Good afternoon everyone.
In 1994, I worked as a copywriter for an agency called Rightford Searle-Trip and Makin, which I’m sure you’ve all heard of. And we were asked to make a TV ad commemorating 10 years of Citi Golf in South Africa. It was a difficult brief because we were asked to show every generation of Citi Golf in one commercial.
We eventually came up with an idea about a young man’s love life over a 10-year period. In the ad our man would meet a girl, date her and then inevitably would break up with her, as one does. But each time he met a girl he’d fall in love so much that he would do what any man his age would do; he’d tattoo her name on his arm. Eventually he found himself, after being dumped at the alter, in the unfortunate position of having 4 girl’s names tattooed on his arm, before finally realising that the only thing that he could rely on was the many Citi Golfs he’d owned during that same period. The final shot revealed his arm with all the girls’ names scratched out and Citi Golf being tattooed beneath.
The title said: If only everything was as reliable as a Volkswagen.
It sounds pretty twee now that I describe it, but this was the 90s.
A day before the shooting of the commercial, someone at Volkswagen uttered the words that no creative person ever wants to hear.
(Title: “How did it do in research?”)
Well, it hadn’t been researched. So the client decided to quickly do so. The shoot of course had to go ahead. And on the morning of the last day of the shoot, we got back the results.
(Image: Nuclear Explosion)
To say the ad had bombed in spectacular fashion is an understatement.
Everything you could possibly think of was wrong with it, according to the researchers. And there was a very long list of why Volkswagen shouldn’t make the ad.
1) It was mentioned in some of the research groups that if the guy can’t keep a girlfriend, there’s probably something wrong with him. And so by implication, with all men who drive Citi Golfs.
2) One person suggested if he couldn’t keep a girlfriend, he might be gay. And by implication, so might all Citi Golf drivers.
3) This was the mid 90’s, right in the heart of the AIDS scare, so one person wondered if a man who had had so many girlfriends might have AIDS. And by implication, so might all Citi Golf Drivers.
4) The black market research group said that anyone black who has a tattoo must have been to prison. So by implication, all Citi Golf drivers might be criminals.
5) And finally, most people didn’t like the soundtrack, a Sonny and Cher song called ‘I got you babe’. Many regarded Cher as trashy, so by implication, so was the Citi Golf.
It wasn’t possible to have had worse results. And all of this while we were standing shooting the ad in Jozi.
In sheer desperation, we finished shooting the ad, edited it and put a rough copy into research again so people could judge it as a finished product instead of an idea in their minds. And a remarkable thing happened. People loved the ad. More than loved it. They thought it was sincere and genuine and cute and emotional. And it went on to get some of the highest likeability scores at the time.
I came out of that experience with two things.
1) A life-long distrust of pre-testing that still holds true today.
2) And the realization that it’s easier for people to tell you what’s wrong with an idea than it is to tell you what’s right about it.
If you had to ask me what the single biggest enemy of our industry is, I’d say it is this.
(Title: Negative minds.)
Now, it’s probably true to say that living life with a negative frame of mind is almost definitely not a good idea anyway, but in the business of advertising, the career you’ve chosen, the career that will determine your salary and all of life’s luxuries that your salary will buy for you: this career that will decide how much fun you will have for 10 hours of every day until you retire, a negative mind is the poison that will slowly suffocate your career.
Now, I’m not some new age hippy that likes to see the world through rose-coloured spectacles and sprinkle love and light wherever I skip. I’m as capable of dark thoughts as much as the next guy.
But I think attitude to life is a choice, and the choice you make will vastly affect whether you will be great, average or weak in this career you are about to embark on. You will either be someone who walks into a room, and people will want to know you and hear what you have to say…
(Image: Ron Bergundy)
…or you will suck the room dry of all the joy and energy that exists within it.
Over the 25 years that I have been in this business, I can tell you without any hesitation that our industry is split between these two types of people. Those that approach ideas with fear and trepidation and those that leap at any idea that makes their bum itch or their heart beat faster. The people who do the latter ignore the voices in their head that like to point out what is scary about an idea. They know that that whatever that thing is that makes them ‘feel’ something is infinitely more important than whatever faults their brain can conjure up.
I watch many clients spontaneously love an idea and then slowly talk themselves out of it, sometimes over days.
Your mind is not as clever as you think it is. Your heart however is. And anyone who lets their mind override the decisions of the heart will always be safe, but ultimately never accomplish anything truly remarkable.
This business is first and foremost, an ideas business. And not matter who you are or what role you play in an agency or on the client side, loving ideas, allowing your eyes to sparkle when you hear them, letting your face grin in spectacular fashion, is at the very heart of idea generation and idea recognition. And you absolutely need to be aware at where your head leans in this regard.
I realize of course that the Red & Yellow School is the School for Logic and Magic. But I respectfully disagree.
In my opinion this is not a business for rational minds. It is a business for dreamers and fantasists.
