This ad’s been doing the rounds a bit lately:
Good for Jigsaw.
I can’t argue with anything written there.
I mean, after all they wrote, they couldn’t possibly have an entirely caucasian management team, could they?
To be entirely fair, I have no idea which of these people (if any) is an immigrant, and maybe the fifteen black, Asian and Inuit people on the management team were unavailable that day, but there does seem to be a lack of racial diversity in that picture.
The tricky thing is there’s very little transparency regarding the racial makeup of Jigsaw’s management. I had a good long trawl through their staff pictures on LinkedIn and they certainly seemed to be predominately white, but there’s no official shots of the people in charge as a group.
So it’s all well and good telling us you stand for immigration and, by extension, racial diversity, but in this day and age we need you to show us the extent to which that is your stance. A racially diverse management team would demonstrate that Jigsaw really means what they say, and it might inspire others to emulate its progressive attitude (if such a thing exists).
It’s one thing to explain how wonderfully committed you are. It’s entirely another to put your hiring policy where your mouth is.
Here’s my 6th, and hopefully not final, chat with Dave Dye. It’s the story of DHM and the various occurrences that created the excellent work at the bottom of this post.
As always with Dave, there are many excellent lessons for anyone who is either running or starting an agency, including…
Temporary time with Paul Silburn.
Looking for new partners (trust).
The name: Thingy? Not Thingy. Alphabetical order.
The Publicis breakaway that wasn’t.
New business/’interesting’ first pitch.
Fiddly and not lucrative but fun and good quality bits of business.
Creative Circle/David Abbott/awkward.
‘David Abbott in parts?’
Vertu: the unblingy-blingy phone.
Freelance: expensive quality over cheap quantity.
Hello Soho Square/Hello People/Goodbye Justin.
The hell of the name thing (‘Thingy’ rejected again).
‘My favourite thing I’ve done’.
A ‘disappointing’ new business ‘funnel’. ‘The very difficult thing is winning business’.
Further chats: digital; the rarity and difficulty of ideas that hold things together; the role of art directors way more important now; what you can say at different ages; has the job really changed?; the skill of distillation; more writing needed today.
It’s best to be cynical.
And the aforementioned excellent work:
Two ads written by David Abbott:
And that ‘Beano’ Creative Circle Annual page:
There’s a psychological phenomenon called projection. According to Wikipedia it’s a theory in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually intolerant may constantly accuse other people of being intolerant.
And if you were, say, endemically sexist (and racist) and treated women much worse than the men in your organisation, you might build a statue to the empowerment of women. Unfortunately, the news might then come out that you were ironically sexist champions of feminism, making you look like right dodgy bastards, but by then you’ll have picked up a ton of positive publicity and awards, so no matter, eh?
I’m delighted about this revelation. Not because of schadenfreude or a hatred of advertising, but because I hope it slams a nice juicy nail into the coffin of these immensely tedious and misguided corporate social movements.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t think a single one of them is primarily motivated by a real desire to right a societal wrong. Nope – they 1000% would not exist were it not for the fact that they help big companies seem much nicer than they really are, while simultaneously giving ad agencies a chance to look all virtuous, make some money and win lots of awards. I imagine that among most of the practitioners there’s also a large element of either guilt-alleviation or projection.
Allow me to make my case with the biggest femvertisers on the planet:
The underlying bollocks of Fearless Girl has been covered with chef-finger-kiss deliciousness in the above article, but what about Dove Beauty Sketches? We already have 100% projection from Unilever as they attempted to deflect years of Lynx sexism by pretending to give a toss about the problems of female body image that they helped to create. But what else? Well, what about the fact that they provide us with a ridiculously judgemental assessment of what female beauty is?
