Apparently we’re all storytellers, and that’s a tougher job than many people think.

Apparently we’re all storytellers, and that’s a tougher job than many people think.

I just read an excellent article that suggested everything is fiction:

“And I mean that—everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.”

So we all go through the same trials and tribulations as any professional writer, but as it’s a kind of second nature we’re generally unaware that we’re doing it. Perhaps it’s worth having a look at a few of the limitations a writer experiences that also find their way into all our abilities to tell stories:

When most of us tell stories it’s often spontaneous. We don’t rehearse them or write several drafts before giving them to people. So what does that do? It means we have to find the best word/sentence/image/analogy our brains are able to come up with at that time. Does this lend itself to accuracy or the kind of evocation that reflects the essence of the story? Probably not, but once you are called upon to tell the story you suddenly have the writer’s worst nightmare…the deadline. This is especially important when you are called upon to tell a story that you don’t want to tell; the kind of situation that forces you, with very little notice, to make up a lie. That’s an even more demanding form of fiction that leaves you researching and creating simultaneously, as well as attempting a delivery that does not betray your mendacity. Thank god we get loads of practice at it as kids.

Tonality is a huge factor: do you convey a story in a duller way because that’s how it really was, or do you embellish it to make one person sound snickier/braver/louder/funnier/ruder? Is the important thing the story or the truth? I once had a colleague who used to tell stories with a great deal of drama, particularly when he was conveying the way another person spoke. This left me with the impression that this was an interesting person who often found himself in all manner of crazy situations, where the people around him reacted as if every little thing was of major significance. Then I started working more closely with him, leaving me able to compare the ‘real’ situation with his telling thereof. You may be unsurprised to discover that there was quite a large discrepancy between the two that often left us in quite different circumstances. But let’s be honest: we’ve all ‘massaged’ what really happened so that we might influence an outcome or appear in a more positive light. The real question is: how can we possibly know when that’s happening to us? All fiction writers are limited in their ability to convey tone, leaving the words on a page as an approximation of what is in their heads.

The audience has a significant effect. Few people speak to their boss in the same way they speak to their kids. Instead we pare and shape the facts and tone until they work in the way we think we intend. How does that affect the truth? Ask a newspaper or CNN. Every fiction writer has an intended outcome, which can only work if they bear in mind the way the words will land. If you want to scare someone or inspire them you will use the same story in different ways, again, without even thinking how you’re doing it.

Sometimes you don’t have the vocabulary because it doesn’t exist (I’ve written before about the way we use the word ’emotional’ to mean something we don’t really have a word for. And although I can’t find the link, I’ve also mentioned how strange it is that we have a word for what bukkake is, but not for that thing you do when you put your hands out, palms up, to protest your innocence). We also misuse words (eg: ‘literally’; ‘infer’) until they lose their original meaning and we collectively concede that we’re just going to use the new meaning, leaving us with no word for the old meaning. Or we use words that have a million different, often subjective, meanings (‘eg: ‘wrong’; ‘good’, ‘cool’) as if they have just one, and we all know what it is.

I mention the above because people seem to be increasingly inclined to describe advertising creatives as ‘storytellers’ without really considering what that means. If a car has a slightly boring story about the efficiency of its airbags we’re generally inclined to embellish that story in order that we might elicit a desired outcome (eg: people buying the car). But like all human beings we’re usually inclined to bend things in our favour, even if that does unspeakable things to the truth.

So sure: be a storyteller, but be aware of all the little tricks you’re employing to tell that story, and be aware of what that means.



When the party was nice, the party was bumpin’ [Hey, Yippie, Yi, Yo]. And everybody havin’ a ball [Hah, ho, Yippie Yi Yo]. I tell the fellas, start the weekend.

Mechanics pay homage to renaissance art (thanks, D).

Just so you have it to hand, the best moment in all of GoT:

Amusing truths.

Terrible taxidermy (thanks, R).

Great Olympic commentary (thanks, S):

Robert Plant’s testimony in the Stairway to Heaven trial (thanks, T).

The hidden stuff in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Radiohead video (thanks, J):

Keep on walking (thanks, K):



Value added everything

When I buy a T-shirt I can’t help thinking about what makes one worth more than another, and by how much. Once you get past the quality of the material everything simply becomes subjective. Is a T-shirt with three wolves howling at the moon better than a T-shirt with a paisley pocket, or an ironic picture of Burt Reynolds? If you say so, and if you’re willing to pay for it. But you can spend $10 on a T-shirt or you can spend $550; both will do the basic job of a T-shirt (warmth, covering nudity) as well as each other. After that you’re going to pay for the extent to which you like the design and/or the label.

