When creatives get stranded on the rickety bridge of doom
A view from Graeme Noble

When creatives get stranded on the rickety bridge of doom

You don't know how you got here, but you've come too far now, and the bridge will collapse if you try to turn back. The resulting work is too often dull, meaningless or both.

Imagine yourself on a very rickety bridge, crossing an enormous river. What started as a decent, solid bridge has dwindled into no more than a few ropey bits of twine. You can barely keep a grip on this near tightrope walk. You don’t want to look down, so you look back, but you can barely make out where you were before. The once solid footing, promising exciting adventures on the other side, feels terribly precarious now.

Very much like the way, step by ever more tenuous step, brands Powerpoint themselves into oblivion. There are times, it seems, that you can only understand a brand’s new positioning if you stay awake during a three hour presentation. Half way through it feels so tenuous that you’re swaying on the last remnants of that rickety bridge, and all that separates you from falling into the raging river of nonsense below you is a few planks of rotten deck. You try to convince yourself that it makes sense but by the end it’s threadbare. You don’t know how you got there, but you’ve come too far now, and the bridge will collapse if you try to turn back. The resulting work is too often dull, meaningless or both. Probably because it bears no resemblance to the original truth. 

Let’s say you have a new client, a toothpaste brand for example, and you’re invited to the fifth all-agency meeting of the brand’s re-launch. "People don’t really know what toothpaste stands for any more," we hear. "So we’ve been working on something really exciting. To recap: we all love our teeth, which kind of led us to the territory of smiles, we built on this to get to happy, which led to our thinking about relaxing, and relaxing says Sunday, which in turn says family, which of course led us to a core, ownable place: memories. We’re all about memories." 

We see a family sharing toothpaste memories. Our audience, on seeing people living lives very similar to their own, will recognise themselves and so be engaged in the ‘memories’ proposition. Toothpaste memories. Tell us your toothpaste memories! 

Like an expensive set of emperor’s new clothes, woven from finest golden Powerpoint thread, no one in the room really believes what is being said, and knows it would be lost on anyone in the real world. But it’s too late to turn back now, this has gone to the top and back, and been six months in the making. 

Of course, it doesn’t really matter how absurd this is because no one in the real world will see any 'toothpaste memories’ comms. The last of the budget has been spent on this deck, which is the latest in a series of 347. And no one in the real world will have the pleasure of ever seeing any of them. Someone in the room has the idea of being able to Shazam a free ppt deck with every ad, so people understand the whole ‘memories’ positioning, but it’s vetoed. No budget. 

It’s been said before, but if you can’t tell your mum/husband/girlfriend the basic positioning and idea in 30 seconds, then you’re at least half way to the wrong side of that bridge. Let’s not be afraid to find real brand truths, combined with genuine human truths that fit the brand, and get on with making great ideas come to life. Or get a helicopter off the bridge. 

Graeme Noble is the chief creative officer at TMW Unlimited.