How not to be a lazy hack

I can’t think of a decent idea, so how about just using a celeb to sell the brand instead of an idea that can actually do the job better?”

That’s just one way of being a fucking lazy hack. Don’t be that person. A lazy hack writes an unoriginal idea that doesn’t exactly solve the problem at hand, but does tick the boxes in some convoluted fashion. Why be “creative” like that, when you can be creative in creating awe inspiring, award winning commercials?

Here are some handy tips to not be a Fucking Lazy Hack (FLH) of a creative person.

    1. Shifting form Open to closed mode.

      Being ‘creative’ does not mean being unreasonable. There is a time for open exploration of ideas, and then there is a time for hard look at the situation at hand and review of the work done. The latter requires an ability to listen and to argue rationally. You can’t grow professionally as a creative person unless you are able to get in and out of these two modes – open mode for ideation, closed mode for decisions.

       

      (More about open and closed mode in John Cleese’s video below. Excellent ideas from a genius. Must watch.)

       

    2. Let it go.

      As a planner, it is quite frustrating at times. A week ago, we would have agreed on feedback, on directional changes. When it is time for final review (Often too late), the idea remains unchanged apart from a few minor changes. The subpar ideas would incorporate the feedback just enough to silence the concerns – “See, the logo is bigger now”, “See the product shot is 5 second longer”. But the product or brand is still no more intrinsic to the story being told. Or there is no story to begin with, just grandiose poetry that would get an ‘F’ in a creative writing class, but that the writer refuses to let go from a million dollar campaign that has the potential to affect thousands of livelihoods – from managers to retailer.When someone points out that the copy is weak, the reply will be – “Imagine Morgan Freeman/ Amitabh Bacchhan saying it”. I say, don’t. If an idea depends on a celebrity to work, it is a bad idea.

      Your idea was beautiful, maybe. But it is time for you to grow up and accept feedback. The idea is worthless if it doesn’t solve the business problem. Too often, writers cling on to bad ideas that do service to no one. Bad ideas do not win awards, they don’t work for client, they don’t look good on portfolios. Even if a client agrees to a bad idea (perhaps, because he can’t think any better or can’t articulate his concerns, but has time pressure), he will try to make it work for him. Client interference becomes more frequent and your idea is now a bastard child of confusion and desperation. Let it go, before it gets bastardized.

    3. Persist towards originality

      All you have to do is think of an honest need, an honest yearning that is being answered by the product/ brand at hand. Think a little harder. As John Cleese narrates in this video, he came up with more original ideas than his group-mate because he stuck to pondering over the problem longer – Unlike others, he didn’t take the first creative solution that popped in his head. He persevered until he was happy with an idea that was original enough.

4. Don’t do ‘fill in the situation’

There is a way to do this right and many ways to do it wrong. Thinking of ‘situation’ as a way to empathize and to imagine ways of being could be super fruitful. But more often than not, resorting to stereotypical ‘situations’ as the first springboard for imagination almost always leads to terrible advertising with hackneyed story lines, bad characterization and low relevance of brand in the whole scheme of things.  It is the shortest route to conceptualising an idea, a story. And because of it, it is often the biggest impediment to good creative work. Our lazy brain wants to make do with what we have, instead of junking it and thinking anew for something truly original. And then our ego protects that crappy idea from feedback and suggestions of others. We remain mediocre. Don’t be. Don’t do ‘fill in the situation’.

4. Don’t let the work-pressure define your ideas

You have too much on your plate.

You have tight deadlines.

So you agree, not to reason, but to different people – servicing, planner, client etc.

Don’t.

Listen only to reason. And reason with others, reasonably. That will save a lot of your time and effort. That saved time and effort can help you create better ideas. If you let whims and fancies of others (or even your own) guide your work, you will become no more than a mouse cursor on the app that is your agency that people use to create their ideas. Don’t lose your ‘agency’. Fight if you must for sufficient time and space for good work. Why should you be turned into a hack by work-pressure? Fight the right fights.

A capitalist industry can only be saved by a communist ideal – unions

Everyone whines about the bane of free pitches. Everyone knows that it is bad for business. It strips away dignity that should be afforded to agency’s labour. Why should any labour be free? Besides, it increases uncertainty about businesses with increasing frequency of pitches. Clients behavior is changing – it is getting conditioned to treat agency as ‘vendors’ rather than strategic partners. Agency heads and industry leaders appear intelligent when they talk about agency business model looking towards consultancies and looking to eat their pie. Their inaction towards improving dignity of agency labour belies these tall talk. There is too much gas in the upper echelon of holding companies and agencies and not enough will to do what is right.

