlefield, pet a dog far away, shake hands with complete strangers, etc. Set up in city squares as the entire campaign, and filmed and touring. It would be a real interactive demo of their promise vs. just telling people.

Agency: “Huh, Tim? How do we build it?”

Well, you don’t. That’s why you probably made a TV spot and microsite nobody remembers. Another company – who can – will be the ones building things like this. All they need is the 1 person or a small strategic/ creative team to step into an exoskeleton to make it happen. the And those will be the places making the “advertising” we want to make.

To change mindset and perception means bringing in people with different mindsets and perceptions. When everyone dresses the same, has the same street art posters, reads the same visual inspiration blogs, comes from the same ‘ad system’, we can’t expect very new (truly creative) results.

Comment by Tim Geoghegan (@timogeo)

he is giving too much credit that people get it. hes also ignoring the fact adlands view of a good client relationship is letting them bark orders at them over the fucking phone.

campbells biggest problem is he does get it and he somehow has fucking real and good relationships with ceos so they dont kick the fucker out the room when he says he wants to create a fucking motorbike for them or redesign the fucking interiors of planes despite having the style of a 3 year old. they let him do it. because they trust him and his judgement of what will move people. the fucking fools. they dont realise that if it wasnt for me, theyd of been fucking fucked.

good on you tim for slapping the naive bastard back down to earth. you can come again but less of the long comments, its bad enough with campbells “war and peace” length posts.

Comment by andy@cynic

I was actually concurring with Rob, though I’m sure you were kidding anyway. ‘Getting it’ can be as much a problem as not getting it without the right setup in place. And we’re also in agreement that I tend to wordvomit.

Comment by Tim Geoghegan (@timogeo)

youll learn my ways soon enough tim.

Comment by andy@cynic

Bit late to this one as packing but this for me says everything:

“The sad fact is a lot of agencies out there now make more money from the ‘process’ of managing advertising than actually creating it.”

Too many agencies are making their money from account handling rather than creativity, but the positive is that most of the truly great agencies are still those that put creativity and strategy first.

We don’t need people being famous, we need people that make a difference, people that inspire those around them, and those that produce strategies and creative work that we can all be proud of.

Of all the positive (and negative!) things people have said about me since I joined an agency, the one that I am most proud of is that someone said “You seem like the sort of person that could change things.” I hope I can achieve that.

Tim’s point about people being the same is good too, too many agencies hire very similar people throughout instead of mixing it up (which also goes back to Rob’s point about teaming planners to combine different views). I remember going to a graduate interview, and everyone else there went to either Oxford, Cambridge or Edinburgh University. By the same token we need to improve our diversity in all levels, more people of different ethnic backgrounds, more female creatives, etc etc. The more we widen the scope of people in adland, the easier it will be to make positive changes.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

too much diversity is as fucked as too much similarity. i dont want to come across like a fucking zen master (even though i am one) but there has to be some balance. we ended up hiring freaks who all had different bastard ideas and thoughts but were linked by a shared belief and goal. without that, wed of ended up going even more all over the fucking place than we did. id of been up for that, but auntie and the money men insisted we had some fucking point to what we were doing. traditionalist bastards.

Comment by andy@cynic

I like how you make a sensible comment but try and make it sound like you are insane in the process 🙂

Agreed though, there’s no point having diversity without skill or a shared goal, unless you have a zen master to guide them of course.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Is this a coincidence?

Comment by Rob

Decidedly Average Under 45 is still open for entries though, right?

Comment by Sid

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