Sunday, March 31, 2013

What's The Best Way To Give Feedback?


My theory is that successful feedback comes down to 'saying no in an inspirational way.'

No one needs lessons in how to say yes. Saying yes is easy, and fun.

But most of the time - since 99% of ideas, ads, headlines etc are not bought - we are saying no. 

The first requirement is clarity.

Years ago, I remember working for a really nice CD. Everything we presented, he liked. And the result was terrible. We came out of meetings not knowing if he'd bought anything. Sometimes, we needlessly carried on working (wasting time we could have spent working on other briefs) when he was already happy. Other times, we put our pens down, only to find out a few days later that he wasn't happy with anything, and we now had just 24 hours before the client meeting to crack a new idea.

So if it's a no - which most of the time it will be - make sure your 'no' is crystal clear.

Give the reason, e.g. work not on brief, wrong tone for the brand, or 'right' but just not that good.

The last of those is the hardest to deliver. 

Humour can help. One of my old bosses, Jeremy Craigen at DDB London, was a noted rejectionist. "That's a good ad," he used to say. "For Ogilvy Bratislava, maybe." I guess what he was communicating was: "We have high standards here, and this work doesn't meet them. You need to start again completely. However, I still like you."

But as well as being clear, your 'no' should also be at least mildly inspirational. 

You don't want a team walking away depressed, or not sure what to do next. Either of those is a disaster.

You want the team walking away feeling inspired.

So what inspires?

Mainly, a feeling that this brief could lead to great work. Often, a brief seems unpromising and the team can't see their way through to a good idea. So telling them about a good idea that was done on a similarly unpromising brief, perhaps in the same category, or to a similar proposition, can work well.

Another of my old bosses, Adam Kean at Saatchi & Saatchi, did it beautifully once. We showed him some rubbish ads, and he said nothing for a bit. Then he asked us: "Have you seen this?" and he played Tony Kaye's latest TV ad, which we hadn't yet seen. Nothing further needed to be added. His message was: "Advertising at its best can be great. We all want to reach that standard, don't we? Please try again."

But of course, as well as setting the bar, you should be giving the team a steer on how to jump over it. Whether you're a CD, a planner, an account handler or a client, you can't consider that your job is to keep saying no to bad ideas until you're shown a good one. Advertising is a difficult, iterative process that requires constant constructive feedback. That means you must always have suggestions to add. If you don't, how can you justify drawing a salary?

Just make sure (obviously) that the suggestions are good ones! Good means clear, and presented as a challenge for the team to answer in their own way, not an 'answer' for them to execute the way you've told them to.

Anyway, I'm giving a talk next week on 'how to give feedback', and as you can see, what I've got so far is pretty flimsy, so do please help me out and let me know in the comments section any examples of feedback you've experienced done well or done badly.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

John Hegarty: "To those brands that say 'I understand you' I say 'Fuck off'"

I am being followed around the internet by a pair of yellow adidas trainers.

It all started when I checked them out on the adidas website; they are now convinced that I am interested in them, and are basically stalking me.

This theme has upset John Hegarty.

He participated in a "Wired Global Conversation" panel last week, and revealed a contrarian view on big data, nicely written up here.

"I'm not sure I want people to know who I am," said John. "I find that slightly Orwellian and I object to it... I think there'll be a huge backlash."

I don't really agree with him on this. I mean, if there has to be an ad on the webpage I am reading, it might as well be for something I'm interested in.

But John then broadens his theme. He sees targeted web ads as being just part of a bigger problem - marketers' obsession with 'understanding' the consumer. And that's when he drops the F-bomb:

"To those brands that say 'I understand you' I say 'Fuck off, you don't understand me. Mind your own business, I don't want to be understood by you. I don't understand myself sometimes… and it can be fun.'" 

I guess his point is similar to the old Henry Ford one - "If I'd asked the customer what he wanted, he would have said 'a faster horse.'"

But John is being cheeky really. He knows full well the importance of understanding the consumer - is in fact a master of it - and you can see that in his work, which is always based on sound logic.

John's just trying to remind us that while we always start with logic, the job of advertising is to turn it into magic.

By the way, what do you think of the shoes? They're starting to grow on me.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The 'O' Word

Last week, Domino's walked into a social media shit-storm, when a week-long teaser campaign for a “game changing” announcement proved to be nothing more than a new range of square pizzas with premium toppings.

To be honest I think it's a bit of a non-story. What's the news - the public finding an ad campaign to be patronising rubbish? Big deal. They've been thinking this kind of campaign is patronising rubbish for years. The only thing that's changed is that people now have a way of telling the company so, on their facebook page:

But what I do find interesting, and a clue as to what caused the debacle, is an earlier set of comments... these appeared on Campaign Brief when Domino's announced they had hired a new ad agency:

And it should be noted that before hiring this particular agency, Domino's did their advertising in-house for a period.

I'm not a fan of clients pushing their agencies around so much, they're effectively using them as a production studio.

The same kind of problems arise when people hire a real estate agent, or a lawyer, and then ignore their advice. It surely stems from a desire for control.