To be successful in this career you have chosen, you have to believe in the intangible, often inexplicable magic of ideas. You have to believe and acknowledge that sometimes the things that surprise you and grab you by the gonads don’t make any sense at all.
If making sense was a key ingredient of creativity, some of the worlds greatest advertising would never have be made.
(Play Cadbury’s Gorilla TV Ad)
Imagine for one moment being a client and having that idea presented to you.
So you want to have a gorilla?
Playing the drums?
To a Phil Collins Song?
For a chocolate?
Does he eat the chocolate?
Do we see the chocolate, ever?
Sounds good to me, let’s go for it.
And yet someone did and changed that brand for the better forever.
(Play Budweisser Wazzup TV Ad)
So you’re saying there are 5 guys, lazing on their couches, drinking beer, shouting at each other?
I like it, but could we include a beer pour, a look of satisfaction on one of the guy’s faces when he sips it. And can we shoot it in a more sociable environment, like a bar?
That’s what 99.99 percent of all marketers on earth would have said. And thank god one didn’t.
How about this one?
(Play Southern Comfort Beach Ad)
Where do I even begin?
If you approach everything looking for its faults, you will find them. And you will never feel and see what makes ideas like this blow the hem of your proverbial imagination up. You will never have your fancy tickled.
But negativity doesn’t just happen.
Negativity is an insidious little animal. You start out picking holes here and there and after awhile you look up and find you’re incapable of saying anything nice to anyone about anything. You stop seeing the joy in the things around you and start to see criticism and judgment as proof of how smart you are, as if no one else could see what could go wrong.
I often see people in meetings fall over each other to find the biggest fault first. And if someone point out a fault ahead of them, they might say “Yeah, that bothered me too. But I can add to that”
Negativity is a virus. It starts out slowly and before long it’s who you are.
Anyone who has been in this business, or any business for that matter, can confirm how easy it is to become cynical and jaded with time. It’s often what experience gives you.
But in recent years, I’ve watched those traits become normal in very young people.
I watch with abject horror as people in our Industry use social media sites like twitter to judge and criticize the work of other people in the industry. I cannot imagine any acceptable scenario in which I could walk up to someone in the flesh and say, “Hey bud, I think your ad is crap”. And I can’t imagine doing that on twitter either.
Before you become that person who punches holes in everyone else’s work, think very carefully about what others could say if they cast their beady little judgmental eyes in your direction. You’ll discover you’re pretty vulnerable.
When I look at the twitter feeds of those people I often discover that judging and slating has become a habit for them and is often typical of people who are yet to create anything worthy of praise themselves.
I won’t lie. If someone applies for a job at King James, I check out their mood in their twitter feed. It tells me what kind of energy they will bring to my company. Life’s too short to surround myself with Voldemorts.
But you have the choice to decide right now what kind of a person you want to be as you embark on this career.
This business is one of the most rewarding, satisfying, enriching, and joyful careers on planet earth. And only by embracing that and seeing that what we do is remarkable, will you be any good at it. That I can promise.
Go out and enjoy this. It really is an obscene amount of fun – embarrassingly so, in fact.
And if you ever stop feeling that get out and try something else that will make you happy.
It’s a hard intense career that will batter and bruise you and stomp on your confidence in ways that are unimaginable. You must brace yourself for that onslaught. And learn how to roll with it. Because only the most positive, optimistic hearts will thrive in it. But when you do, you’ll be so happy that you’re doing this for a living.
But if you find it easier to see fault than you do to see merit, you are not only going to be really rubbish at this, but you are going to be the sole cause of many others having a miserable time as well. You will look up one day, after 30 years in the job, and realize that you’ve never created anything iconic. You’ll never sit at a braai and have someone say, “You did that? I love that ad”.
You’ll be doomed to a life of awkward silences when others inadvertently insult your life’s work as they pass you the gravy over dinner at a friend’s house.
You are about to enter what is truly one of the greatest jobs on planet earth. You will get to work with the most remarkably talented people: musicians, artists, actors, filmmakers, designers and geeks.
You will get to throw insane ideas at people who have the talent and skill to throw them back at you better than they were.
You will get to sit at your desk and think in pretty pictures and you will have clients who will give you generous sums of money to bring them to life.
And all this at a time when technology allows you to bring whatever your crazy mind can conjure up into reality. You will get to banter with creative minds that fire on all cylinders 24/7.
And you will look up frequently and say to yourself, with a Cheshire sized grin on your face, “I can’t believe that I get paid to do this shit”.
(Image: Boy with a massive grin)
And if you can’t see the joy in that – if you can’t see this job as an invitation to be the happiest person you are capable of being, you will have missed the point entirely.
Good luck with your job hunting. If it takes longer than you expected, don’t lose faith. Remain positive. And stay like that, forever. It’s the best quality we humans have.
(Title: Thank you)