Guillermo Del Toro on creativity

Last night I went to a screening of this wonderful movie:

Due to an interesting quirk of people from the movie business generally going to one particular LA cinema (the Arclight in Hollywood. The sound and picture are always brilliant) they’ve started having Q&A screenings so that Academy voters and their friends can see the stars/directors and ask them about the movie (a couple of weeks ago we went to see Murder on the Orient Express, topped off by an interview with the very affable Kenneth Branagh; Al Gore showed up for the Inconvenient Truth sequel; Margot Robbie, Justin Timberlake and Kate Winslet have also popped by).

So this showing of The Shape of Water ended with an interview with the director, Guillermo Del Toro, and two of the stars: Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones.

(I love GDT. He makes horror films with heart and humour, as well as blockbusters that have more brains than most. And he’s had an interesting life – for example, his dad was kidnapped and James Cameron gave him the money to pay the ransom.)

Here are three things Señor Del Toro said that could be applied to stuff you’re working on:

  1. The relationship with an audience is like a game of tennis: you express part of the story, but for that to work, you need the audience’s response, so they hit it back, you reach that expectation and hit it over the net again. But the real trick is not to hit the ball straight at them. You need to give it something interesting and unexpected so they have to stretch a little to make the return. If you see TSOW you’ll notice yourself constantly reappraising the situation and how you’re responding to it. That’s the fun.
  2. Along similar lines, you have to give the audience what they’re expecting, but not in the way they’re expecting it. So this film has a beast that’s a hero, a damsel who’s in charge rather than in distress, a leading man who’s an arsehole and a villain who’s a good guy. That helps the ball spin over the net in very satisfying ways.
  3. When he was six, GDT saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon but he was disappointed that the creature and the girl didn’t get together. So he spent ages drawing them as a couple, going on bike rides together etc. Cut to 52 years later and he finally made the version of the movie he really wanted to. So never, never give up on your dream, even if it takes 52 years.

 



It was christmas eve babe, in the drunk tank. An old man said to me: won’t see another one. And then they sang a song – the rare old mountain dew. I turned my face away and dreamed about the weekend.

Which tech era did you grow up in? (Great charts; thanks, D.)

Privacy or pizza? Pizza.

How matches are made:

How well do you know your Christmas ads? (Thanks, G.)

Pick a country and a decade, then enjoy (thanks, J).

Cray cray video (thanks, J):



ITIAPTWC Episode 49 – The Client

Last week I had the idea to interview a client.

Come on. Haven’t you always wanted to know what they hell they’re all thinking?

So I put the word out and found one: an automotive client for a big brand that works with a good agency, so he knows what good ads are and has been somewhat responsible for bringing them into the world (he also wanted to remain anonymous).

I actually found this to be one of the most revealing chats I’ve had, possibly because it was a window into a world I knew much less about.

We discussed…

How he became a client.

How things have changed (money/digital).

You need a big idea! And know what your brand stands for!

How they measure what the hell they’re doing and what the agency is responsible for.

Who gets to choose the overall idea, and how does it please everyone?

How well do the different agencies collaborate?

Giant power point decks suck.

His learning curve.

Why digital isn’t bollocks.

Responsibility for surveillance.

How do they decide what to spend their money on?

Outthink rather than outshout.

Giving feedback.

Face-to-face client contact is good.

Is ‘creativity’ important?

How do you judge an idea before it’s made?

Pitches!

Not choosing creatives to work on your account.

Research vs gut.

Disaster vs Success.

Do you care about directors etc.?

General client perspective on the agency.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link:

 



Did you ever stop to notice all the blood we’ve shed before? Did you ever stop to notice the weekend?

Life on London’s first AIDS ward.

Kubrick’s cameras:

Timelapse construction of The Louvre Abu Dhabi (thanks, D):

Lots of screams replaced with Tom Cruise’s weird scream from The Mummy:

Every story is the same:

Beautiful art made from rubbish (thanks, D).

Great mashups of yesteryear (thanks, T).

Great Jay-Z interview.