But if you over-control your advisers, you lose something very important... something that may be the most important benefit to be gained from hiring any external professional.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Posters Have Gone Crazy. In A Good Way.

My favourite advertising medium is the Poster.

Once nicely described as "a visual shout", the glory of the poster lies in its being the purest, simplest expression of an advertising idea.

Or... it used to be.

Increasingly, it actually isn't.

The subject's been on my mind because we're doing a couple of posters for one of our clients at the moment. So, just to get my head in the zone, I went to look at some recent award-winning outdoor ads. 

And although I've obviously been aware of the phenomenon for some time, I was really struck by how many award-winning posters nowadays are 'more than just posters'.

In fact, of the 22 pieces that won either a Grand Prix or a Gold in the Outdoor category at Cannes last year, no fewer than 9 consisted of 'more than just ink on paper'.

Yes, partly that's because the Outdoor category also includes experiential ideas, which last year included the Carlsberg 'Cinema of Bikers'. But still. Nine out of 22 winners - that's 41%.

I jumped back a few years, to 2008, and guess what - only 20% of the Grand Prix or Gold winners were 'more than just a poster.'

Not a rigorous scientific survey, but nevertheless a number that confirmed my suspicions - if you want to win an award in the Outdoor category nowadays, you'd be wise to think beyond mere ink on paper.  

In a way, it's probably unfair to compare a traditional poster (powerful and graphically-reductive image, small logo in corner) with a 'modern' poster (vending machine that dispenses product if you tweet it, or blow it a kiss).

But that's exactly what juries are doing.

And you know what? I don't blame them.

Stuff that's never been done before is simply more exciting.

I mean, the billboard that was put up last month in Peru, which condenses air into drinkable water for the local people (above), is an absolutely frickin' unbelievable idea.

If you compare that to the type of poster that was winning awards in the 1970s - legend has it that a supermarket won a gold at D&AD for their instant pasta range, headline "Pasta fasta" - there is just no comparison.

The new style is usually more impactful, more involving, and far more likely to get PR... and for all those reasons, far more likely to be effective as well as award-winning.

Yes, sometimes the client is not going to have the money (and maybe the time) to buy a special-build or interactive poster, and you're going to end up with ink-on-paper.

But it's not the place to start.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Top Ten Tips

In one week's time, I'm giving the opening lecture at Award School, where Australia's aspiring copywriters and art directors go for training.

I'll probably be doing the same presentation I've given for the last two years - 'How To Have Ideas', which isn't original at all, but based on a theory I adapted from Scottish philospher David Hume.

There are actually lots of things I'd want to say to young creatives, but it's better if a lecture sticks to one theme. A 'Top Ten Tips' of wildly disparate content doesn't work as a talk.

But it can work as a blog post!

I've been writing tips for a few years, on various ad-related topics - here's the full collection.

But I've never done an overall Top Ten.

So, wildly disparate though it may turn out, here goes - my Top Ten Tips for young creatives.

1.  To be a successful creative you need more than just talent, Converse trainers, and the hide of a bullet-proofed rhinoceros. You also need knowledge. Not a lot. But some. And the most important knowledge you need is a comprehensive knowledge of what has already been done. Why? So you know what not to do.

2.  Our work is often autobiographical, so we take rejection of our work as rejection of ourselves. But this is silly. The team/client have no clue of your autobiographical inspiration, they're purely rejecting the pieces of paper they see in front of them. You're a valid person! It's just the work they have a problem with.

A Certain Ratio were a band from Manchester,
and are tangentially related to this blog post
3. Advertising is subjective - there's no certainty that your idea is good. So when you are presenting it, people will be looking at you, and judging how much you seem to rate it. Therefore, the more confidently (and energetically) you present, the more people are likely to think it's good.

4.  Very often, when you're writing an idea, you come up with something great, that you love... but you know in your heart of hearts there's one tiny thing wrong with it. Someone once said that "the problem with a hidden flaw is it never remains hidden." They were right.

5.  Don't write TV ads that depict a normal or everyday situation, with a twist at the end. It has to be a helluva twist to compensate the viewer for the previous 25 seconds of boredom. You are much better off creating a commercial that is funny all the way through.

6.  Make your work extreme. If it's dialogue-based, double the amount of dialogue and cut out everything else. If it's visual, make it very visual. If it's logical, make it very logical. If it's emotional, make it very emotional. In short, be very. 

7.  To do good work, tell the truth about the product. Yes, obviously, you'll be exaggerating it, or dramatising it, but base what you do on a truth about the product, not on anything extraneous or made-up.

8.  If you're a young creative, the most important factor in deciding where to work is a certain ratio - 'Awards Per Head.'

9.  When working with collaborators - like directors, illustrators, web designers etc - never be afraid to tell them how you want your idea executed, even if they're a world-famous photographer, and you're a 22 year-old. Remember, it's your idea.

10. If you've done some good work in the last year, don't sit there stewing because your boss hasn't given you a pay rise. They never will. You have to ask.

P.S. If you think these tips are rubbish, let me know. If you have better ones, let me know.