campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 12 December 2008 12:00AM
It was Tony Blair, guitarist and prime minister, who invented the creative industries. Until 1997 they didn't exist. Many still doubt that they do. The then Secretary of State for Culture ("Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver" - Hermann Goering) was commanded to form a taskforce. Later came the Ministerial Creative Industries Strategy Group (you'll know it better as MCISG) to help ensure a co-ordinated response to the needs of these virtual industries. The Government defines them as "those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. This includes advertising, architecture, the art and antiques market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film and video, interactive leisure software, music, the performing arts, publishing, software, TV and radio."
At first glance, this may seem a reasonably homogenous group - but not at second. When was the last time advertising generated and exploited intellectual property leading to wealth and job creation?
Libraries and bookstores have a much saner approach to classification. You won't find books on advertising in the Arts section; you'll find them in the Business section: and that's exactly where they belong. But ad people love being thought creative and positively adore being bracketed with Robbie Williams and Lord Rogers. (Though it's unlikely Williams and Rogers adore being bracketed with advertising people.)
If the ad trade wants to be cuddled up to by Government, it should want to be cuddled up to for the right reasons. Not because advertising is "creative", but because good advertising spurs invention, speeds up innovation, encourages competition, keeps down prices; and as an almost accidental by-product, makes a diverse media menu available at an otherwise impossibly low cost.
The longer advertising chooses to keep company with the art and antiques market, the more vulnerable it will be. The company we should choose to keep is the company of businesses big and small, competitive causes and COI.
2. I'm a client and I've read about agencies describing themselves as experts in "face-to-face", "buzz marketing", "event management", "brand experience" and "field marketing". Which should we employ?
You should avoid them all. The fundamental value of a good agency lies in its ability to minimise the distance between you and all those people who might learn to like your brand. Jargon magnifies that distance. You'd never employ an agency that recommended you to run a campaign based on The First Non-Biological Detergent to Resonate with Your Own Deconstructed Zeitgeist.
Pick your agency for what they do; not for what they say they do.
3. Everyone keeps talking to me about Facebook. Should I feel ashamed that a) I don't have a Facebook profile and b) that I don't really care that much about it?
You may be wondering why I've waited six months to answer this question. There are two reasons. Six months ago, I didn't know what I thought about Facebook. And secondly, I had an instinct that, whatever I thought about Facebook then, I wouldn't be thinking about Facebook six months later. So excuse my dither; it's the result of ignorance, cowardice, vanity and low cunning.
I can now say with confidence that you shouldn't be in the least ashamed of not having a Facebook profile nor of caring little about it. By now, you've probably come to the same conclusion yourself. Before the age of the internet, crazes could last a long time: conkers, for instance, or hula hoops. Now they're over before most people have heard of them. The new shame is being seen to be stuck with something that everyone else is deserting in droves. Who wants to be the last kid in the playground with a Cabbage Patch Doll? So you've done well. Just don't get too smug about it, that's all. There are plenty more crazes lined up to lure you, and one of them will last as long as conkers.
4. On the basis that soon EVERYTHING will be digital, how long before that word drops out of adland parlance?
By all that's sane, logical and business-like, that word should never have crept in in the first place. Even when nothing else was, digital was never the right word for digital. We might as well have been buying analogue all these years. Given its evident inadequacy, you'd think we could confidently predict its rapid replacement by a better word soon; a word that actually had something to do with what it was. You'd be wrong.
That hustling, bustling world of advertising, that world of the young and irreverent, heedless of history and impatient for change; that's the world that, for at least 87 years, has gone on referring to something called below the line. Nobody knows what it means or why it started. It has dangerous overtones of snobbery and for generations has impeded the adoption of blindingly obvious integration. Yet this meaningless, mischievous phrase lives on; and so, I fear, will digital.
5. Have you seen Mad Men? Has advertising lost its glamour?
Yes, I have been watching Mad Men. And as soon as I realised it wasn't about advertising, I began to enjoy it a lot. It's written, cast, plotted and directed skilfully, and some of the characters have a creepy subtlety unusual in TV drama. I'm hooked.
I spent several weeks in an ad agency in New York City in 1958 and more later in the 60s (on Lexington rather than Madison). Nothing I saw was anything like Mad Men. Lady copywriters sat together and were expected to wear hats. The agency declined to handle tobacco and liquor accounts on moral grounds. Speculative new-business pitches didn't exist. In Mad Men, a huge company is represented at a client meeting by the chairman and his son. In real client meetings, there would be at least seven people from the company and as many from the agency. Most took place at the clients' own offices in upstate New York or Pennsylvania. All campaign proposals had to be subjected to the clinical scrutiny of an internal review board before they could be exposed to the most junior client. There was intensive use of market research.
At no time did creative directors, however talismanic, have formal authority over account men - however oleaginous. It's true that there was a lot of smoking and that nobody drank wine: but that wasn't peculiar to advertising agencies. When, about that time, the US agency head came to a decorous London office party at the Dorchester, he reported afterwards that, "while moderately enjoyable, there was far too much drinking and licentious dancing". It's true this particular agency was among the more staid; but it was a great deal closer to a Madison Avenue reality than Sterling Cooper.
None of this matters in the least. Mad Men is no more about advertising than The Archers is about farming - it's just more intelligent and entertaining. If you're lured into believing Mad Men is about advertising, you'll spend the rest of your life regretting you missed out on something that never happened.
6. I'm the chief executive at an agency and have noticed some of the more quirky London shops are allowing their staff to take on projects such as creating comic books, films etc. It's making me think I should allow my staff to flex their creative muscles more, but I'm wondering what the agency will really get out of it?
There are two good reasons why you should not only allow your people to take on such tasks but encourage them to do so. First, there's a one-in-a-thousand chance that they'll hit the jackpot; this will reflect well on your agency and see you and your partner in excellent seats on the first night.
But most will fail. This is because most creative projects do. However, this is also good news for you. Your creative people will no longer feel they're squandering their talents on the altar of Mammon and will think more kindly of your warm offices, disproportionate pay and indulgent attitude to working hours. Just don't rub their noses in it, that's all.
7. I recently hired a creative hotshop that's riding the crest of a wave. Great news for my business, you'd have thought. The problem is that every other client in town now wants a piece of them and they are included on numerous pitchlists. My concern is that the agency must be diluting its attention to my business while it competes for others'. I'm starting to think I made a bad decision.
I'm so glad I've never been a client: it must be a horrible job. You appoint the hottest shop in town - and then lie awake at nights fretting that they're not going to love you any more. Alternatively, to be sure of getting an agency's undivided attention, you appoint one that nobody else is remotely interested in. Which would you rather have, I wonder: not enough time from an excellent agency or more time than you need from a rotten one? What most clients seem to settle for is just about the right amount of time from an agency that's just about adequate. Sad, isn't it?
I'd stop fretting. They haven't let you down yet and I don't suppose they will. You're probably just jealous.
8. A media studies student texts: Jez, well up against it at the mo! Any tips U can give for ths essay. Thx, Dez. "Advertising is the art and sole of capitalism. It captures a moment of time through the lens of commerce, reflecting and affecting our lives, making us laugh and cry, while giving traction to the engine that propels this free market economy forward into the future. Discuss."
If you don't mind, I'd rather not.
9. Are people getting over-excited by the number of views of a viral on the internet, when just one TV spot can still deliver an audience of millions?
Yes. But only because they spent five years being under-excited about the internet. Sad, really.
10. Would "trucks" have been better if the gorilla had been driving?
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk