John Donne once said that ‘No man is an island’.
However, Nietzsche came back with: ‘The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.’
Which brings us to advertising.
How are the ambitions of the individual reconciled with the needs of the group?
Fortunately, they often run together; where one succeeds, so does the other. But not always.
For the average creative, the most important thing to their salary (and therefore the size of their home, coolness of their trainers, standard of their son’s prep school, lack of arguments with their spouse etc.) is winning awards. If a copywriter wins three Gold Lions on a piece of work whose incendiary cutting edge loses the agency the account, he has done very well for himself. The agency has suffered, people might have been fired because of him, but he will be in a better position for a lucrative move elsewhere. However, if he knuckles down and produces something 7/10 that doesn’t scare the horses, then the agency keep the account, but he will personally gain nothing.
What a dilemma, eh?
Equally, if an account guy is looking to make his next move to step up to board level at another agency, he might think it’s a good idea to persuade his client to move to his prospective agency. He will have screwed his current team, but made a substantial gain for himself. He could have just kept the status quo as it was with conscientious maintenance of his agency’s client relationship, but like the copywriter above, he will have gained nothing compared to his other possible course of action.
Those are extreme examples, but I know of many smaller choices that are made daily in agencies across the world that demonstrate the same principles, but in a less significant way. For example, have you ever, as a creative, recorded your own version of a voiceover during a session that the client has paid for? Well, in that case, you wasted the client’s money to further your own career. Have you ever fibbed about changing an edit or a grade? What about moving a logo up a few point sizes for a presentation, then back down again after sign-off? Or avoiding presenting a layout that the client would love because it might harm your chances at Creative Circle?
You can also find situations where a strong play for the individual can mean a greater, unexpected benefit for the team. When Tom and Walt were making Guinness Surfer, a senior account man called them in to his office. The post had yet to be completed and it was going to cost another £250,000 to put the horses on the waves. The film already looked stunning, so the client and the account man decided between themselves that the horses were an unnecessary indulgence, so could T&W please leave the film as it was, ta very much? Well, no, they couldn’t. They said they’d resign if the horses were not added. The account man’s face went greeny-white (Tom and Walt were, deservedly, ginormous superstars of the creative firmament) and the budget for the horses was miraculously reinstated. Surfer was voted the best ad of all time, the client was quite pleased about this and the agency still retains the account now, partly based on the excellence of that commercial.
Everyone was a winner:
In an ideal world, that’s what it would be like in every situation in every agency. Unfortunately, it’s just not the case, so bear that in mind next time your collective of individuals makes like a dictionary and puts ‘I’ before ‘we’.