You are invited to solve a problem of some kind for a prospective client. You and a group of other people put a few weeks' unpaid work and quite a few tens of thousands of pounds into coming up with a solution.
And you come up with something which, well, ain't bad.
You present. It goes quite well. Seven weeks later, you get a phone call. If you're lucky, this is to tell you that you've lost. If you are unlucky, you hear you are "down to the last two". This means you get to spend another 200 unbillable hours at the client's behest while their procurement department gets to treat you as their sex-toy. Before ringing you to tell you you've lost.
Finally, they tell you why you've lost: because someone else came up with a "fabulous breakthrough creative route and they just have to work with them".
"Oooh," you think. Well, hats off to the chaps at WGHN or KGHS or whoever. They beat us fair and square. All credit to them. In fact, you can't wait to see this breakthrough work. And then, finally, you see it.
It's a single ad. It's on a Tube card, or perhaps the side of a bus. And it's a total heap of crap. Shameful. Atrocious.
And that's when you experience one of the worst moments of your working life.
Because four weeks and £50,000 have resulted in an ad any half-competent creative team could have knocked off in an afternoon.
2. The Nintendo wife-o-meter - 20 January 2008
Shigeru Miyamoto of the Nintendo Wii came up with the wife-o-meter - measuring each aspect of the Wii against the simple question: how much more likely would this be to encourage my wife to become a gamer?
It's a simple approach. One which says: "To hell with your core target audience - you can usually afford to take them for granted anyway - and instead let's use innovation to look for business elsewhere."
The idea of innovating with a core audience in mind may be a dreadful mistake: as if Tony Blair had decided to reinvent the Labour Party by first consulting the mining unions.
3. A new remuneration model for agencies - 3 January 2008
Here's how I might make it work. You pay an agency a reduced hourly rate for time spent on the account. Enough to guarantee a small but utterly uninteresting profit.
The amount saved, plus 50 per cent, is put aside every six months.
Every six months, the agency presents to a group including the marketing director, the COO, CEO or MD, and one or two external adjudicators.
They are pitching to get their profit back.
The agency presents nothing but added value. The successes it has generated that were unrewarded at the time. And the incremental ideas it has had which would be valuable to apply but which would make no money in execution.
These are rarely ideas in answers to briefs - they could be solutions to problems the client didn't know he had. With each idea, it explains what the value would be created by the idea - using no other measure than that of shareholder value.
And each idea is given a price - either a flat amount or a small share of the results. If there is a difference on price, the adjudicator's decision is final. It is far from perfect, but it would encourage agencies once again to step out of their insanely constrained roles.
4. Who make better planners? Planners or creatives? - 6 August 2008
I have a slightly odd take on this argument (if I were a planner, I would probably describe my stance as being Feuerabendian).
My position is that I completely accept the value which planners and other specialists can add to the creative output of an agency - and I believe that varied groups of people are a good thing. But I believe our current, sequential approach to using different talents is a dreadful way to use our mix of talents to best effect.
In a single sentence, my view is: "Planning + Creative = Good. Planning > Creative = Bad."
In short, I believe that the way our business now tends to make "being interesting" subordinate to "being logical" is the single greatest reason why a lot of advertising is awful (and explains why the number of people who "believe the ads are as good as the programmes" has been in constant decline for more than 20 years).
5. Is advertising the problem? Or is advertising the solution? - 5 September 2008
There is a universally held belief that advertising makes people want more things. This may indeed be true. But an equally important (and perhaps even more lucrative) use of advertising is to make people content with less.
Spend a moment comparing, if you will, how incredibly democratic the soft drinks market is (mass production, mass distribution, mass advertising) compared with the market for wine (niche production, niche distribution, no advertising). The first is a model of egalitarianism - the second is riven by snobbery and status-seeking. So, the peculiar irony is that big advertised brands, since they depend on mass distribution, ubiquity and fame, have it in their interests to be universal, democratic. It is the unadvertised things which are divisive.
6. The medium isn't just the message ... the medium is the product - 12 March 2008
One day I plan to publish a competitor to the Guide Michelin called the Guide Sutherland. It is designed to be a superlative guide to food - as we really like to eat it.
The Guide Sutherland will follow a star system similar to the Guide Michelin. One star will be awarded for the restaurant being possessed of adequate car-parking; another will be awarded if the restaurant offers a take-out or delivery service, or has a drive-thru lane. A third star will be awarded if it is open and serving food uninterruptedly between lunch and dinner (any restaurant which informs you that the chef has gone home at 2pm will be excluded automatically). Finally, a bonus (fourth) star will be awarded if the food is pleasant to eat.
OK, enough of this. Where am I going here? Quite simply, I am repeatedly discovering something which will come as a surprise to conventional marketers, and comes as quite a surprise to me. It's this. In determining the size, breadth, nature and reaction of your target audience, the medium of engagement is often far more important that what might conventionally be called the "core product offering".
7. Why I refuse to work on anything related to the 2012 Olympics - 27 July 2008
I don't want to work on anything related to 2012.
It's nothing to do with the expense - even though I cannot see for the life of me why, when Cancer Research subsists on voluntary donations, the Government should spend a billion on some twatting great stadium just so doped-up Neanderthals can have their quadrennial moment in the sun.
No, I was prepared to overlook the expense and the morality on selfish grounds. You see, I have always quite liked baseball. And here at least was a chance to see some baseball in Britain. I could put up with the omission of cricket (and darts) if at least there was to be baseball (and softball) at London 2012.
In the first time a sport has been ejected from the Olympics since polo was ruled out of the 1936 Berlin Games, some shady-looking blokes most likely called Jacques and Henri have decided that baseball and softball are no longer Olympic sports. Presumably because they lack the mass appeal of events such as hammer-throwing or synchronised swimming.
8. There is a massive problem with scam advertising ... - 6 May 2008
... and it isn't ethical, it's economic.
Imagine for a moment that the man who invented the wheel had been able to patent it. But that his patent, for bizarre reasons, had restricted the item for use in small children's toys. Nothing larger. So, no carts, no railways, no cars, no aircraft.
It's not quite such a fanciful notion. The Chinese invented gunpowder completely blind to its possible uses in weaponry. They made fireworks instead.
I always get reminded of this when trawling the walls of awards, especially in the print categories. Here and there you find a superb idea, which has been used to win an award for a local chip shop - but which could have been the basis of a worldwide campaign for, say, KFC.
Hence something which could have generated $100 million of business has instead perhaps generated $5,000 - or, in the case of a true scam, nothing at all.
9. Advertising's own demographic timebomb - 5 July 2008
When I look back on 20 years at Ogilvy, my guess is that of all the stuff I have learned, perhaps 70 per cent has been learned from people around ten years or more older than me.
Now this seems quite a startling example of the Pareto principle: if you gain 70 per cent of what you learn from perhaps 4 per cent of the people, patently older people have a value which goes far beyond what they bring to their individual work.
Why don't we appreciate this more? And keep more people after 40, even as they get a bit pricier?
10. At last someone is marketing marketing - 19 February 2008
A review of Greater Good by John Quelch and Katherine Jocz. Well, mostly a rant, but a bit of a review as well.
As Quelch and Jocz point out in this badly needed book, marketing (by this they mean marketing in its broadest sense) is the space in which consumers and suppliers reach a happy and imaginative accommodation.
It seems to me that marketing is the means by which the inherent conflict between buyer and seller is resolved in the most efficient and creative way possible. For God's sake, read this book now, and buy a spare copy to send to one of your unfashionable public-sector friends.