Imagine you had to write a stand up routine. How would you go about it?
It’s likely you would start with people and what makes them tick, observations on human behaviour, greed, love, relationships, jealousy, power, funny things that have happened to you in the past, characters you’ve met, oddities and inanities of modern life, things happening in the news and stuff that just tickles you but you just can’t explain or analyze why.
The last thing you would do is worry about where the venue is, what media the jokes will be told through, the navigation of your forthcoming iPad joke app, or whether the people in the audience are checked in to Foursquare or Facebook Places (although you might write a joke at their expense).
The professional comics, well the ones I have read about all mutter the same sort of advice. Richard Pryor says, “Tell the truth and funny will come.” Others talk mainly of keeping an ear out for funny characters and incidents you see or read about. Everyone agrees that it is mainly down to hard graft—”It took me ten years to become an overnight success,” said Jerry Seinfeld.
Considering who these people are, this is pretty boring, obvious stuff. But they don’t fill venues talking about the process of writing great material; they fill venues with great material.
Much unlike our own industry, we fill venues and conferences by mostly talking about the process and technologies involved, innovations, new buzzwords and platforms. Which, don’t get me wrong, are of huge importance and considerable interest.
But it’s far easier and far more interesting to talk about innovation and technology than about someone who sat down trying to write something funny, or moving or persuasive.
And so, the blend of ingredients required for great work has been skewed. Technology and innovation have become, dangerously, the main criteria for success. The less interesting writing process is seen as a less important skill. Or worse, a skill that anyone can do if they decide to turn their mind to it.
To simplify this and redress the balance, we often use a “joke” analogy with our clients. It serves primarily to get beyond all the buzzwords, hoopla and complications. It helps us remember what our goal is, which in this case, is to make people laugh.
We ask them to imagine that instead of writing adverts, we write jokes instead. (An invitation for them, and you, to politely inform us that they already knew that).
A joke, as we all know, can appear on TV, a poster, mailer, banner, blog, twitter, AR, app or whatever platform we’ll be evangelizing tomorrow. The most important thing is how funny that joke is. If it doesn’t make the person who sees it, in whatever guise, laugh, then they won’t remember it and won’t retell it down the pub/school gates/office.
It’s the writing of the joke and all its nuances that is clearly the vital ingredient. And just as not everyone is a comedian not everyone is automatically a good advertising writer.
Granted in the real world our job isn’t to just make people laugh, it’s to sell and persuade. These days we use an ever expanding array of tools to reach our audience, engage with them and be of some use to them.
No crappy analogy can address every variable this beautifully complicated industry throws up, but for us it serves to make it less complex to our clients and also gives balance and respect to all the different types of skills needed to make great work.
I know. I should have really ended with a joke.