The industry association in advertising doesn’t do anything that other industries do. They don’t organise in the interest of industry or its people. They only organise around narcissistic games of chest thumping and celebration of individuals – Awards. Clients don’t care  nearly as much about awards as agencies do. If it doesn’t help companies as much (it’s a competitive edge, but an expensive one to maintain), it doesn’t help its people (apart from egos of a few. It doesn’t empower anyone. It creates false ideals), it doesn’t help its clients… what good are awards for?

The inevitability of marginalisation of agencies in marketing world can be reversed. But not by its leaders. They still get paid well. They aren’t hurting much personally with the slow erosion of industry’s value.

The change will be effective only if creatives and studio people unite across companies and countries in a union. It doesn’t help that most of us in agencies are hopeless narcissists. We want individual glory. Anything that is achieved collectively makes us doubtful of our own importance. So unless we grow up from that infantile tendency, we are doomed.

Creative people imagine themselves as free birds. But in reality, they are more like the rocks at ocean face – sitting in the office, unmoving, against the assault of never ending and scarcely ebbing waves of briefs and reworks. The rocks need to grow roots and connect with each other across agencies to grow. Otherwise, neither their creativity will improve nor their lives.

The idea is to simply assert self-interest. Why should you (people in agencies) work for more than 8 hours a day?  What good are those annoying timesheets if they can’t help bring in accountability of labour. There should be compulsory overtime payment for hours worked beyond office times and other perks and compensations for opportunities lost in the darkness of late night cubicle dwelling. The idea is for over hours to become an exception, not rule. It is an escapist’s ideal to dwell in his cubicle to escape having to face real life and real relationships at home. For people like these, leaders need to intervene and help them grow in healthier ways.
If the agency has to pay creatives for each hour spent extra, they will be pinched for free work and pitches too. Hopefully, that will inspire pitch fees to become norm in all agencies. The idea is to not absorb the shocks of overwork. Make the management feel the pinch too.

Stop whining. Start organising.

Advertising is not art

Well, of-course advertising requires creativity. It is one of the most creative industries. And that is about the only thing that is common between advertising and artistic pursuits.

The thing with art is – it means different thing for different people. The beauty of art is in its plurality of purposes or complete purposelessness. An artist may chisel away for perfection at one corner of his mind for that one specific purpose. Another artist may move around aimlessly, exploring worlds through his subconscious. Someone else might simply want to evoke reactions. Someone purely wants to push limits of her craft/ morality/ possibility.

However, advertising can afford none of these explorations. Often, young creative writers justify their copy with ‘poetic license’. It’s almost a knee jerk reaction to defend one’s work. I have never seen a senior creative guy however justifying work for its artistic merit. And that is one of the key things that a creative learns as he grows in industry. The poetics are to be used only to accentuate, to increase the impact of what we want to say. And what we say is in the service of increasing someone’s business, not for creative pursuits.

In an attempt to become an artist or a poet, ad folks like us often create muddled and  half-baked commercials. Sometimes even planner like me are swayed to go with a tremendously creative idea even when it might not work for the objective. This is bound to happen, as it is mostly people with ‘artistic aspirations’ that come to advertising (and even some marketing departments of clients). I am one of them. It has to be a conscious effort not to be awed by ‘mind-blowing’ ideas that do not fit the strategy.

But it is not an easy battle to fight, especially if the client is also taken by the creative idea. And once a client is in awe of something, you can’t choose the less appealing but strategically correct route. Clients, if not seasoned, are more likely to fall for creatively stunning but superfluous ideas. They don’t push hard enough for better ideas. They get happy far too quickly with the first ‘decent enough’ idea that comes their way. They live vicariously a ‘creative’ life for the duration of the project. They do everything they need to, to sell the project internally. They like their names in the credit. It is natural. Our decisions are always emotional. They fall prey to the same emotional bait that they intend to lure with the consumers. They just bought themselves a creative ego massage that was served in one of the lazy creative routes.

But smarter, more experienced marketers know better than that. The key determinant here is, would the consumer we are trying to target react with just as much awe to the commercial? He/she is subjected to hundreds of commercials everyday that they are increasingly capable of ‘tuning out’ of. And most ads look the same to a layman. We, consumers, while consuming media, don’t give a rat’s ass about the ‘thought’ behind the commercial, or how lovely it all looks. All commercials peddling the capitalist philosophy of #YOLO look the same.

The commercial must work for the favourable reaction of the person who the advertiser is trying to influence. No one else’s reactions matter.