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One of these is 'worth' $516, the other $20.99.

I remember when people used to talk about BMWs, saying, ‘you’re really just paying for the badge’. But what is that badge worth, and why? Since VW started making Skodas they have become essentially the same car, but some people wouldn’t be seen dead in one and yet would love to drive the other. That’s the power of the badge and it comes from many years of VW marketing, advertising, customer satisfaction, word of mouth, driver experience and hundreds of other tiny little events that have nudged our collective opinion in the direction of good/cool/reliable. The same happened in the other direction with Skoda: every joke you were told in the playground, every shitty-looking one you saw on the road, every newspaper article you read in the old days about how crap they were informed your judgement that the cars were poor and only an idiot would be seen driving one. (Of course, the excellent Fallon advertising of the early 2000s helped to mitigate this effect, but a degree of the original impression continues to linger.)

So that’s the branding argument, but it can be extended into other areas. For example, a book is a collection of pieces of paper that increases in value when words are added. And yet for some people that value fails to materialise. After all, if you don’t want to read a John Patterson book or the latest A.S. Byatt those words are rendered worthless. Someone has made an attempt to add value, but again, that value is entirely subjective and entirely fabricated by human influence.

When you look around at the things in your life you can see this effect everywhere: wine is just fermented grape juice. Is a 1982 Lafite worth more than a 2015 Gallo Zinfandel? Depends on who you ask. Most people don’t know or care, but some have had their opinions shifted sufficiently to believe one is worth thousands of pounds more than the other. What about art? Some people consider this to be a load of crap, fit only for tea towels and postcards:

Vettriano,_Singing_Butler

But then someone paid £744,800 for it after it had sold for £1800 twelve years earlier. Did the picture change? Did it get better? No. Some human beings said and wrote some stuff about it and some smears of pain on a canvas increased in value by 3/4 of a million quid.

That’s essentially what we do in advertising. Some products are obviously more expensive to produce, but are they ‘better’? Are they worth more? Who knows? But what we tend to do is become a very significant part of the process that tries to make some things worth more than other similar things.

So that’s all well and good, but it does make me wonder where all this invisible, somewhat bullshitty, fabricated value ends up, and what the consequences are.

UPDATE: here’s a little book review from The Economist on the same subject.



The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the minnow would be lost, the minnow would be the weekend.

Charming graffiti (thanks, C).

Milton Glaser rates all the Olympic logos (thanks, A).

People take drugs and try to make Ikea furniture. It’s Hikea! (Thanks, P):

Malcolm Tucker quotes as Winnie The Pooh comics.

100 great movie lines in 200 seconds:

Incredible balloon animals (thanks, A).

Hey Riggs!:



Kevin the teenager

You might have heard of the recent kerfuffle surrounding Kevin Roberts, the now-former Saatchi and Saatchi Chairman and ‘head coach’.

sidsexist

Kevin, a couple of weeks ago.

He said, “Edward de Bono once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing — the fucking debate is all over. This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we’ve never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity … this will be reflected in the way the Groupe is.”

I have to say that I love the lack of self-awareness. Edward de Bono once told Kev there’s no point being brilliant at the wrong thing, so he went ahead and showed his brilliance at sexism, messing up interviews and alienating his workforce. Not sure those were the right things.

Anyway, here’s his apology (Kev’s bits in bold):

“Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast” is a leadership maxim I advocate.

Along with ‘get yer tits out for the lads’, I assume. Not sure why we should give a toss about the leadership maxims Kev advocates.

When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast.

Yep. Those parts of the interview definitely passed most of us by.

My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offense, and for this I am sorry.

I fucking hate non-apologies disguised as apologies. Apparently it was his ‘miscommunication’ that caused ‘upset and offense’, not his sexism, arrogance or pathetic, outdated attitudes towards women. So he made a little error? He meant to support women/diversity etc. and is so crashingly thick that he ended up expressing opinions that were the opposite of the ones he truly held? Not a ringing self-endorsement for the chairman of a massive global corporation. And maybe he’s just sorry for the ‘upset and offense’ he caused. That’s the real hallmark of the non-apology. He’s not sorry for his opinions, he’s sorry that some of us were upset about them. You see, it’s kind of our fault. Especially the ladies, who are probably still dancing around Kevin’s imagination in some weird little 1980s cocktail party where they all want to listen to his bons mots before giving him a most lavish and grateful humping.

I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years.

I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients.

