Tag Archives: Creative Social

Digital, all wrapped up

“Creative Social” are a group of interactive creative directors who first got together in 2004. A year before YouTube launched and two years before Facebook went public.

So …. before social media (as we know it) really took off.

Maybe they just knew that digital, in marketing terms, always equated with “social”.

Or maybe they just wanted to drink beer.

Whatever. They’ve brought out a book of essays to celebrate nothing in particular – and I recommend it hugely.

It’s called “Digital Advertising: past present and future” – which covers quite a lot ground really, when you think about it.

I’m not going to review it. I’m just going to string together some quotes from a few of the essays – stuff that may or may not be new to you, but which says things I like.

There’s quite a lot of it – so this is a longer blog than usual.

If you normally skim my blog with a tall latte, you might need a venti this time.

But then again – this industry has struggled so much in coming to terms with “digital”, that it seemed like quite a meaty topic to me.

“The web is not a selling medium; it is a buying medium.” Jacob Nielsen, as quoted by Patrick Burgoyne.

“Advertising has long been a contract. If you want the “good stuff” – Skins, GQ, Star Wars – it must be funded by the “bad stuff” – interruptions by freakishly happy, shouting people, spam and pre-rolls, and so on. But “good stuff” can be funded by more “good stuff”, like Lady Gaga in Diet Coke curlers, Gmail, and Nike +. It just takes a little more effort”. Andy Sandoz.

“In the early fifties, only 10 percent of American homes had TV sets. By the midsixties, this figure rose to 95 percent. … The problem was that the old guard in charge of the advertising industry didn’t know how to communicate with the new consumer effectively.” Bill Bernbach, channelled during a séance with Sam Ball and Dave Bedwood.

“Digital has been to “above-the-line” advertising as photography was to fine arts throughout most of the twentieth century – a medium by and for the people, seen as overtly utilitarian and creatively poor, and lacking in grand advertising “auteurs”. Instead, digital grew in the margins and was developed by innovators who were mostly young, self-taught and ready to make do with DIY tools”. Laura Jordan Bambach

“Want word of mouth ? Deeply collaborate with your consumers, and you’ve got it”. Ditto.

“We have to accept that advertising was for a long time (and often still is) about how to trick consumers into buying a product – not to mention brainwashing them. But something has changed.” Sam de Volder

“If there is one major difference between traditional and digital advertising, it is that, in digital, the consumer has to make the first move … so what the consumer gets to see actually needs to be worth that initial effort … Wouldn’t it be fantastic as a brand to make advertising that not only sells your product but also helps people get more out of their lives ?” Ditto

“Where old advertising demonstrates the product proposition using actors or pictures, new forms help potential consumers experience the proposition for themselves.” Chris Clarke

“Succeeding as a social brand is quite simple … It’s the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” principle inherent in all interactions between apes … Known as the “value exchange”, this is the fundamental principle of the new marketing.” Ditto

“With the principle of value exchange in mind, smart brands have taken to looking at their target audience’s behaviours and interests, looking for overlap with the brand proposition, and then intervening in positive ways to amplify the audience’s enjoyment … This opens the door to some fruitful forms of value exchange where marketing budgets can be put to good use improving the world we live in rather than simply cluttering it up with ad messages.” Ditto

“… the internet is not constrained to that screen, that box in front of us anymore. The Net is migrating onto handsets and bleeding into the real world … But with all this data online, on mobiles and offline, how is anybody going to find anything anymore ? … We need a Filter on the old 2.0 web. A Meta web that sits around the old web like a halo or onion skin. This new brain is being fuelled by the fact that the current static IP address structure of the web with unique URLs for sites is also changing as we speak. We no longer access content through a unique URL; instead we have unique IP addresses for each piece of data. There will be an infinite number of unique addresses available, so each thought, image, word and pixel will have a unique address … The consequence of all this is that traditional online advertising will lose its importance. What surfaces on the Filter will be conversations about your product. Our opinions, thoughts, and feelings will replace advertising messages. That’s why it’s vital to have a good product – something that people like to talk about. Good agencies understand that, and create content that comes through the Filter. Content that’s free, new, useful and funny”. Flo Heiss.

