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A long time ago, when I was doing my Google experiment, I went out for drinks with a gentleman called Jonathan Rosenberg.
At the bar, I saw someone I vaguely knew who was a creative at a multinational ad agency. I’m not sure if it was the industry success he had enjoyed over the years that made him who he was, or whether it was just his natural state, but he was a bit of a dick.
Anyway, he came over with a friend – who happened to be a planner he worked with – and after some introductions, they sat down to join us.
Unsurprisingly, within minutes, this guy started talking about his work and the awards he’d won. Of course he was trying to be casual about it, but you knew his whole self-worth was wrapped up in those little statues he collected.
Then – out of nowhere – Jonathan asked,
“I don’t work in advertising, so what do you think is a great example of its power?”
After they thought about it for a few minutes, having some private discussion, they surprised us by saying ‘Lux soap’.
Yes, bloody Lux Soap.
I remember looking at them and thinking they had only chosen that to either confuse us or to try and look interesting and imaginative.
“Why?” we asked … to which Mr Dick replied something like:
“Advertising turned a piece of soap into a profitable business that withstood wars and countless competitors”.
Fair point. Not the greatest point. But a fair point.
But it was here that Jonathan did something awesome.
You see he hadn’t actually explained where he worked or what he did – I’d just introduced him as a friend of mine – and it was at this point he decided to destroy their ego.
He looked at them and replied that he thought their point was interesting but subjective and as he didn’t know the brands history, he couldn’t tell if they had a point or not. He added that while the advertising had obviously helped the brand, it was the creator of the product who really had made the impact.
Mr Dick asked him for to give an example of something he thought was worthy of recognition to which Jonathan replied something like “the Android operating system” to which – and I remember the smug look on his face – Cockhead said that he thought the point was interesting but also subjective.
And it was here I was in the presence of a magic moment, because Jonathan – the SVP of Product Management for Google – looked him square in the eye by saying,
“Oh, it’s not subjective, I helped create it”.
It was amazing. Sure, it was also egotistical … but I can ignore that because the moment was so bloody good.
The reason for this story is that I worry sometimes that adland seems to think it knows it all and can do everything better than everyone else.
We’re good. We can be really, really good … but that doesn’t mean we’re the best and it certainly doesn’t mean we can do things better than others, because if we could, we would have invented Square rather than make a bunch of ads saying, ‘Bank X really cares about small business so why don’t you come in and have a chat’.
We are a creative industry. We are creative thinkers. We are also deluded and full of self doubt and self importance.
I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone said only the advertising industry has people that they label ‘creative’ working within it. Artists, writers, musicians, game designers [etc etc] don’t label themselves that way … they just get on with doing stuff that the masses call creative.
In other words, one gets their label of creativity as a byproduct of what they do, the other wants people to think they are creative before they’ve started doing anything to justify it.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some amazingly talented – and creative – people in our industry, I just don’t think we have any right to think we’re more creative than others, especially when they are doing stuff that has more impact, influence and commercial value than all the stuff we do put together.
And with that, I will leave you with an interview with Tony Fadell.
While he has never made an ad or worked in an agency or hung out at the Gutter Bar in Cannes or even judged a major award show, I think he still is worthy of being called creative given he created the iPod and started Nest to name but a few things.
[Pay close attention to his view on Smart TV’s and Home Automation. It’s hilariously accurate]
I suppose what I’m saying is that if we keep thinking our competition are other agencies – be that media, creative or digital – we are going to end up on the scrap heap in the blink of an eye because while adland has a lot to offer and can do amazing things, I genuinely believe we can reach completely new levels of influence and creativity if we start to look, listen, learn, embrace and attract the sort of people and industries who infiltrate culture through their version of creativity.
To do that will require a huge amount of things to change – from a new financial model to new client relationships and contacts to new training and approaches [to name but a few] – but I’d be more frightened about IDEO setting up an ad agency division than feeling a sense of hope if JWT announced they were about to launch a product development arm.
It’s up to us and the easiest first step is to change our collective mindset.
[A clearer version of the article can be viewed here]
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