Lately, Mullen and Century 21 have been killing it with fresh weekly, social content. The agency has completely redefined the speed and process by which it conceives and produces such digital treats as Tryptophan Slo Jam, the sale of Walter White’s house on Craigslist and most recently the fake introduction of Century 21-branded drone landing pads so you can guide Amazon’s delivery vehicles to your front door. Or poolside if you ordered floaties.
There is no end of BS being written about content, branded content, owned content, social content. But truth be told, most agencies are content to talk about it, blog about it and invent buzzwords to label it. They neglect to actually do it. Sure there’s an occasional Old Spice on Twitter or a big campaign like Daily Twist. But few brands have actually embraced the practice.
What makes the recent Century 21 stuff impressive is that it’s fast, fresh, topical, and creative. It’s not a simple post on Facebook, a question about what color you’d like to paint your new house, or even a crowdsourced photo contest. It’s original ideas, conceived, sold, produced and shared online under crazy timetables. Shit, it used to take (and in some cases still does) an agency two weeks to generate copy and layout and that was after a brief has been written, re-written, presented, approved and shared with the creative team.
But this is the future. So what does it mean? It means you better, pay attention to the world around you, filter it through your client’s brand personality, learn to generate creative ideas quickly and surround yourself with a collaborative team of makers. Get rid of of process, approvals and layers.
True if you’re not buying media you have to earn attention. Given that there’s a shortage of that rare commodity not everything will generate millions of views. But if it’s constant and produced regularly, over time it will attract both attention as well as a community of followers who’ll willingly welcome and share the best stuff. It may even be more valuable than that big budget media plan. And if it’s actually creative — original, new, something the world is seeing for the first time — it will, inevitably generate both press coverage and inbound links.
If you’re not doing this at your shop, you better get going. And if you’re a student working on getting into the business, time to get faster, more prolific and learn how to produce stuff yourself. Or at least make some friends who do.
(Full disclosure: Before moving on to BU, I was a partner and CCO at Mullen for years and remain there part time as chief innovation officer.)
Thought I’d share a lecture I threw together for an introductory creative class I teach at BU’s College of Communication.
I know it’s an overdone topic — The Big Idea, Dead or Alive — but the fact is it will never be resolved and there’s plenty of room for argument on both sides.
If you look at recent efforts — John Lewis Christmas Adverts, My Blood is Red and Black, IBM’s Smarter Planet, Red Bull Stratos — you could argue that big ideas still work if you define a big idea as something that becomes part of the cultural landscape, generates awareness and conversation among many, endures the test of time (or at least dominates the moment), and needs traditional media or advertising to call attention to it.
On the other hand, if you go back to George Lois’s criteria — that it has to change popular culture (rather than reflect it), transform our language, launch a new business or idea, and “turn the world upside down” — well, then that’s another story.
I would argue that we may never see another Marlboro Man or even a Just Do It. But there are qualities and characteristics of the original big ideas that still make for great, effective, compelling and meaningful advertising in a digital age. On that latter note it’s important to acknowledge that ideas do not have to be digital, they have to work in a time where digital dominates.
Gone are the collective experiences where we all tune into the same thing at the same time, save the Super Bowl and national tragedies. So by definition what we make has to be interesting enough to earn attention; shareable because users are the new medium; usable because value is preferred over messages; and finally customizable so that it works for the individual.
Anyway, take a look if you’re inclined and let me know what you think.
UPDATE: About an hour after this post, and over 600 shares later, I received a request to chat from the Council of PR Firms. They were apologetic, engaging and open-minded. In fact, we are in agreement on a number of points mentioned below. And while it was not my objective to get re-invited, it became apparent that we both agreed this was too good a mini, real time case — proving the need for courage, creativity and collaboration — to not get presented at their September event. It demonstrates the ability of an individual to create, the courage of the Council to acknowledge and engage. And the ultimate benefit of collisions and collaboration. And so, I have been re-invited. The power of social media, even in the hands of an “ad guy,” never fails to astound.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine asked, on behalf of The Council of PR Firms, if I would speak at a big event they were planning in Boston. The theme was to be change, acknowledging that the industry needs more diverse talent.
Perfect, I thought and immediately agreed. Given that I’d just spent the last few years advocating and initiating change inside a full service agency – hiring new kinds of talent, changing work that got made, embedding more of a social media mindset and inspiring collisions, I figured this was right up my alley.
