Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of the decayed

My new resolution is to eliminate self delusion. I hope to make some quiet and effective changes in how I work, so that I am not chained to the mac while the kids are taken by mum to the shoe shop for the next size up. If I'm not still being self delusional that will require taking things to another level in terms of business structure. A scary thought, but I've had many adrenaline rush moments since 2008. It's just another one.

And anyway, my job description is changing every month, even while the core of what I do remains the same. When I started as a copywriter with Wilson Hartnell, as Ogilvy & Mather were known in Dublin then, the task was simple and difficult. I worked with an art director and we dreamed up 2D campaigns that would hopefully work for our clients. The campaigns would not require much in the way of measurement. A bunch of senior ad guys would rely on that good old gut instinct for a grabby headline or a strong visual. They'd pick what they liked, get us to mock it up with fairly finished illustrations, put together a working script if it was TV or radio, and then they'd take it to the next level.

Client meeting.
They'd always try to have the meeting in the agency, because it was a chance for the client to enjoy some sexy, away from the grime of the west Dublin industrial estate. Plush seating in reception, avant garde artwork strewn oh so carefully around, coffee fetched by an eager runner and only the efficient swish of the receptionists' glam rags as they switched shifts. All so very civilised.
Not a jot of accountability, of course. Tscha. That was for (sneer here) direct marketing. We didn't need that because we were Brand Ambassadors! Loftier things awaited us don't you know.

A quick story about the two sided nature of non-accountability.
At one point, in the early 90s, we wanted the snack brand we were working on to 'own' the Irish comedy scene by using a coterie of excellent stand-ups from the burgeoning circuit. There was no Bulmers Comedy Festival or Murphy's Laughter Lounge or Carlsberg Comedy Festival. Even the Cat Laughs hadn't yet arrived, much less Father Ted. We got as far as making a test ad using a great Irish comic, and were given the greenlight. Why? Because the client's kids liked the ad. That was enough for us. Spurious as all fuck, but we were getting to make our ads, so we didn't care. We shot a dozen in a day, cheap and dirty, on video. We were made! The first burst went on TV and we told all our friends, family, even our pets. They were silly ads but they made people laugh. Unless, of course, you were the sales dept of the client who was selling the utterly disposable snack food. No, they did not like silly. Our ads were pulled. Most of them never saw the light of a cathode ray tube, despite the fact that production had cost buttons. The Sales team at Snackky Ltd (name made up to protect the idiocent) didn't like the ads, so within fourteen days we were canned. Shortly after, Irish comedy went stratospheric (at least in the English speaking world) but Snackky Ltd had already missed the chuckle boat.

What have we learned, children?
As William Goldman says of Hollywood in Adventures in the Screen Trade, nobody knows anything. We didn't then. We don't now. I was humiliated on that occasion by other people's idiocy, and I vowed never to let it happen again. How? It's easy really. You just don't put your heart into it. Go ahead and put your intelligence into it, sure. I mean, nobody's going to pay you just to sit there, are they? But if you become emotionally invested in something that's not yours, you're open to a severe kicking.

Sounds callous, I'll admit. But a fundamental truth was revealed to me with that experience, and while I'm the dumbest arse on the planet in many respects, I was smart enough to see something then. If it isn't actually yours, don't ever become its. That sentence looks terrible, but you get me, right? In the meantime, I work for myself and I freelance as a copywriter and content writer and I do a variety of other related activities. I am the product now in some respects, so I have to care. And I like it much better that way. The old model of copywriter/art director dreaming up campaigns is still out there in the agencies, but it's no longer for me. It's pretty much defunct in digital creativity, because you need to understand the medium to a far greater degree. The passivity of tv/radio/press is not tenable online, which is why there's growth right now in digital agencies, unlike tradvertising. But you need to understand people's habits, have a grasp of the technology and be able to assemble the team that can make it happen.

The other kicker is that results matter. The faux parade of glitzy peer-to-peer awards means nothing in new media, because efficacy is all, and efficacy is decided pretty quickly. Kind of makes it exciting too, and separates the can do people from the quacks fairly sharpish. Still plenty of quacks though, particularly in the area of providing digital marketing to green-behind-the-ears clients. I predict that a lot of people will fall into this trap in 2010, but that won't last too long. Resources for quackery just ain't there they way they were in the last decade.

So roll on the tens, with new opportunities and new adventures, and if I get to own a part of it I will give it my heart. I fully plan to.

And this comes via the ever wise Paul Dervan. Dave Trott on making pow without kerching.

A prosperous 2010 to all.

1 comment:

  1. Self delusion gets me out of the bed in the morning. Well, that and my 41 year old bladder.