Again, he’s sorry for the ‘furor’, not the words or the sentiments they expressed. And originally he only said sorry to the companies (what did he do? Walk up to the headquarters and bellow an apology into the bricks and mortar? Maybe he cried over some headed notepaper), but he’s now graciously extended this to ‘colleagues, staff and clients’. The rest of us can apparently go and whistle, but then the furor was kind of our fault, so why would he apologise to us for something we did?

So that we can all move forward, I am bringing forward my May 1, 2017, retirement from the company, and will leave the Groupe on September 1, 2016.

He’s doing that so ‘we’ (not sure who the ‘we’ refers to) can move forward. Unlike his views, which are stuck in 1957. So he wasn’t fired, he didn’t resign, he just brought his retirement forward by a few months. What a sacrifice. I wonder if he’ll be declining his inevitable financial compensation. Pardon me if I doubt it.

There is a lot of learning to reflect on, and within the thousands of tweets, comments and articles there are many powerful and passionate contributions on the changing nature of the workplace, the work we do, what success really looks like, and what companies must do to provide women and men the optimal frameworks in which to flourish.

I believe that new thinking, frameworks and measures are needed to make more rapid progress on diversity in all its forms, in all professions and occupations. Hopefully, the focus on this serious and complex issue will gather momentum.

He can say that again, with much of the new thinking hopefully occurring between his ears.

So thanks for that, Kev. Despite the revelation that there used to be a bit of a twat at the top of one of advertising’s largest companies, I’m glad the response to this gaffe has led to a greater focus on the diversity issue (including a priceless offer from Cindy Gallop to help Saatchis learn about gender diversity for the same salary Kev was on). Every cloud…



Just close your eyes and then remember the thoughts you’ve locked away. When tomorrow comes you’ll wish You had the weekend.

Blow your mind (further explanation):

All about the great Barry Lyndon.

Fucking massive wave pool crammed with people in China (thanks, C):

Blatant cocaine paraphernalia ads of the 1970s (thanks, T).

Sorkinisms Supercut:

Taxi Driver is 40.

Two brilliant moments in editing:

Shazam for fonts (thanks, R).

Crazy/interesting historical photos.

And let’s take another look at TrumpDonald.org (thanks, C).

And here’s Calvin and Hobbes x Trump (thanks, G).



The day I nearly did a sick in my mouth because I didn’t quite disagree with Donald Trump and Piers Morgan.

So I was watching this the other day…

Not what I’d normally sit through, but I was in the gym and thought It’d be interesting to see some rancid guff straight from the horse’s mouth instead of second hand via some apoplectic Tweets and Facebook posts. Is he really that batty? Does he really lie that consistently? If so, how does he get away with it?

Dear reader, I have to admit that I was… not taken in as such, but… he didn’t really seem as psychotic as I’d been led to believe. Sure, I’d seen him do his thing before (I recall with vivid accuracy the moment I heard him describe Mexicans as rapists. I was in a hotel room in Florence brushing my teeth. I popped my head out of the bathroom and asked my wife if he really said the word ‘rapists’ in his inaugural press conference as a possible candidate for the presidency of the United States. The answer was ‘I think so’.) but most of my experiences had been of the soundbites and pronouncements deemed worthy of derision by political pundits later that day.

Yes, it’s long, but give some of it a watch. He slips and slides and twists and turns and nobody lays a glove on him. He takes many questions from many reporters and deals with them all with the same kind of unflustered arrogance. Others in his position would surely be concerned that someone would call them on former lies and inconsistencies, but not DJT: bring ’em on! More! MORE! I will chew them up and spit them right back in your face, losers!

The really weird moment came when he ‘called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails’. You’ll notice I added a couple of inverted commas to that sentence. That’s because I didn’t think he did anything of the sort. Click on the link and you can check out exactly what he said and how he said it. I thought he was kidding. There had been some recent speculation that Russians (with some involvement from Wikileaks) had hacked the Democratic Party’s emails, and that perhaps Trump was involved. So as a sly rejoinder to to that suggestion he called on the same Russians to find these 33,000 emails that Hillary Clinton had (somewhat suspiciously) deleted during an investigation into which servers she used for professional and personal messages.

But at the end of the press conference the pundits went crazy: ‘Did Trump just incite espionage from a hostile nation?’ ‘This is TREASON!’ ‘He loves Russia and hates America’ etc. (just google ‘russia trump hillary emails’). Donald has since ‘claimed‘ (not my word) that he was being sarcastic. That’s what I thought.

However, it wasn’t just me. Good God, I suddenly found myself on the side of professional cunt, Piers Morgan:

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So it made me wonder: did I misinterpret? Did the press and pundits wilfully ‘misinterpret’ in order to fill newspapers and airtime? Does the current Trump furore mean that everything he says is interpreted through the lens of his possible insanity or malignant aggression?