What the whole Christmas bunfest tells us about the wider world of advertising

The one time of year UK advertising gets a big shot in the arm is Christmas:

Thanks to Adam and Eve DDB’s stewardship of John Lewis we now have this kind of 2-month British Superbowl, where each of the big retailers squeezes out a couple of minutes of heartwarming loveliness for our collective delectation. As it’s been going for quite a long time now, it’s easy to dismiss certain efforts as ‘not as good as last year’, or ‘not as good as that other client’s’, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that the whole shebang actually has the entire country (and some parts of the world) talking about advertising, and that’s a rare thing these days (I even heard Russell Brand mention John Lewis’s Christmas ads on his existential-angst-themed podcast).

Hats off for that, but is there something we can learn from the phenomenon?

Well, here’s an obvious point: pretty much all the talked-about ads are long TV commercials. Sure, they sell the odd toy alongside, or make a concomitant (love that word) donation drive, but none of those extras would exist without the 500lb gorilla: a long, usually expensive, TV ad with a big media spend. That might just nudge us into thinking that TV advertising is both far from dead and still the best way to create famous work.

And you’d have to assume that these ads work, otherwise there wouldn’t be more and more of them, year after year. If John Lewis’s Christmas sales had tanked into the toilet these ads would have done the same.

Another point: good old traditional ad agencies have still got it, as long as they’re trusted to come up with the goods. A&E DDB produces great stuff every year, alongside AMV, Grey and the others. Has an agency with a strange single noun name (Mother aside) come up with the goods? Maybe, but have they matched the big boys in fame and craft? Nope.

And have these ads needed a huge amount of intrusive internet surveillance to be effective? Are they behind the indiscriminate harvesting of our personal details? Is each one laser-targeted at our eyeballs via an in-depth analysis of our every last fart and nose pick? I don’t think so.

So the upshot seems to be: good old fashioned TV ads from good old fashioned agencies still kick ass. Yes, they are the tip of the pyramid as far as ads go, but that’s looking at it backwards: clients could have more tips of more pyramids if they trusted great agencies and their creative departments to produce more great TV advertising during the rest of the year.

And yet all the natter is about programmatic, data and Googlebook.

Sheesh…



Corporate ethics: a moral imperative, good financial sense, or both?

There’s a lot of noise these days about ethics, especially as they pertain to the corporate world.

Back in the Noughties, corporations simply functioned as they wished (within the law, or however they could afford to stretch it) but some added an element of Corporate Social Responsibility. Did every corporation that provided these acts of kindness do so out of the goodness of their hearts? Possibly not, after all, there’s no such thing as altruism. But the good deeds were done, so does it matter why?

Maybe, maybe not. There are actually dozens of nuanced arguments on either side. If you want to have a good read of them, check out the CSR Wikipedia page.

But now the conversation had moved on. Pretty much every industry has a perspective on its own ethics, particularly insofar as they relate to climate change, and, latterly, sexual harassment. Are they taking that interest because the public demands it, and it therefore affects the bottom line, or because of some moral aspect that affects the future of the planet?

Generally it’s a mixture of the two, and just like CSR there are vast swathes of grey in between them.

Here are some of the questions that don’t have easy answers:

Many companies have been incorporated with the financial imperative as the most important issue. If they do something that prioritises anything else above the generation of money they can be sued by their shareholders. But what if they were to lose money in the short-term by closing a coal-fired power plant and switching to solar? They might make more money in ten years’ time and beyond, but the immediate losses won’t please shareholders that need to cash out soon, or may not be alive to see the long-term benefits. So does the company risk the litigation to do what is most helpful to its future existence/moral stance, or just go for the money now?

What should the extent or nature of your ethics be? If you’re a person you can be omnivorous, vegetarian, vegan or even fruitarian (only eating fruit that has naturally fallen from trees). Is a vegan ‘better’ than a vegetarian? In terms of resource usage, yes. In moral terms? That’s debatable. In the corporate equivalent you might use your financial resources to treat your staff better by paying them more or giving them more benefits, but what if that compromises your environmental efforts? Such expenditure might mean that you can’t buy energy-saving lightbulbs or insulate your factory. Is one better than the other? That’s an impossible question to answer definitively.