“The role of technology has been exaggerated over the years and has been used by some as a barrier to pushing the whole industry forward. Jargon was used as a defence mechanism… We need to stop that. As I said, I’ve been doing this for years and still don’t understand – or want to understand – the engine under the bonnet … It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what a SWF file is; it’s irrelevant, as long as you’re confident that someone in the team does … So, if you don’t need to have technical knowledge, what do you need to have ? I think you need to have an empathy with the digital world and an understanding of the possibilities the technology gives us.” James Cooper

“For every Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or Foursquare, there are ten platforms or ideas that some media agencies will guarantee clients is the next must-have. Don’t waste your time second-guessing this stuff. Concentrate on getting your head and your structures right so that when something interesting does come along, your organisation is ready to go. Be flexible, be nimble, and fluid, not just with your process but also with your media budget. By the way, this means experimenting and the whole thing about experimenting is that things go wrong. This is a good thing. That’s how Post-its were made.” Ditto

“Last century when I was just starting out building sites for big companies, there was an unexpected psychological turning point as brands built their first presence on the web. It was the innocuous-sounding section called “About Us”. … And it induced sheer panic in a lot of companies. If you think about it, they had never previously had to tell the general public what they were about … so it was a big identity crisis and a source of much discussion and argument and “coming soon” pages. Over the years brands have worked out what to put on that page … the corporate home page is now sorted, but of course the internet will never be static. Social media has now replaced “About Us” as the biggest worry for corporations … So ironically, now there really are a bunch of folks in a room at all the big corporations trying to figure out how to act like a real person. Pretty awesome.” Benjamin Palmer

“I really want brands to be disarming, to be more normal. To live up to the human aspirations that are part of their heritage. To integrate with us and be as dumb and smart and socially responsible and friendly as you or me. I figure that things will work out better if all the people in this industry feel like it’s not only OK to be human about it, but it’s actually the goal”. Ditto

Re the agency of the future –

“We will see a return to full service but not as we know it. It will be made up of three core elements: creative, creative media, and creative tech.” Daniele Fiandaca

“Independence breeds creativity … the networks will realise that the buy-out model is ceasing to work (with the unfortunate demise of Farfar being a perfect example).” Ditto

“The concept of egolessness is probably the biggest difference I have seen in the digital sector as compared to the traditional world.” Ditto

“I think the way agencies will work together (with other agencies) will change significantly … the actual idea for BK games originated from Burger King’s PR agency. The fact that Crispin Porter embraced it and made it such a success is tantamount to a new level of collaboration. It was interesting to see a brand like Mini in the UK appointing two digital agencies, and asking them to work together.” Ditto

“The agency of the future will have some of the most creative and intelligent people in the world … the agency should be thinking up ideas and taking these to clients and charging them on a royalties basis.” Ditto

“For the first time in human history, an unprecedented number of people have the ability to give constant feedback to any company on any topic at any time, whether those companies would like us to or not. … Technology has very kindly taken “good” from a moral “nice to have” to a business imperative”. Johnny Vulkan.

“Being good in the digital age is not going to be about one single big idea. It’s going to be about a long tail of goodness. It’s about the everyday cumulative little moments and decisions made by each and everyone of us – the “pleases” and “thank yous”, the moments of reflection and invention and increasingly the moments of restraint”. Ditto


The book gives a brilliant sense of what’s been driving and fracturing UK marketing over the last decade. The perversity, the love of new things for their own sake, the hunger and cockiness and iconoclasm, the disarming honesty, the passion to make things better but also just to screw around in a wild-west world without restrictions. I love it all – it was the spirit of what HHCL was all about, it was what I was trying to introduce at TBWA from 2006 – 2008, and it’s what I’ve loved being a part of at Albion ever since.

I don’t know what the book is selling for, because I got it for free.

But it was worth every penny ….

Read more on Digital, all wrapped up…

A little bit of cockiness

It was good to see a picture of Martin Boase in Campaign the other day because I can remember having a slash with him in about 1992.

We’d been judging some awards thing. It was a time of great change in the industry because personal computers were just appearing at work. At HHCL we put a computer on everybody’s desk and gave everyone 10 hours individual tuition. I reckon we “got” digital before people even used that phrase.

When I mentioned this to Martin, he dismissed the whole thing as a passing fad.

He’d picked the wrong time to tell me, because I was so astonished that I nearly wet both our pairs of shoes.

I thought he might be joking, but when I asked some friends at BMP, it emerged that they had only invested in one computer, “for the art directors to play on”.

Now the thing is, I just love that attitude.

As anyone who knew him could tell you, Martin Boase was charm, assurance and persuasiveness personified.

He was so confident in his and his agency’s ability that he could afford to be like that.

And that confidence is much more of an asset than a liability.

I remember reading a book on Japanese management techniques, which said that “a bad decision on Monday is better than a good decision on Friday”.

It’s a fascinating point.

If you have the courage of your convictions, you do stuff. If you shilly-shally, and see both sides of it, and weigh up all the pros and cons, you’re nearly always going to be wrong because you’ll be too late.

When you’re as self-assured as Martin was, you could get it wrong, but decide a year later that computers were a good thing, and you’d still be ahead of most of the dilly-dallying belt and braces merchants.

But if he hadn’t had that self-confidence, he never would have built one of the three greatest British advertising agencies of all time.

My old partner Rupert Howell had that kind of confidence too, and I loved it.

