“Two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude.”

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I remember first seeing this poster about five years ago. It stopped me in my tracks, chilled me to the bone. The observation is so powerful, it needs no jazzing up with fancy adjectives or clever wordplay. It’s a perfect example of the ability of great writing to take a sledgehammer to our emotions, to shock, scare, move or inspire us. To affect us on a deeply human level. Which is what we, as creative people, should be aiming for every day.

I’m so excited about all of the amazing things we now have in our creative toybox. But despite the glorious and seemingly infinite possibilities of technology, words are still the most intimate and effective tool to connect with our audience. And our success depends on our ability to combine depth of insight with deceptive economy, to pack shedloads of emotional resonance into the tiniest – and often unlikeliest – of spaces. It makes me think that Paul Weller, who wrote the title of this post (it’s a line in That’s Entertainment) at the tender age of 22, would’ve made a great copywriter.

Do ideas come from anywhere?

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Back in the mid-noughties, Saatchi had an internal campaign based around the thought that ‘Ideas come from anywhere’. The line was plastered across notepads, mousemats, screensavers and so on. I think the intention was to get everyone in the building excited about the work and create a sense of shared ownership around it. When Robert Senior came in as CEO in 2007, he scrapped the campaign. Senior’s point of view is that ideas might occasionally come from anywhere but day in-day out, great ideas come from one place: the creative department. He believes that the people who are trained and experienced in the process of having ideas, have dedicated their working lives to it and are well paid for it, should be solely responsible for it. That’s not to say no-one else can have an opinion or input, but that the buck stops with the creatives.

I’m a very collaborative person and this perspective ran a bit counter to my thinking at the time. But I quickly came to agree. Ideas can come from anywhere but to have great ideas you have to have shedloads of them including lots of good ones, average ones and shit ones. On a consistent basis. You have to train your mind to be constantly in the process of sifting through your experiences and reference points to come up with ideas. It’s a discipline that, like anything else, you get better at with practice. Trevor Beattie once said that a great idea is like a £50 note on the floor in a pub. Anyone can see it and pick it up but only one person does. The reason I love that analogy is that every time I’ve ever had a half-decent idea I’ve always felt that I’ve stumbled across it rather than conjuring it up via some mysterious voodoo creative magic.

When you step outside of the creative world and look at it objectively, coming up with ideas as an occupation is quite strange. Turning your mind into an always-on threshing machine for advertising concepts is an odd thing to do. One of my first bosses, Siimon Reynolds, once said, “The exciting thing about advertising is that you are always only one second away from creating the greatest ad that has ever been seen. In a moment, it can come to you.” That goes some way to explaining the addictive nature of creativity and why 99 times out of 100 great ideas will come from creatives. When your mind’s trained to be constantly scanning the pub floor for dosh, you’ll be the first person to see that £50 every time.

There’s no reason to be afraid…ever.

“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there was this electricity in the air…you could almost hear it. And this bag was just…dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it…for 15 minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things. And this incredibly benevolent force who wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid…ever.”

Have a great weekend everyone.

Watch this to find out if you’ll ever be great

 

“Effective advertising is like poison gas” the creative legend George Lois once said. “It should bring tears to your eyes, unhinge your nervous system and knock you out.” From the ‘When you got it – flaunt it’ Braniff airlines campaign to “I want my MTV”, he’s always delivered on that philosophy. And why stop at advertising? “Why be a great art director when you can be a cultural provocateur?” he says. From his phenomenal Esquire covers (now in the permanent collection at MOMA) to persuading Bob Dylan to write a song for the free Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter campaign, he’s always walked it like he talks it. He’s now 82 years old, still pumping and, as you’ll see from the interview (particularly the bit at 2.29!), still utterly, magnificently compromise-averse. Next time you’re about to knock the edges off an interesting idea to make it more palatable, remember his warning: “Safe, conventional work is a ticket to oblivion.”