What if there’s a clash between morality and law? Most countries have not codified stringent ethics into legislation. they might provide recycling bins or sign the Paris Accord, but will they treat people of all religions in exactly the same way? Will they ensure a reasonable equality of pay via proper corporate taxation? Will they allow democratic elections on a regular basis? As those of us who follow the news have seen, solid arguments backed by millions can be made on all sides of these questions. And if that’s the case, how will the finer points of subjective corporate morality survive such debates? Clearly it will be impossible to please everyone, so who gets to impose their morality, why and how?

And those are just three questions in an area with thousands. The fact that there isn’t a clear solution makes it obvious that there isn’t such a thing as ethical absolutism, only ethical relativism.

But that shouldn’t lead to paralysis. Within each question is a choice to live up to your own standards. That might mean financial compromises, or a difficult legal fight, but you simply have to decide what you want more: the benefits of the ethical decision, or an easier life in a world that doesn’t work for you (and perhaps millions of others).

Damn, I think I just posed another annoyingly difficult dilemma…



The split personalities of advertising people

When it comes to assessing advertising, some of those in the industry divide themselves into two people:

Person A

They have an excellent idea of what advertising needs to be for the general public. They gain this insight by looking at the advertising they experience on a daily basis and saying, ‘Wow, that’s really annoying. Being followed around the internet as a result of having your privacy invaded and your conversations spied on really sucks. There’s no way I’d ever recommend my clients to advertise in that manner because it would leave their brand with a sheen of negativity that encompasses untrustworthiness and general dislike.” They realise that big logos make them turn pages faster, cramming lots of stuff onto billboards makes them impossible to take in, and preroll makes people hate brands because they are responsible for a tedious delay in gratification. They know that programmatic digital buys can often result in ads appearing in unsavoury places where they are ‘watched’ by bots that the client then has to pay for.

Person B

They take an ad brief for preroll without question. They say that it’s just a little 5-15 second ad that’s kind of the price of running a site like YouTube. They increase logo sizes because they were asked to by a person in a slightly bad mood, and anyway, they’ll be able to enter the ‘awards’ version that ran once somewhere obscure and cheap. They recommend programmatic because it’s a great way to reach a lot of people for not a lot of money, and besides, everyone’s using it so can it really be that bad? They don’t really mind the idea of their ads following people around because the public understand it’s how ads work these days, and besides, it’s not their problem if the general public dislikes their client as a result – the general public hates all ads, so this one won’t really make much difference. They’ll make a poster with seven different typefaces and four different messages because it means their bosses will chill out and it won’t really affect their wages or career prospects because the aforementioned ‘award’ version will win a Creative Circle Bronze.

Of course this isn’t everyone, and of course I’m exaggerating (ever so slightly), but I do wonder why we often look at our work like ‘ad people’ and then get annoyed at the results when we look at them like ‘consumers’.

Unlike others, we can actually change the things that annoy us. We’re often there in the room with the people making decisions (hell, we might even be the people making the decisions), so we can use the facts to persuade clients to do what’s effective, interesting, disruptive, memorable and beautiful. Bus drivers, civil servants and zookeepers don’t get that privilege; they just have to suck up the bad stuff.

It’s like being in Number 10 Downing Street every day and saying ‘Yes, Theresa, Brexit is a great idea that will advance Britain’s position in the world and bring economic prosperity for all of her citizens,’ and not, ‘Hang on there, Theresa. Can I just show you this graph and these documents that prove Brexit is going to be a disaster for millions of people?

I’m not saying that 100% of clients will listen 100% of the time, and they might well have some pretty good graphs and documents of their own, but if you don’t fight the good fight you have to continue having the annoying experiences.

Next time you get the chance, do yourself several favours and make something both of you will enjoy.



