The way up

There are some simple rules to follow if you want to produce work that gets the job done.

I’d love to start this by saying all other agencies are shit and that the United State of Fans is the answer to everything. (It’s not. Thank God.) I’d love to explain to you how incredibly clever our name is and why it’s so unforgettable. (It’s not. Thank you.)  I’d love to go on about how brilliant we are and how the fortunes of every brand we touch will change overnight.

We’re not. Thanks again.

So what is it that has kept us so busy? Was it our birthplace, Amsterdam, that made us do what we do? Possibly. Was it the smart folks at TBWA, who allowed us to create whatever we wanted? Definitely a massive help.

But, truth be told, on 1 March 2012, we decided to champion obviousness and listed four rules to live by. And then a fifth that says the previous four can be broken.

Assume nothing – except that nobody gives a shit…

Why does Miley Cyrus beat iPhone 6:1 on Facebook? Miss Twerking beats the world’s best product by the world’s best brand. Not that the number of "likes" is the ultimate loyalty measure, but it should make us wonder. People don’t relate to brands the same way they relate to other people. People are fans of other people and fans of the things those other people do – such as music, football and fashion. It’s that simple.

So, who are you? An athlete? A football-lover? A father? A wannabe James Bond? A recreational painter? Our interests define us, they get us fired up. That’s why we believe in the currency of people’s passions.

We like to connect brands to other platforms and properties – and then give these brands the tools and content to do something with that property that people won’t forget.

Suddenly, Barbra Streisand can do miracles for a male fashion brand. Or chocolate, for that matter. So, instead of asking yourself how many 35- to 45-year-old high-income males you can pull into your brand, start asking how many Babs fans you can turn into brand loyalists.

Fit in, then stand out. It’s almost too obvious, but doing it changes everything.

Don’t ask the fishmonger what to have for supper...

Now, more than ever, "triage" is what agencies should excel at. What is the real problem? Can communications ever solve it? Every bloody agency under the sun has been preaching this, but are we really doing it? No, really?

Make no mistake about it, agencies should want to create work. Great work. But creating great work often means briefing other specialist agencies. Accepting the latter will allow us to appreciate a solid bit of math or a cleverly soldered circuit board as much as a great tagline.

For the Adidas Nitrocharge campaign, we hooked up with econometricians to identify a new type of player. We proved that data-mining can be utterly creative. Just like the nerd who came up with augmented reality tech that we implemented for Heineken. Agencies are in a brilliant place to scan the world for exciting and relevant stuff. And that is why, despite the wealth of digital, social, PR and "traditional" experience in our agency, we will never want to be pigeonholed. We are natural-born hybrids; bloody proud generalists.

‘If it’s really good, we go for it. The great thing about the world today is that we have got nothing to lose’

Avoid dicks. Dicks don’t make great work…

Our favourite rule. Dicks get stuck on their beliefs. Dicks don’t listen. Dicks don’t collaborate. Dicks are good at being dicks. In the old siloed world, dicks could get away with being dicks. Not any more.

So when we hire people, we look for people who know what they don’t know. We apply the same principle to the partners we work with – and to the clients that co-create, co-­produce and pay for all of it.

Appreciate the noble art of plumbing…

Here’s another thing we like doing: connecting the dots and fitting the pipes. Because we need scale and mass, folks. Most brands do. No matter how creatively brilliant a one-off PR idea, film or social activation might be, we need to hit the big numbers, like in the good old days.

Connecting these mini-campaigns with each other and making sure they build towards a bigger whole is a fine art. Unfortunately, not many people do it properly. It requires intense collaboration between clients, planners and, yes, creatives. It can be a complicated jigsaw puzzle to solve, but it does not – I repeat, does not – stand in the way of great creativity. On the contrary, it makes sure that great content will be seen; that people will actually have a reason to click on something. It funnels people to retail and makes them want to come back for more. Thinking ideas through isn’t overthinking things. It’s what makes good ideas great.

Finally, the rule that supersedes all rules: Shit, yeah!…

It’s our mandatory affirmative response. It’s what we want to hear in creative reviews a lot, with or without clients in the room, even if it does infringe the rules stated above. If it’s really good, we go for it. The great thing about the world today is that we have got nothing to lose. Those of us who still pretend, or those that suffer from P&L and QxQ pressure, will disagree, but the truth is that agencies are very low in today’s business pecking order.

The only way – pardon the cliché – is up. And that, my dear friends and not-so-dear dicks, is all that matters. We would rather fail brilliantly than survive miserably. Shit, yeah.


Bart VanderVliet is the interim global director of strategy at United State of Fans\TBWA


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