Killer app

I was going to untangle the thorny issue of bringing together high-end brand thinking and cutting-edge digital execution skills in this blog, but then I started thinking about Desmond Morris’s breasts.

I don’t mean the great man’s manboobs per se – although I suspect that Desmond, the dapper, Silk-Cut-smoking populariser of zoology, might have boasted a modest pair, if he’d been snapped in his paddling pool one hot afternoon.

I mean his theory that breasts are womankind’s evolutionary attempt to mimic the powerful sexual signals of the buttocks – as if breasts were a kind of front-mounted bottom.

Thus encouraging face-to-face sexual activity and as a result greater emotional bonding.

I’ve always thought that this was a cracking theory, on many levels.

I mean, what’s not to like in that theory ?

It’s got everything covered.

I won’t say I’ve lived my entire life around its tenets and implications. But I have always thought – nice one, Des.

However, I then read in a new book that this theory had been thrown into disrepute because someone had discovered some primates who apparently enjoy face-to-face sex even though the females are predominantly “flat-chested”.

This kind of killer thinking is what we’re burdened with every day in advertising.

I don’t mean arguing about whether  breasts really are buttocks manqué or indeed whether monkeys’ buttocks are breasts manqué.

But just that process whereby someone produces an interesting and provocative thought – and someone else tries to shoot it down.

Does the existence of some missionary position monkeys – which seems a bit far-fetched anyway and we’ll have to take their word for it – invalidate Desmond’s bold  theory ?

The legendary US adman Jerry della Femina used to bemoan the presence of ‘killers’ in advertising – spoilers, people who’d got to the top just by killing other people’s ideas. But these days the killers outnumber anybody else.

It’s like being trapped in a TV channel dedicated entirely to that part of The Godfather where Michael kills all his enemies in one feel swoop.

Every hour in London there must be about 30 mob-handed meetings in which some clever dick or another finds a  reason “not to buy” an idea and then blows it away .

I know I’m always banging on about this topic. (Creative judgement, I mean, rather than topless scientists in paddling pools.)

But I think it’s a crucial part of why this industry feels so lost right now.

I was talking to a creative last week who’d spent 15 years in Australia and then returned to London. He couldn’t believe how the industry had changed, apparently losing a large proportion of its creative cojones.

For me, it’s about the need to understand something fundamental about creativity.

No creative idea worth its salt is ever bullet-proof.

I used to do a presentation around this topic in which I would take great ads – ads universally recognised to be among the greatest achievements of our industry – and shoot them down.

It was spectacularly easy.

I can do it with any idea you name – and you can do it, too.

The point is that great ideas are always difficult, thorny, uncomfortable.

There is always a reason to kill the idea.

There’s a myth that great ideas pop up and there won’t be any negatives and everyone will instantly like them – like some kind of conceptual Virgin Mary.

Like a kind of scamped-up Ben Fogle.

But if you’re thinking that, you don’t understand  great creativity.

In fact, the next time someone asks to see the Virgin Mary in a creative review meeting, point them in the direction of Desmond Morris’s breasts.

  • Tom Sillars

    Brilliant blog as usual Steve. Made even better by the Google ad underneath offering me a ‘Brazilian Butt Lift’. Which sounded like a lot fun until I realised exactly what they meant. 

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