We need warriors not worriers
A view from Dan Douglass

We need warriors not worriers

The big creative idea will extend the horizons of businesses way beyond the watchtowers of digital, analytics and mobile tech.

Accenture’s recent acquisition of Brand Learning does more than signal a shift in influence from the  creative to the managerial in our industry. It reaffirms the view that the future is all about analytics, digital and mobile tech. 

But hang on, step back, take a breath. Isn’t there something that goes in front of all this? Like, the big creative idea. 

"If you can't solve a problem," said the late, great Paul Arden, "it's because you're playing by the rules."

"Sometimes the best copy is no copy." said the world’s greatest ever copywriter, David Abbott.

These words weren't just contrary vessels drifting aimlessly in the busy shipping lanes of commercial advertising.

They were laser-guided missiles from creative people who stormed the public consciousness - transforming our businesses, culture and lives with work that drew on deep wells of craft and resulted in such jewels as The Economist's 'Management trainee' ad and "The pregnant man".

Lest we forget, these guys weren't dilettantes. They were commercial warriors.

"100 years from now," Bill Bernbach divined, "the idea is still going to be more important than all the technology in the world." Accenture take note.

This tenet should be enshrined in the contracts of everyone who works in the business of marketing – as vital as clause four is to Labour Party members or the fifth amendment to the American Bar Association.

Yet here we are in 2017, behaving as if the idea is negotiable. As if it can be traded in for a digital initiative, a set of analytics, a piece of tech, a sophisticated data-set, a connected journey or an infinity curve.

This should be a new creative renaissance for marketing people. A time at which we can lasso the ether.

So why is no-one feeling it? Simple. It’s because the big idea has practically vanished from the marketing landscape.

We have to start by understanding why the big idea has been forced into extinction in the first place.

There are three factors.

Firstly, it has been neutered by the notion of the consumer as targetable individual.

The greater our need to understand people's behaviour, the deeper and more complex personal data becomes, the more prosaic (it seems) the output.

We need to recognise that personal conversations are not the be-all-and-end-all. CRM presupposes that people want a relationship with a brand. With apologies to David Abbott, sometimes the best relationship you can have with a customer is no relationship at all.

Secondly, we are slave to our dulled appetites and scared for our jobs. 

We work to the uninspiring hard measures of productivity, usability, chargeability.

Cost to income ratios and multiples of three have become the limit of our creative horizons. 

And thirdly, we are in a "right first time" vacuum. We simply cannot afford to fail. Not even forward. As Forbes magazine once said, failing isn't just a by-product of succeeding but essential to it.

There are no magic bullets here. But I’d rather Accenture spent their considerable talents focusing on the commercial model that allows for the big idea before charging down the path of pure digital engagement?

Here’s an invitation to Accenture. Call a moratorium for business and agency chief marketing officers and chief operating officers to devise a commercially sustainable model that accounts for value based pricing. Acknowledging that futureproofing business is about upholding the primacy of the big idea. Everything plays into that.

They may discover that recognising the big creative idea as the most powerful driver for growth will extend the horizons of businesses way beyond the watchtowers of digital, analytics and mobile tech.

Until that happens, we'll continue to produce creative work born of worriers, not warriors. And that would be a colossal shame for everyone.

Dan Douglass is co-founder of Douglass/Day and former executive creative director at MRM Meteorite

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