Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things seen differently

I read two outstanding think pieces about the advertising business last month. As is so often the case, both of them were on blogs, not in the trade press.

And both of them were written by planners; Amelia Torode, who is based in the UK, and Bud Cadell, who is based in the USA.

That, however, is where the similarity ends.

Torode’s piece, which generated plenty of blog comments and discussion, was titled “The future of advertising is utterly depressing.”

With a title like that, you know you’re up for an interesting read, especially given the current wave of change sweeping through the ad business.

On the surface, Bud Caddell’s piece had very little in common with Amelia Torode’s.

Snappily titled, “Rock stars, ninjas and assholes,” it looked at a something regularly discussed within the walls of agencies – people with a reputation for big ideas and even bigger attitude.

As a nigh on twenty year veteran of agency land, I have had plenty of experience with industry rock stars. Some of it good, some of it not so good, but always focussed in and around innovation and ideas.

And in my experience, people who are often dismissed or derided as rock stars, tend to be the people who drive agencies forward.

To quote from Apple’s legendary “Think Different” ad from many years ago;

“They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.

Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They explore. They create. They inspire.”

Bud Caldwell’s piece came not to damn the rock star, but to recast him or her. Which is why he also used the terms ninja and assholes.

In Caldwell’s eyes, “An asshole is an asshole, and assholes are not a new phenomenon. You shouldn’t hire them if you can’t stand them.”

No argument from me there.

As Caldwell says, “An asshole is someone who makes everyone’s life miserable, even when it has nothing to do with work.”

Rock stars however are an entirely different beast. And rock stars, I think, will be the people who help define the future of our industry.

Unlike previous generations though, the rock stars of today and tomorrow could well be found outside of agency creative departments.

The likes of Google and Facebook are proof of this.

Clever kids who were conveniently categorized as geeks and nerds, who went on to revolutionise our business using codes and algorithms.

For Amelia Torode, the future of our business may lay with, she feels, “People who don’t know (or dare I say care) about Snow Plough or Saatchi & Saatchi in the 80’s.”

I disagree.

And agree as well.

The new comers to our industry, people schooled in writing code and developing, are never going to be interested in Volkswagen’s classic Snow Plough ad.

This is because these people are generally not interested in the field of communication loosely known as advertising.

What they are interested in using their creativity to solve problems, innovation and rising to a challenge.

These are traits they share with the people who created the Snow Plough ad back in the pre-digital age.

The Saatchi brothers also shared these traits, as did legendary figures like Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy.

For these people were the industry rock stars of their day.

And as Bud Caldwell clearly identifies in his blog post, rock stars should never be confused with assholes.

Another name for rock stars, I believe, is a term coined by Amelia Torode for another group of people she thinks will define the industry of the future, “madder people.”

I quite like the term madder people to be honest.

Although, I still think the best definition of all can be found in the Apple “Think Different” ad – “The ones who see things differently.”

They may often be a pain in the butt, but these rebels with a cause will create the industry of tomorrow. Not smiling, always looking to please “yes men” in perfectly tailored suits.


Amelia Torode

Bud Caddell

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