Tuesday, February 07, 2006


It's okay...we can stop talking about the Super Bowl commercials now. Really. It's the same shit every year. Everybody gets super excited to watch the commercials because we don't give a rat's ass who wins the fucking game - and then all we hear about the next day is how shitty the commercials were. Every year. People need to lower their expectations just a tad. Not every :30 TV ad can be a staggering work of genius. Here's why:

11:47 a.m.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, I am in advertising. Creative advertising. Direct marketing. Persuasive communications. In fact, if you do any kind of marketing at all, you should e-mail me – I guarantee I can improve your marketing ROI. But enough sales – today I want to tell you about how creative advertising gets done in the real world.

Every once in a while I’m sure you see or hear an ad you really like – a cute outdoor board, a clever television spot, a funny radio ad, etc. But what you don’t get to see are all the good ideas that never made it. In fact, most of the best creative work gets shit-canned before the client even sees it. Really. All my best ideas end up in the recycling bin, literally.

What happens, typically, is a client calls with a particular need. A new logo. A web site. A direct mail package. An integrated marketing campaign: signage, take-ones, splash URL, postcard mailings, fulfillment DM - you name it. The need could be anything in the realm of marketing communications – from basic strategy decks to pretty PowerPoint presentations. Sometimes a client doesn’t even know what they need other than to get more people to buy their stuff, so they ask us to provide a little guidance – which we are always more than happy to do because we're in the business of getting people to buy things they don't need with money they either don't have or ought to be saving for social security's inevitable insolvency.

After the needs discovery phase, creative deliverables are itemized and a completely unreasonable schedule is drawn up. That’s because most people looking for creative marketing don’t understand the triangle principle.


In the world of advertising, and indeed in most business endeavors, the triangle principle is the golden rule. Simply put, you can choose any two sides you want - but ONLY TWO. So you can get your marketing good and fast, but it won’t be cheap. You can get it good and cheap, but it will take forever. Or you can get it cheap and fast, but it won’t be any good. Sorry, that's the way of the world. Economists call it opportunity cost. Everything comes at the expense of something else. Quality for speed. Speed for price. Price for quality. Etc.

Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, most people looking for creative marketing don’t understand the triangle principle – they come in looking for, and expecting, all three sides! So it then becomes the agency's challenge to deliver on the illusion that we are good, fast, AND cheap – when the fact of the matter is I'd have better luck getting a sponge bath from Stacy Keibler than hitting that improbable Trifecta.

So how is “creative” work actually created?

Basically, once a job has been “kicked off,” it ends up in the hands of a creative lead – someone whose job it is to ensure the job is completed on time, on strategy, and within budget. That would be me, and sometimes we actually achieve one of those basic objectives.

“Creative” department folks like to stroll in late, surf the web, suck down a shitload of coffee, and come up with pages full of rockin’ ideas only we think are brilliant. We loaf around until somebody calls a meeting during which everyone sits around in a highly agitated state and argues for really bad ideas. These are called brainstorming sessions – but they should be called ass-storming sessions considering all of the crap that gets thrown around. Still, submersed in all of that crap is usually a gem of an idea or two. I can usually spot that gem right away - but you've sometimes got to wait a while before other people come around to it. The trick to getting good ideas produced is to avoid ramming them through, but instead let people think they discovered them on their own. Sometimes that means patting someone else on the back for your stroke of genius.

Eventually, the creative team will come to a consensus on a kick-ass idea we all think has legs. Ten minutes later we all let loose a collective sigh when we realize the client would never go for it. That’s usually when I stand up and suggest we show the client our idea anyhow since we all think it's the best one in the room. Everyone chuckles at the absurdity of the notion as though it were offered in jest, and I walk off to get another cup of coffee comfortable in having spoken my peace. The best idea is officially killed and we move on.

By meeting's end, we typically wind up settling on the third or fourth best concepts which we then comp up for client review.

The gate-keeping account folks on the client side reflexively second-guess pretty much anything in those concepts that might be even accidentally considered offensive (otherwise known as "entertaining") and have us tone the creative down. So we tone it down and send back a mere shadow of the original concept, which is then passed around again where about a dozen different people (consulted randomly in the hallway) drop their pants and pee all over it because everybody's a fucking ad wizard. The disheartened, dispirited creative team then must sift through a damp list of comments reeking of irrelevant criticism and inane suggestions.

The final route of the concept is shattered and reassembled chinese menu style, where everyone's comments are incorporated so that the resulting creative work pleases no one. Although everyone agrees it could be much better, this is what gets "approved." At this point it gets sent to the client's legal department where the copy is modified further to remove anything that might be mistaken as humorous or insightful, and a litany of legal disclosures are added.

The resulting piece of shit is produced and THAT'S what you end up seeing, reading, or hearing. So let's cut the ad folks some slack. We're doing our best to rock your world - we just have a hard time convincing everyone else in the chain to roll with it.

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