Crying in the chapel
“Americans aren’t happy, they’re just trained to look as if they are … It’s fake orgasm on a grand scale.” (Lucy Ellmann writing a review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Smile or Die”.)
And that’s a little bit how it works in advertising.
As one media agency boss said to me recently, the day-to-day job for most agencies is “fragile optimism”.
Agency people are required to be resolutely gung-ho and glass-half-full-let’s-order-another-glass-anyway - even if this proves a disjoint with the client’s mood.
Sales figures static ? Ach, never mind. Still or sparkling ?
CEO asking how effective last year’s campaign was ? Here, have some meaningless tracking figures and a biscuit.
But. In a world in which marketing directors have a tenure on average of two years, it occurs to me that clients may find the implacably placatory grins of the agency folk a little hard to take sometimes.
Given the stress suffered on both sides, I just wonder if a little more honesty might actually work better ?
Also, the relentless optimism can be tiring to maintain.
I thought of this the other day when I was in one agency toilet and I heard what I’m convinced was soft sobbing coming from the next door cubicle. Of course, it may have been that the occupant had just won a gold medal in the coxless pairs .
In what is now known as the “sobbing Olympics”.
And, truth be told, people are blubbing in toilets in companies all over the country.
In schools or prisons, toilets can be dangerous places but in many modern businesses, they’re the only place of refuge. In an open-plan, glass-meeting-room world, where if your boss isn’t staring at you he’s scanning your emails, the loo is a rare sanctuary.
By the bottles of Domestos I sat down and wept.
But of course if you’re in adland, there are always reasons to wet the Andrex.
Particularly if you’re a creative.
I went to a discussion about the IPA Excellence Diploma recently, and there was a very strong feeling that creative talent was being marginalised in our industry.
In many agencies these days, the creatives feel as welcome as a loud fart in a meditation class.
But as I’ve said before, agencies’ true raison d’etre is to provide creativity.
It can feel like a pretty wrinkled and dried-up raison these days.
As Martin Boase said about BMP back in the 1980s, the structure and role of the agency was to “protect the creative department”.
I believe that was also the view of David Abbott, the creative founder of Britain’s most successful ad agency for the last 20 years – AMV.
The Man U of agencies, as I think of them. (In two important and linked respects – they’re usually at the top of the table, and they’re atypically loyal to their “manager”.)
I’d never been into the place before but last week I went to talk to Ian Pearman the CEO about Decoded – and it felt like a pretty good place to be. I know I’m normally critical of big agencies, but AMV felt funky and friendly.
(And I like their new Sainsbury’s ad about the Paralympics.)
Incidentally, AMV wasn’t the agency with the blubber in the bogs.
For the record, I didn’t go to the toilet in AMV, so I have no idea if the inhabitants there are sobbing or dancing on the seats.
But surely the key to a great agency is to integrate and respect your creative people.
Involve them and they might answer the brief in a good way.
Respect them and they might produce some magic for you.
So here’s my creative tip for this blog.
Just ask this question of any idea - is this shareable ?
That’s pretty much all you need to ask.
Not just because that’s the free medium of word of mouth.
But also because real people genuinely want that commodity. They need to update their status in an interesting way and frankly pictures of their dog playing football or their kid’s birthday party aren’t going to get passed around very far.
To make yourself interesting on social media, you need to pass around interesting stuff. A cool clip, a banging bit of music, an eye-opening picture.
And that’s what we’ve got to provide.
Hint: it’s the creatives who can help you do that.
On that note, and apropos of virtually nothing, here’s a 45-minute-long but stunning piece of film showing George Galloway taking on the US congress. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen.
By the end of it, a small bunch of Americans are looking a little less happy than usual.