Burn the ships

 

At the World Athletics Championships in Moscow this year, Christine Ohuruogu is the captain of British team. In her team talk before they went out on day one, she told them the story of the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortés. In 1519, Cortés led a tiny army of 600 men and 11 ships onto Mexico, in an attempt to conquer the Aztec empire. It was a feat many armies with far more men and resources had tried and failed. Once they’d landed on an inland plateau, Cortés ordered his men to burn their ships. They did so and there was now no way back. No exit strategy and just two options: death or victory. Cortés became the first man in 600 years to suc­cess­fully conquer Mexico. Ohuruogu urged the athletes to go all out, to leave it all on the track.

When it came to her 400m final, at 200m she looked beaten. At 300m I couldn’t see her getting a medal. At 350m Amantle Montsho was cruising to an easy victory. But ‘Ohuruogu’ means ‘fighter’ in Nigerian and she never stopped believing and pushing. “It never crossed my mind I might not win,” she said afterwards. “A race isn’t won until it’s over. You’re not supposed to give up. You’re supposed to fight with everything you’ve got.” Asked about her captain’s speech, she said, “It was like a speech to myself. Trying to tell them that we have two choices: either you commit to the job or you don’t, there’s no in between. You either do it regardless of whether your leg’s falling off or you go home, it’s simple. Sometimes we give ourselves excuses, what I call a ‘back door clause’ where if it doesn’t happen I’ll just…y’know. But you have to be brave enough to stand up and say ‘this is what I’m going to do, this is what I want and I’m going to go for it.’ You have to be responsible for your actions.”

Christine Ohuruogu has been maligned, under-estimated and written off for her entire career. She’s been through a lot and has never had the media appeal and marketing savvy of athletes like Paula Radcliffe and Jessica Ennis. She loves running but has absolutely no interest in being a high profile personality. Who cares? Screw the media, Christine. You’re an inspiration, a legend and the race on Tuesday was one of the greatest ever performances by a British athlete. You make me want to dispense with the vast array of ‘back door clauses’ I’ve set up for myself and properly commit to the things I want to achieve. Burn the ships!

That shit idea was even more shit than I thought

 

Remember that shit idea I wrote about a few weeks ago? The one that attempted to kick off a national debate about how we wipe our arses? The one with the sexy girl pouting seductively as she dreamily wondered whether I ‘scrunch or fold’ my toilet roll before I attend to my bottom? (It’s here: https://antmelder.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/shit-idea/). Well, I now realise that not only was it a shit idea, it wasn’t even original. Word reaches me from Australia (thanks, Esther) that Clemenger Melbourne did the same idea years ago (minus the incongruous sexy lady). Check it out. Which is your favourite ‘rival styles of arse-wiping’ campaign? Clems or JWTs? And does this revelation change your opinion of the Andrex ad? Get involved in the great shit idea debate via #ShitOrUnoriginal

The holy trinity of great ads

Writing, casting, performance. Without excellence in all of these elements, an ad will struggle to be truly great. Getting one of them wrong turns the potentially brilliant to merely good. Get just one of the three right and you have a damp squib on your hands.

It’s no big revelation to say that the Americans are excellent at bringing this holy trinity together. From the classic Fedex campaigns to Real Men of Genius and Skittles on to more recent work like Old Spice, Dos Equis and DirecTV, they’re consistently treating us to perfectly crafted classics. The best agencies over there are hyper aware that we’re competing for people’s attention with an almost unlimited smorgasbord of high quality content: HBO TV shows, illegally downloaded movies, big sporting events, internet porn. Be as entertaining/interesting as other stuff I could be watching or be ignored/turned off/skipped/blocked. In short, why should I waste my time on your ad when I could be watching Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee? It’s a difficult conundrum for ad agencies. But when the Americans bring human insights to life with cracking dialogue and world class acting, they deliver mini-masterpieces that pack phenomenal drama/intrigue/excitement/pathos into a mere 30 seconds, while flogging a product. Impressive stuff.