They say ‘The problem is, we’re so bombarded by unattainable standards of beauty – in magazines, TV, advertisements, on social media – that we undervalue the true beauty in ourselves’ (that massive bang you heard was another irony meter explosion). But also: ‘The (picture) based on the stranger’s portrayal was more beautiful.’ That means they showed millions of people these pictures and judged the ones on the left to be less ‘beautiful’ than those on the right:
And that’s from a company that says ‘Our body image takes such a battering that feeling beautiful can be hard’. Yeah, partly because you just showed millions of women that looking like the images on the left is somehow worse than looking like the ones on the right. But says who? If you were really trying to empower women to see the ‘real beauty’ in themselves would you present an image of one woman as less physically beautiful than another? Well, yes – if you had no real interest in such empowerment and instead were trying to sell a load of soap by looking nicer than you actually are.
And what about the third giant, Like a Girl?
Watch it again. Do you seriously think that this is a properly worked out scientific experiment? Does it have a control? Did we see any of the people who, when asked, didn’t throw/run/fight in that silly way that Always presented? How many were asked? Where did they get the participants from? How were the participants prompted in their answers? Did they give different answers before being nudged in this direction? Exactly how big a plate of bullshit are they serving us?
Always then makes the assertion that a girl’s confidence plummets during puberty, suggesting that this happens from 10-12 years old, as if there’s something magic that happens at that point where the rest of us terrible bastards start using the phrase ‘like a girl’ as a pejorative, as if that doesn’t happen to eight-year-olds. And that is based on what, exactly?
According to one interviewee, at that time girls are “already trying to figure themselves out. And when somebody says ‘you hit like a girl’ it’s like ‘Well, what does that mean?’. ‘Cause they think they’re a strong person, it’s like telling them they’re weak and they’re not as good as them.” What a delightfully inarticulate load of baseless conjecture presented as a cogent and substantiated statement that we’re supposed to take seriously (and, sadly, many millions seemed to). When you offer a straw man and knock it down with bullshit you’re not doing anyone any favours; you’re patronising the very people you’re pretending to be on the side of.
What about projection? Has Always ever made a commercial that suggested periods were something to be ashamed of? 10 seconds of searching on Youtube presents us with this poor girl who has to ‘tie a jacket around my waist’ when the wings of her pantyliner let her down:
Unlike Always, I won’t pretend my research is complete or scientific, but just calling these things ‘sanitary’ towels implies that they’re dealing with something unsanitary. Imagine that – you get to puberty, you get a period and you’re told that it’s an unclean thing that needs a ‘sanitary’ solution. Empowering? Doesn’t sound like it. Over the years Always has helped to perpetuate the perception of periods as negative occurrences (to which they can provide the solution), so now they feel bad about it (not really) and have created this ad to make everyone aware. I think we know the psychological term for that.
Perhaps someone can refute my assertion that these projects are nothing more than cynical marketing exercises dressed up as somewhat charitable endeavours, offsetting shitty behaviour and, for the agencies, making money and providing award-friendly Cannes entries. Whatever they are, they are certainly not rigorous scientific experiments whose results mean anything more than a bit of wank tossed off in the office of a pair of award-hungry creatives. But by masquerading as something more substantial they assist in the process of greenwashing the companies behind them, and that does real damage.
To be clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with experiments that attempt to redress the imbalance that years of sexism have created, but make them real, genuine and on behalf of organisations or companies that truly want to empower a downtrodden demographic. Silly bollocks designed to make very rich companies even richer will only get in the way of more credible efforts, and when we find out (as in the case of Fearless Girl) that we’ve all been taken for a ride, the likelihood of us paying attention to the company that does some actual good declines.
I’ll leave you with one of the daftest examples of femvertising I’ve ever seen (8.7m views), and the fervent hope that these school projects pretending to be Phd dissertations will either improve or die:
Hello cowgirl in the sand. Is this place at your command? Can I stay here for a while? Can I see the weekend?
Jim Carrey gone cray-cray:
New mean tweets:
The Scared is scared:
This week’s guest is the lovely and excellent Mr. Dan Germain, whose name almost looks like ‘Dangerman’.