How and why I use LinkedIn

I have to admit that for years I was pretty sniffy about LinkedIn. I used to think it was the boring Facebook for nerdy squares (or something). Then again, I used to think Facebook was the boring Facebook for nerdy squares, so what do I know…

Anyway, I’ve got into LinkedIn much more in recent months. Why and how? Read on…

  1. I always link to everyone who asks. This is partly because I don’t want to appear rude, but also because you never know who might be a useful or interesting connection. I wonder how many of you keep your networks ‘manageable’ rather than open. Does that mean I’m inundated with posts? Not really, but there’s always fresh stuff on my feed.
  2. Having an open network means I get articles and posts from a wide range of people with all sorts of jobs who live all over the world. I don’t think I’ve met more than about 10% of them, so I’m always reading about unexpected things that keep my mind broadened.
  3. I got into LinkedIn when I was gainfully employed. I don’t know how important this is, but a sudden appearance on LinkedIn can often denote the end of a job. If you don’t want to denote that, jump in now (unless you just lost your job. Actually, never mind – just do it whenever you like!).
  4. I have a feeling there are vast slices of super-LinkedIn that I have no idea about. Sometimes a post appears in my feed with 10,000 likes and 2000 comments and I wonder how the hell that happens. I think I’m also a bit of a relative LinkedIn newbie, so I may be missing a bunch of interesting nuances and skills.
  5. The big LinkedIn dude in my feed is a guy called Tom Goodwin. He’s Head of Innovation at Zenith USA and he seems to do several interesting posts a day which then get 5000 likes and 500 comments. But he seems like a good bloke and I think a drink with him would be fun.
  6. LinkedIn often feels like a D&AD annual from 10-15 years ago. When I wander through through the names of people LinkedIn thinks I might know they tend to be very interesting creatives in the Autumn of their careers. I find it very interesting to see what they’re up to now.
  7. You can apparently link with all sorts of fascinating CCOs, CEOs, Presidents, Chairpeople etc. of past and present. A case in point: I’m not entirely sure why Mark Wnek linked to me a few months back, but I find his new project fascinating.
  8. There are in-jokes on the site, like being rude about Gary Vaynerchuck, but I’m 100% certain Gary doesn’t care about that. In fact I think he wears such attention as a badge of honour. People also like to complain about those who use LinkedIn to express political opinions or as some kind of dating site. I don’t see much evidence of either.
  9. There’s a lot of public proclamation of worker availability and worker need (that might be kind of the point). I think it’s great that a forum to connect workers and recruiters exists that allows both to express themselves creatively (or not, as the case may be).
  10. I once asked a couple of questions that spread around the site like wildfire. They asked about the existence of ad agencies that had female or minority names above the door (not many do, at least compared to the number with just white guy names). The reaction made me realise just how fertile the diversity debate is. Anyway, I wonder how much this post will be shared around, but if I want to give it an extra push I’ll need to finish with a LinkedIn in-joke question.

Do you agree?



How an unhinged cartoon character with a pocketful of mayonnaise made me reassess the nature of freedom.

To explore this subject I’m going to have to take you into The Amazing World of Gumball, so bear with me…

TAWOG is a cartoon that’s been running for several years. The plot concerns the fun and games of a cat called Gumball and his goldfish adopted brother, Darwin:

It’s very funny and creatively animated in mixed media.

But this post isn’t about them; it’s about one of the minor characters, Sussie:

She’s odd, so much so that there’s an entire episode about her called ‘The Weirdo’. This is how it starts:

Gumball and Darwin try to change her so that she fits in, but it doesn’t work, so instead she offers them a chance to see the world through her eyes and sings a song about it:

For those of you who are wondering why I’m trying to make a somewhat serious point with the use of kids’ cartoons and are thus not bothering to watch the clips, a quick précis: the animation goes utterly crazy in a charmingly naive way, then Sussie starts singing a song about how she’s fine not fitting in because she doesn’t care what people think of her. The chorus says:

‘Cause I am free!
It’s the key, doesn’t matter what people think of me.

My kids love this song and I love the message, but it raises an interesting idea: would you rather have what you want, or not care about what others think of you?

There are dozens of quotes about why being ruled by other people’s opinions is a BAD THING (Eg: “The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” ― Virginia Woolf), but that seems to be hard to do. I mean, have you ever had a time when you really couldn’t care less about the thoughts of others? So much of our lives are affected by them, from what our husbands/wives/kids think of us to the assessments of our bosses and colleagues. There often appears to be a huge amount riding on the opinions of others.

