This week the ’shoehorn’ is a little bit softer, a bit closer to home. I’m looking to traditional advertising, which, if the conferences, blogs, and general chatter are to be believed, is nay too popular. Not least amongst the digital fraternity, a large quota of which actually hate advertising. Full stop. To them traditional agencies represent the apex of this evil.
Which does beg the question “Why haven’t they downloaded an app to find the nearest job center and ‘checked-out’?”
So my intention is to tiptoe through this and hopefully shine a light on one of the many helpful things the Mad Men can still teach us, beyond alcoholism.
It’s actually not that long ago when traditional advertising didn’t exist. Circa 1998, I recall it was just called advertising; there was nothing to be ‘traditional’ against. Then brands thought they’d found the holy grail of advertising, the ‘click-through rate’. And the tsunami began.
In 1999, me and my creative partner, Sam, had just begun our first job in a digital ad agency. However, what we failed to mention at the time, was that neither of us had actually been on the Internet. So we had to take a train to Sam’s cousins house to go and see it.
We’d learned our trade as a ‘traditional’ creative team; our heroes were Hegarty, Flintham, McCabe, Trott, Henry, Steel and the mighty Bernbach. Media was simple; a variety of square shapes, you ’simply’ had to fill them with something good.
In 1999, our ignorance of the internet was actually a benefit; had we known our ‘big’ ideas couldn’t be made in 12K we’d have buggered off sooner. Thankfully we met Dave Cox, a rare kind of programmer who used his knowledge to find a Yes rather than say No. I suppose a new kind of creative team had evolved. Unfortunately we didn’t have Twitter to tell everyone.
I was very fortunate to have straddled both worlds, so to speak. At that time, and still today, most people in digital have never actually worked in a traditional agency. The old art of copywriting is either not known or seen as irrelevant, especially if we can get the public to write our ideas.
Exposure to traditional agencies comes from all agency meetings where the digital lot are told what big idea they have to translate. This inevitably leads to a lot of demonizing and a reactionary party line that “they’re dinosaurs” and “just don’t get it.”
On the other side of the table, we have some traditional agencies who treat the digital lot as a bunch of geeks that wouldn’t know a brand strategy if it was loaded on a USB and shoved up their external drive.
As usual it’s mostly bollocks.
There are great people and stuff to learn from both sides.
One of the ‘traditional’ legacies that has stayed with me, is a love of posters. When we were an upcoming creative team the poster was the toughest thing to write.
Using an image and (as a general rule) 8 words, you must communicate a brand strategy, insight and on top of that, do it in a way that is memorable and stands out.
This takes some sterling penmanship. Neil French does a wonderful piece on omitting elements, the fewer elements you have the more powerful the poster.
And for us, this oldest of media is a splendid way to approach an all-singing multi-platform digital campaign.
With all of the variables, platforms, possibilities and different people poking their noses in, it doesn’t take much for the whole thing to become more complicated than waking someone out of a deep sleep and shouting the plot of Inception at them.
So a great way of keeping it all on track is to write a poster for the idea. It doesn’t have to be the next ‘Economist Management Trainee’, (just give that a go to test your mettle) just simply sum up the idea and strategy. The rule is this: if you can’t distill it into a poster it’s too complicated.
Just like the 30 second film pitch, this becomes the backbone and blueprint that allows everyone to riff off and expand upon without losing site of what we’re trying to communicate.
And even more importantly bringing it down to that simple level really shows you whether you have something worth saying; there can be no hiding behind technology, just like a shit film can’t hide behind special effects.
Even today when we see a team’s portfolio it’s great to see the hardest of writing tests. The poster. It proves they can write and proves they have the skills to make things simple. A skill in short supply.