His involvement in advertising, writing, branding and design has almost entirely been in the service of Innocent, which is now a big, global company with plenty of funny writing on the sides of the bottles.
So he’s basically created all the stuff that you love about Innocent beyond the mixture of some bits of fruit.
To find all about that and the following, click on one of the links below…
Starting as an English teacher.
A friends ethos.
Quite tiring/difficult at the beginning.
The words on the labels.
Social before there was social.
What does a Head of Brand do?
Working with external agencies.
Help from Richard Flintham and Andy Macleod.
And Ed Morris, George Prest, Johnny Leathers and Steve Paskin.
Doing exchanges at Wolff Olins and Method.
Ethics and sustainability. And health.
Getting together with Coke.
Designer of the Year 2014.
I once wrote a post about how advertising is essentially lying.
On the minuscule off-chance that you haven’t read it, the upshot was something like this: advertising is inherently mendacious. We use euphemisms like ‘dramatise the proposition’ to justify the creation of exaggerated representations of what products and services are capable of. Is waiting for a pint of Guinness anything like waiting for that wave? Does wearing Levi’s jeans make you feel like you can run through walls or twist your body around? Does the slightly better colour on a Sony TV seem anything like millions of balls bouncing around San Francisco? Of course not. Dramatised propositions can be entertaining and memorable, but they’re miles away from the product experience.
And when we’re not exaggerating we’re presenting things in their ‘best light’, which usually bears little resemblance to their ‘usual light’.
Don’t think I’m writing this after a moment of sledgehammer epiphany (that happened to me in 2002 and it didn’t stop me cracking out another fifteen years and counting). I understand what we do and why we do it, and I don’t have a day-to-day problem with that because it’s not good or bad.
(That’s a bigish ‘but’.)
We have to accept that there are consequences to that inbuilt degree of bulshittery. The first is that advertising is not generally regarded as the most trustworthy of practices. I know trust in advertising has increased recently, but I think that’s down to a kind of reconditioning: we’ve all watched so much untruthful advertising over the years that we no longer expect any real truth, so our standards have shifted. For years people have added a pinch of salt to every corporate communication they’ve been exposed to and ignored most of what they’ve been told. Perhaps an apposite metaphor is that of the current British public who are fed so many Brexit-shaped bulshitifications they can no longer be bothered to call each one out. Or anyone who reads a British tabloid: there’s some sort of distant nod towards the truth somewhere but not in any way that makes you trust what you read.
But that’s not actually the point of this post.
In recent months I’ve been noticing more and more articles about shady practices in the online side of things. Of course, I’d been aware of this shadiness for years because I’d been paying attention to the excellent work of Bob Hoffman, AKA The Ad Contrarian. His regular clarifications of online advertising bollocks have provided a front row seat to a number of problems that affect all our daily lives, yet few people discuss.
If you want the gory details please buy his excellent book. Here are some of the bullet points:
Ad tech means that you are followed wherever you go online. Every breath you take, every move you make, every visit to Pornhub that makes your genitals shake, they’ll be watching you. Instead of selling advertising to people, they’re selling people to advertising.
Google and Facebook know how much you earn, where you spend it, how much is in your bank account, your sexual preferences, your medical history, whether you’ve committed a crime, all your phone numbers and email addresses – and those of your friends, your political opinions and every other thing you think should come under the umbrella of privacy.
In many cases, less than 5% of online media ad budget goes towards ads people actually look at for more than a second.
Agencies have paid millions in compensation to some of the largest clients who have been defrauded by the online ad process. Unfortunately for the smaller clients, confidentiality was a condition of the deal, so nobody knows who was diddled out of how much money, so they can’t use that information to pursue other claims, or check that it isn’t continuing.
600 million ad blockers have been installed, and, much to the annoyance of online ad firms, Apple is automatically adding them to its new operating system.