I remember when we pitched for “Fruit of the Loom” t-shirts once. We had a brilliant idea which involved throwing a t-shirt to the baddest gang of street dogs you could find – to prove how tough the shirts were.

One of the clients looked worried and said that the t-shirts really weren’t that strong.

Rupert thumped the table with his fist and assured us all that Fruit of the Loom t-shirts were amazing and could easily withstand such a torture test.

The clients loved his attitude and gave us the business.

As it turned out, Rupert was wrong about how strong the t-shirts were.

But, who cares ?

Better to be confident and possibly wrong than to be always anxious and possibly right.

I was thinking of all this as I did a day’s mentoring at the wonderful School of Communication Arts. Marc Lewis, the principal there, is a man who gets things done and worries about the details later.

And I can’t think of a better guiding principle for his students.

I thought the same thing when I went to a Creative Social event, the launch of a book called Digital Advertising.

The party was like most book launch parties, in that it just involved a bunch of people getting pissed, although in this case it was enlivened by Flo Heiss and Graham Fink attacking a pile of the books with two chainsaws.

But the book itself is a fantastic reminder of what fuelled the rise of the digital agencies.

Like any creative movement of any worth (and I’m also reading Nick Kent’s wonderful book “The Dark Stuff” about music industry iconoclasts) it was driven by anger, frustration, and a cocky belief among the people involved that they were right and everyone else had got it wrong.

And that sense of defiant experimentation is right at the heart of the internet. Dot-com boom gets followed by dot-com bust gets followed by web 2.0.

As Andy Sandoz says of the dot-com bust – “this founding and spectacular failure … set the tone of the internet as a place of experimentation”.

Believe, do something, doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, do something different.

It gets really interesting when you realise, as Shaun McIlrath told me recently, that that’s how it works in retail.

Try something, fail, try something else.

I reckon that would make the perfect model for advertising.

Of course I may be wrong.

But so what ?

Read more on A little bit of cockiness…

What does a start-up need ?

I was talking to a planner the other day from one of the big agencies. We were talking about start-ups because I give two bits of advice to everybody I meet in this business.

One is, start a new agency. You’ll have more fun and get more sense of purpose than at any other time in your career.

Two, don’t sell it. If you want to have a proper relationship with clients, you’ve got to be able to part company with them. And the holding companies don’t like that.

A passion for doing the right work has to be more important than agreeing to do stuff, just to pay the bills.

Having said that, HHCL didn’t fire a lot of clients. In fact, I’m not sure we ever fired any clients at all.

But we knew we could, and that made a big difference.

However, some of the toughest times in my career have been working with clients where we couldn’t fire them and they couldn’t fire us.

These accounts were held at some higher level which precluded either of us saying “this isn’t working, let’s call it a day”.

I know for a fact that this was as frustrating for them as it was for us.

In this context, I remember Jay Chiat once telling me something which I still find astonishing. Apparently, when Chiat Day was the hottest shop in America, he used to formally resign ALL his clients every December 31.

It was up to them if they wanted to re-hire the agency.

But back to the planner. What she said was really interesting – if she did a start-up, she wouldn’t take any creatives with her.

Now, she may have just meant from that particular agency – but it raises an interesting question as to whether you need creatives at all.

It used to be that a creative “star” of some sort was considered a sine qua non of any start-up.

For instance, Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby made a huge PR story out of looking for the most talented creative guy in London to partner them in their start-up.

Before settling for Sidney Qua Non.

(Sorry, a joke based on an obscure Latin phrase may be over some of my readers’ heads. Feel free to make up your own jokes at this point.)

But these days creatives are often seen as “not getting it”, holding up the process, being old school etc.

And I think that, sadly, there is some truth in this.

On virtually every jury I’ve ever been on, I’ve been shocked by how conservative most established creatives are.

Young creatives are different – they’re out to prove themselves, and they’re generally open to new thinking.

But throughout my career I’ve seen the massive difference 3 or 4 years in the business can have on creatives.

They either find they don’t fit in, and understandably become very disillusioned – or they manage to get some work out that attracts good notices, and then they think they’d better keep repeating the same formula.

Or, the horrible middle ground, they find that by doing average garbage they get their bills paid and so they just plough on, but without any belief that outstanding work is possible.

I’m off for a week’s holiday now, but in two weeks’ time, I’m going to Creative Social, the group of digital creative leaders set up by Daniele Fiandaca, and also going to mentor at the School of Communication Arts.

Those are the two extremes (consistent success as radical thinkers or early naivety) when people tend to be most open-minded.

But it’s interesting to consider whether you actually need “creatives” to start an agency.

Especially if you want to focus on the area which will give you the biggest USP right now – which is a passionate belief in rule-breaking, original creativity.

Read more on What does a start-up need ?…

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