But the people who genuinely seem to be unbothered by such things do tend to win our admiration. They seem brave and strong in the face of something so difficult to ignore. It’s the rebel archetype of the movies, from Robert De Niro in Mean Streets to Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, but it’s also all the artists, writers and musicians who produce work apparently unintended to please a wide audience. When those people follow the herd or go for the safe option they seem to be less deserving of our praise because its easier.

I think people would rather have all the things that society generally admires (some version of fame, wealth, respect or achievement) than simply not care what those things are and forge a path defined by an inner voice, untainted by the judgements of others. People concerned about their appearance would sooner look like George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence than look like themselves and be OK with that. Many people obsessed with fashion would rather have all the coolest clothes than dress ‘badly’ and not care about it. And there are plenty of parents out there who would rather be seen bringing up their kids in a way most people would think was ‘right’ than go their own way and ignore the negative opinions of others.

But I think we could learn a lot from Sussie (I don’t necessarily mean we should go around singing to cartoon cats, but it couldn’t hurt). She doesn’t live her life by an arbitrary set of standards imposed on her life by society. None of those things have any intrinsic meaning, so why should they guide her or us?

And besides, having what you want is pretty much impossible, and when you get it you might well discover it wasn’t what you wanted anyway. Take Andre Agassi, for example: he won everything in tennis but hated it all so much he turned to smoking crack because those wins couldn’t fill the hole inside him created by the way his dad treated him as a kid. All the money, fame and success in the world didn’t get rid of Michael Jackson’s demons. And if dozens of Oscars, millions of dollars and a beautiful wife really did the trick, we wouldn’t currently be reading quite so much about Harvey Weinsten. Sure, we may not have lived through whatever made those lives so painful, but we all have our versions of those invisible drivers.

But here’s the really interesting thing: you can have ‘not caring what others think’ right now, and it’ll cost you nothing. Maybe, once you realise the true weight of what’s pushing your thoughts around, you’ll wonder why they mattered so much. Maybe you’ll stop chasing that thing you think you want. And maybe, as the Buddhists say, you’ll see that desire is the cause of suffering.

And you’ll be free.

Like an unhinged cartoon character with a pocketful of mayonnaise.

 



regeneration over sustainability.

A few weeks ago my wife and I popped up to Ventura, home of the ethical outdoor clothing company, Patagonia.

We soon found their receptionist/cultural ambassador/surf teacher, an amazing man called Chipper Bro (really).

We discussed many things, but one concept was so blindingly obvious that it made me wonder why it wasn’t more widespread:

True environmental responsibility isn’t about sustainability; it’s about regeneration.

Chipper meant that we shouldn’t be keeping things as they are (sustaining); we should be regenerating the world as it used to be and needs to be to ensure its future existence. We don’t just need to stop the inexorable overuse of the globe’s resources; we need to reverse it.

Funny, because the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ are the ones you’ll hear all over the environmental conversation. But as this article (shit! It’a from 2013) says, they’ve been stretched to meaninglessness. And what has a commitment to sustainability got us? Are we in a good place, heading back towards a beautiful planet with enough resources for everyone, surrounded by a consistent, workable climate?

Nope.

As Jaques Peretti explains in this fascinating episode of Russell Brand’s Under The Skin Podcast, scientists have worked out that we may only have 60 harvests left:

That’s because soil needs time to regenerate its nutrients, but we just aren’t giving it the chance to do that. Instead we’re growing far more food than we need (and throwing away 1.3 billion tonnes of it, a third of which never even reaches our tables. Find out all about that here).

So we can’t just sustain. We must regenerate.

And that’s not just an environmental message. It’s something that applies to all sorts of areas of life: don’t just work; make sure you’re giving back some education or mentoring for the next generation. Don’t just call a friend to see how they are; ask how you can help or support them in whatever they’re trying to do. Don’t keep your books on a dusty shelf; spread them around to people who can learn from them.

The only way to go forwards is to go backwards.

Start here.