Box Office Gold
I reckon Rooney’s hair transplant looks like it was done by a child with a crayon.
But, if you went on Twitter to suggest that, you’d soon find yourself on the end of 800 death threats, calling you “gurl”, from Man U fans all over the world.
(One or two, perhaps, even from Manchester.)
So I’m grateful that the world of advertising is more gracious, and that my philosophical difference with Sir John Hegarty (which in no way diminishes the high regard I have always held him in) hasn’t meant I’ve had to duck spray-mount in the face as I walk down Carnaby Street.
In the course of my various, multifarious and nefarious activities recently, I found myself chatting to Stephen Armstrong last week.
Stephen is one of the top journalists in this country. A man who writes for the Sunday Times and other papers and who knows more about popular culture than anybody else I know.
I wanted to ask him what he thought about advertising right now.
Partly for a TV programme I’m making with a pal of mine called Alex Gulland.
Stephen’s immediate response was to ask a question, that seemed to me very pertinent – “When times are bad, why make your product worse ?”
His point is that the only way for a creative industry to get out of a rut is to … be more creative.
And he gave me a concrete example of how the TV industry has done this.
In the case of HBO.
Like us, HBO are trying to engage people with creative stuff, while all sorts of factors conspire against them doing anything new or interesting – like belt-tightening, committee-led caution, dodgy research, and increasingly damning measurement tools.
(It reminds me of a conversation I had with Richard Curtis once where he said that he never knew the ratings for Blackadder when it first ran, and was only told afterwards that they were so bad it would have been pulled if the system used now had been used then.)
But HBO bucked the trends – and somehow made TV drama into probably the richest area of creative excellence around.
A lot of Hollywood directors and stars, (from Martin Scorsese down), are now much more interested in getting involved in radical TV dramas than they are in the latest formula flick to come off the Hollywood factory line.
And that’s down to HBO.
Years ago, they were primarily a sports channel which used to show boxing fights live. But they have made themselves into one of the most influential media companies in the world by backing creative talent.
Their credits include virtually everything that has gathered people around the water cooler – even if you don’t actually have a water cooler to gather round. Programmes like The Sopranos, Sex and The City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mildred Pierce, Deadwood, Flight of the Conchords, Boardwalk Empire, In Treatment, The Wire, Band of Brothers, etc. etc. etc.
How did they do it ?
By committing to creativity, and by being experienced enough to know how to take risks.
You can’t ask people who’ve never worked in TV to make TV programmes – but the problem with most people who do work in TV is that they’ve had the freshness beaten out of them, and they just want to play tweaking and copying games with successful formulas.
You have to be able to calculate risk levels – based on your experience, and based also on an insatiable hunger to do something new.
For instance, at one point, The Wire series 3 looked like it was going to be canned. Ratings were scraping along near the bottom and things didn’t look good.
But they stuck with it and by series 5 the ratings were sensational.
In fact they had one of the TV phenomena of the decade on their hands.
That’s all we need to do.
Believe in creativity and use our experience to help us take the right risks.
Easy, isn’t it ?
And PS, because I’m using an example from the TV industry, don’t think I’m imagining creativity merely in terms of broadcast material. The launch of Groupon, currently the fastest-growing company in the history of capitalism, is a marketing idea.
I love their Groupon Now app which has two buttons, I’m Hungry and I’m Bored.
The twin twinges of modern Man.
I’d like to see a mash-up with an online pharmacy so that, on the back of Prozac, Rogaine and Cialis, we could add the buttons I’m Happy, I’m Hairy and I’m Horny.
I think that would cover just about everything.
Even for Wayne.