But yesterday the Council of PR Firms uninvited me. Apparently they found out that I was an “ad guy.” And damn if a PR organization would have an “ad guy” talk to PR students and young professionals about change and diversity.
Only three percent of advertising creative directors are women.
Who’ll solve this problem? Women? Men? Agency management?
I think we need the clients.
I was thrilled to see a huge a turnout last night — albeit mostly women — for the Boston version of Kat Gordon’s 3% Conference. It goes without saying that if only three percent of advertising’s creative directors are women, we have a problem. And it’s a pretty big one. It results in work that is often one-sided — dominated by guy-humor, lacking the right nuance, and missing opportunities to connect more deeply with the more dominant sex, at least when it comes to influencing purchase decisions, adopting technology, using social media and gaming.
Women account for, or influence, 85 percent of all purchases in this country. They embrace new gadgets and devices more quickly. They exceed men’s use of social media on every platform except LinkedIn. And they comprise at least half of all video gamers; 3% Percent Conference facts actually show that they spend more time than man playing.
Yet with the exception of a few organizations — Mullen’s own Frank About Women among them — the advertising industry chooses to have mostly men create, evaluate and bless the work that is supposed to market to women.
Of course, this is neither a new nor a surprise. The annual cover of Creativity showing All Star creatives has told us that for years. Juries at the award shows reminds us how male-dominated the creative side of the industry remains. And a look across the top ranks of most agency creative departments confirms it.
The problem is as easy to identify. This is a brutal business. Long hours, lots of weekends, the demands of new business pitches, extended time on the road far from home to produce TV commercials. None of which is very compatible with women who want kids and families, which, by the way usually happens right when they’re at the point in their career where they’re most qualified to become creative directors.
The 3% Conference last night did not pretend to offer the complete formula for effecting change, saving that for a more thorough two-day conference in San Francisco. But Kat Gordon and our panel did put forth a few strong suggestions — all of which were discussed and debated vigorously by an engaged and opinionated audience.
There are two sides to the issue. The role that women can play in their own career growth and success. And the responsibility of agencies themselves to change, not out of altruism but because it’s good for business.
The consensus came down to this.
Women need to take more credit for their accomplishments.
I love assertive, opinionated women. Apparently not all guys do. So you can heed the advice of Cindy Gallop and be a bitch. She makes a damn good point.
Right now our industry needs more bitches because bitches need to start bitching, by which I mean, speaking up.
We live in a world where the default setting is always male. Most innate bias and sexism is unconscious. We change that by speaking up. Have a different point of view from the men? Say so. Want that promotion? Ask for it. Facing an all-male leadership team, board, creative department or conference speaker lineup? Challenge it and propose a better balance. Yes, you’ll be called a bitch but not by people who know the best new future for our industry is one shaped equally by men and women.
But even if you don’t want to get overly assertive, women do have to ask for more promotions, fight for more opportunities and most importantly take credit for their accomplishments, something they fail to do. Especially when they work with men.
All of this presumes, of course, that they’re doing great work and know how to present it convincingly.
Finally if both of those approaches fail, you’re working in the wrong agency according to panelists Alyssa Toro and Sue DeSilva. In that case, get the hell out, let it be the agency’s loss, and find a more enlightened place to work.
Guys have to play a role
While they probably won’t admit it, guys are more comfortable hanging out with guys. As creative directors, they’re more comfortable giving feedback to guy teams. And when they do review work from women, they often apply narrow evaluation criteria.
The women in the audience last night appeared unanimous in suggesting that men CD’s filter work through a man lens. If it doesn’t satisfy their creative sensibilities it isn’t creative. So perhaps it’s time to listen to the smart, creative women that work for us. Recognize that they understand themselves better than we do and so their opinion should matter at least as much.
Kat shared one interesting example that proves this. If you were going to buy your wife or girlfriend a birthday gift, who would you ask? Certainly not another man. Perhaps one of her friends or another woman who shares her taste. Why not trust the same opinion when marketing to women?
Lastly on this topic, senior men need to be mentors to women. Don’t be afraid to take young women to lunch. Counsel them on how to sell their work, navigate the organization and develop influence. You won’t be seen as a lech. You’ll be seen as a guy who gets it.
Management needs to model behavior
We may have to put in crazy hours to meet client deadlines and get to work that’s great. But is that the only way? Is it good to be in the office at 10:00 pm every night, to forego vacations, to neglect our families?