So how do you think that affects the level of trust between clients and agencies, consumers and advertising, and you and the internet?
I’m going to guess it hasn’t improved matters.
So we now have an industry that, through its own actions, has spent decades eroding trust in what it does, only to take the little that was left and flush it down the toilet. And it’s been one of those incremental processes that has been both too gradual to notice and big enough to allow people to abrogate any responsibility they had in the matter: ‘My tiny contribution can’t possibly have made much of a difference, so I might as well keep doing it.’
But look at where this has left us. Are we in a golden age of advertising, where our work is welcomed with open arms by a grateful public? Are graduates forming a long and hopeful queue to join our industry? Do clients respect what we do so much that they’re willing to pay top dollar for it?
No, no and no.
Is the trust issue the reason for all those problems? No.
But does it help? No.
The funny thing is we’re all consumers as well as advertising people, so we all go through the above experience. We all hate being followed around the internet. We all feel a shiver of revulsion at the way our deepest secrets are bought and sold without our explicit permission. We all despair at the lack of imagination and wit displayed by 99.999% of the work we see. We all stab the ‘skip ad’ button like a demented woodpecker. We all use ad blockers. And yet there’s a weird disconnection which makes us think it’s all someone else’s fault.
The first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and that’s the essential process we’re currently missing.
Have a chat with your clients about whether they want to be treated like idiots. Whether they want to be part of the process that buys private, ill-gotten information from all over the net. Whether they want to be bored, irritated and annoyed by what they pay for. Whether they want to finance terrorism, drugs and human trafficking through their ad budgets. Whether they want their companies to produce something that subtracts from the sum total of human happiness.
They’re difficult questions, but until someone starts to to ask them the descent will continue apace.
So you got the fever for the flavor of the other. Chocolate, Sarsaparilla, or is it you like another? Flavor in my socks to the curly locks. Black Sheep rollin hard and kncokin peons out the weekend.
Spike Jonze creates live dance thing on Tonight Show:
The game that time forgot:
The most recent explosion of sweary common sense is now available from the peerless Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman:
It’s so full of fascinating, terrifying, essential information that you really need to read it yesterday.
It explains the reasons and the finances behind so much of the advertising you loathe.
Unfortunately, it’s probably going to make you much more annoyed and angry, but at least you’ll be aware.
And it’s reasonably short and formatted in bite-sized chunks, making it a bog-read* perfect enough to rival anything Dave Trott has written.
I don’t use Amazon because I don’t agree with how they go about their business, but it’s the only place you can get a copy of Bad Men, so follow this link and get ‘woke’, as the kids probably don’t say anymore.
*’Bog read’ is the highest compliment I can bestow upon a work of literature.
Libby Brockhoff is the current CEO/Founder of the agency Odysseus Arms. You can read all about them here.
We discuss how that agency came about, but we also discuss how Libby became one of the founders of Mother.
It was a somewhat circuitous route, but when it finally happened she was just 27 years old.
I think that’s pretty amazing: to have started the most revolutionary ad agency in living memory (and given it the name which then spawned a million other agency names that weren’t actual names), come up with it its internal structure and creative blueprint, and turned the London advertising scene upside-down at the age of 27? Hats off.
And, let’s not forget – very, very few women had ever been creative leaders of ad agencies at that point. So Libby broke through the conventional age and gender conventions to change the ad scene forever.
Colour me impressed.
Here’s a brief rundown of what we discussed:
Hooked by exposure.
A crazy Cajun at the University of Delaware.
5000 started. 5 finished (including Libby).
Lots of great US agencies then GGT.
And Tom, Dick and Harry. I mean Mother.
You have to keep moving.
The creative core of an agency is what’s most important.
Launching Channel 5.
The genius of Robert Saville.
Everyone does everything.
Leaving Mother to become a mother.
Then back in.
Starting up again.
Why ‘Odysseus Arms’?
Why Odysseus Arms?
A creative and female agency CEO.