I was talking a planner friend the other day, and he was worrying about everyone wearing headphones as they sit in their collaboration-fostering & creatively-designed open plan environment. Even creative teams are sitting there, wired to their individual iTunes playlists, occasionally taking their earbuds out to run a line past the other.
An agency should be all about people bouncing ideas around, right? Getting the right people together to solve problems?
OK, we all need a distraction-blocker, but do we really want an agency full of solipsists?
Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result -- all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here. And that, my friends, is how company policy begins.
I've just been flicking through this week's Campaign, and found these quotes from two of adland's most respected players:
On page 20, "brave advertising knight" Sir Frank Lowe offers this up:
"We are not in a rich period, creatively speaking. Fear has permeated our industry. Agencies have two aims these days; to hit their profit margins and to give clients whatever they think they want. I'm not sure that these attitudes go hand in hand with creativity."
A few pages earlier, Maurice Levy (chairman and chief exec of Publicis Groupe) had this to say:
"This is a glorious time to think and act creatively. In art history terms, we're at the dawn of the Renaissance after the Dark Ages."
Ok, Maurice is talking about web advertising, but I find it hard to accept that the internet alone is going to herald in a new golden age of creativity in the face of an increasing focus on ROI and consequent risk-aversion.
If we really want it to become a "glorious time to think and act creatively", we all need to take responsibility for it. Fight for better work within your agency. Work closer with your clients. Earn their trust. Help them to be brave. Campaign give the last word to the AAR's Martin Jones, and I'll do likewise:
"Agencies need corporate courage. If a campaign goes wrong, they might lose 15 per cent of their income. Clients need personal courage. If it goes wrong, they can destroy the business and lose their jobs."
Here's one for the marketeers out there who love their brand onions, temples, pyramids and dodecahedrons:
"Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination. Do not become a slave to your model" -Vincent van Gogh
All too often, the conversation is about how to adapt reality to fit a pre-conceived brand model (often one which is handed down from on high) when what we should be doing is the exact opposite. A model should represent reality, not dictate it.
Do try to avoid being overly reductionist -simplicity is good but being simplistic isn't.
Remember that often the pieces which inspire the imagination are small and easily lost.
"The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar... Hence it comes about that at their first appearence innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen." -Aldous Huxley