You could make an argument that everyone is more creative if their life is balanced. But even if you don’t buy into that, it’s more than evident that women who are Moms work harder, smarter and more efficiently. They have no choice. So what if someone goes home to get the kids or watch a soccer game? All that we should care about is the quality of the work.
If agencies buy into the fact that a woman’s perspective is better for business and yields more effective work — arguable I know — then as the 3 Percent Conference suggests, they have to set an example from the top and practice the kind of behavior and policy that can make the business for accomodating to women. If not, we all know what happens. When it’s time to have a family, the women leave. We all know amazingly, talented, senior creatives who eschewed becoming CDs to go freelance instead.
Example: Feel compelled to write 10 emails to your staff at 11:00 pm? Do so. But don’t hit send until the morning. After all if you send them at 11:15 at night you’re declaring that you expect them to be reading them and responding at the same time.
But there’s really only one solution: clients have to demand more women on their accounts
I’m skeptical, however. Change is hard. And the industry is what it is on many fronts. Granted there are some companies where everyone goes home at 5:30. (They’re probably not on the Ad Age A-List or winning lions at Cannes.) And there are others that go out of their way to make flex time work, to fly creative teams home from shoots on weekends, etc. They get it. But when push comes to shove, deadlines and the work take priority, at least as far as most agency management is concerned.
If we really want more women CDs working in the industry, the only real solution is for clients to demand more women on their accounts, from the teams that do the work to the CDs that inspire and approve it. They already know it’s good for business, after all their consumers and users are women.
(That’s not to say that men can’t deliver the goods see Dove Sketches, done by a male team; but let’s face it, typically women get women better than men do. And that perspective is needed for all products and categories, not just so called female brands.)
It’s clients who have the greatest clout and the most to gain. And wouldn’t it be so great to replace Don Draper’s best line of this season…
“Every time this agency wins a car account it turns into a whore house.”
“Every time this agency wins a _______ account it gets more collaborative (or more relevant, or more balanced, or more diverse, or more balanced.)
After all, those would be just a few of the benefits of having more women CDs in advertising.
Yesterday, in a class at BU, I gave a lecture and led a discussion about “advertising” creative ideas. We explored “big” ideas: Let’s build a smarter planet; Giving wings to people and ideas; Day One. We dissected “campaign” ideas: A long day of childhood calls for America’s favorite pasta sauce. We thought about “advertising” ideas.
While some are clearly the creation of a traditional advertising creative team, the higher up the idea food chain you get, the more you can see the contribution of the strategist, or at the very least the strategic side of the creative team.
Ideas like “Day One” don’t happen without a pretty deep understanding of the user.
With the proliferation of screens, the mainstreaming of social media, the omni-presence of digital technology and the arrival of the Internet of Things, it becomes essential to know a lot more than how a consumer feels about a category, a company or its advertising.
How does she use technology? When does she access content? What role does her community play? How does context affect her willingness to engage? What kind of value and utility does she expect from a brand? What inspires her to share? Can you turn her into an advocate?
Today, the very best creative people have to be able to ask and answer those questions. And the very best strategists have to be able to get to ideas as good as Smarter Planet or Day One.
Years ago, when we worked in a linear fashion – client hands assignment to account guy who passes it to planner who writes brief for the creative team – we didn’t need to be T-shaped or know all that much about each other’s roles. Now, however, we have to be 20 or 30 percent something else. A writer/planner. A designer/coder. A strategist/creative.
Which leads me to the second part of this post — my excitement about Planning-ness having its 2013 conference in Boston next month. There is certainly no shortage of conferences, planning or otherwise. But as we all know, too many of them are designed to have you sit and listen as opposed to think and do. Planningness labels itself an “un-conference” for creative thinkers who want to get their hands dirty, offering a bit more how-to and interactive workshop sessions than the typical conference.
That makes Planningness a good thing for strategists who want to get more creative, or for creatives who want to get a bit more strategic. There may always be a distinction between creative and planning, but look at the very best of new, big, or digital ideas and that distinction gets more and more blurred.
The Planningness Grant
This years Planningness is offering a $10,000 grant for anyone the best research idea or project designed to benefit the planning community and creative thinkers.
How do social ideas spread? Are smaller communities of influence a new trend? Does real time come at the expense of enduring ideas? Do we learn by iterating or by testing?
Come up with a proposal and get it in. You have three days left. But this is a great opportunity to learn something that will make you, your agency and the community of planners better.
Anyway, hope to see you at Planningness. Let me know if you’ll be there.