It’s really just a reminder that practically everything is open to interpretation, in which case you’d better be careful what you say; unless you’re Donald Trump, because he can say whatever he wants then watch as every reaction plays into his allegedly tiny hands.



Bout a mile off old mill road In that spot nobody knows, park the truck and we take off running. Hurry up, girl I hear the weekend.

Enjoy this one-take funny/sad short (thanks, K):

How to clean up graffiti.

Did Wes Anderson design North Korea? (Thanks, J.)

Bruce Lee Jnr:

This is quite fun:

Dude dancing in car (thanks, T):

Headfucking paradoxes (thanks, K).

Great shots of English cities in the 70s (thanks, T).

An oral history of Stand By Me.



Creative Dreams vs prosaic budgets

The budget for your creative endeavour is always an interesting chicken-and-egg situation: do you write something in the knowledge it probably can’t be filmed, then hope, or do you compromise your idea to ensure it fits within the available budget? Oh, and in most situations it’s pretty much impossible to know exactly what the budget is or what it will make available. Go!

Throughout my advertising career I’ve either been given a sketchy neighbourhood idea of the budget or no idea at all, and in some ways that’s how it should be: I don’t know what a cherry picker costs vs a helicopter; nor do I know in advance the price of that that critical music track. My job involved coming up with the best possible idea then working with the production department to make it happen in the best way possible.

But if I come up with, say, an idea about waves made of white horses for my Guinness brief, should I be aware that such a thing would be impossible to shoot without £1m, or should I just think up what’s best and go from there? If the client then turns round and says I’ve got £150k, what am I supposed to do? The two options would be either to trash the idea or to work out how to make it for less (animation, for example). But even then, what would I know about the limits of those two options? The Guinness example is a good one because this question came up after the shoot. The waves had been shot and looked so majestic that the CEO of the agency agreed with the client that the extra £250k it would cost to add the horses was now unnecessary as they already had a spectacular ad on their hands for much less than expected. On hearing this the creatives said they’d resign if the horses were not added and the rest is advertising history. Was it worth spending the extra money? Clearly. Was that 100% obvious to everyone before the money was spent? Clearly not. So the point at which creative vision hits financial reality is a big grey area where one side needs to quantify and value something which is impossible to quantify or value, and the other side has to take a leap of faith.

If a producer says I have another £100k, how can I know what that will buy me in terms of the overall quality of the execution? Should that be spent on a great track, or a so-so track and another week of post? This ad is an interesting example of how hard it is to make that decision:

It looks like a million dollars but actually cost much less because the director loved the ideas and wanted to make it work. So the buildings at the beginning are just painting on panes of glass that were shifted around. And they could only afford to film one crash, so they only had a single shot at getting it right (fortunately they did). It wasn’t cheap, but the compromises in budget were mitigated by an increase in creativity and a willingness on the part of the director to make it happen. This may be the point where the favours accrued on previous full-price jobs are called in to allow for more editing time or extra post. The ad makes the people involved look good so things are shifted around to make sure the finished article is not a let-down.

This issue occurred to me because of a conversation I’d heard about how it applies to the digital world. How much does something cost when it’s ‘only’ going to run online? Usually a production budget is worked out to be around 10% of the media spend, so when that media spend is relatively small (online vs proper TV) that proportion becomes unworkable. After all, a motion picture ad is a motion picture ad, whether it’s viewed on a TV, a computer or a phone. And what about the other ideas that live in less conventional media? How much is a Snapchat Story? What about an Alternate Reality Game? A new product that syncs with the car you’re selling? A giant event that takes over a city square? An installation on the side of a skyscraper? An app that depends on a Michael Jackson song? No idea. Does that mean you shouldn’t think of those things? Obviously not; they seem to get made regularly enough. But having some idea of what a budget can afford will presumably be what stops you wasting time planning a five minute underwater shoot helmed by James Cameron when your client is the local caff.

The question is, where do you draw the line? A pound of gumption or creativity can be worth thousands of pounds sterling, but there has to come a point where you discover that your great idea that needs the involvement of Jennifer Lawrence has zero chance of involving Jennifer Lawrence.

Experience helps you understand when you’re getting in over your head, but putting the shackles on your brilliant idea before it’s had a chance to live is never going to result in greatness.



John Lewis has a lot to answer for

For several years now the ad industry has expressed its jealousy of the John Lewis campaign. initially it simply showered it with awards, then it started to copy it until it was impossible to move for 60-second portions of sentimentality, soundtracked by some soppy git singing an acoustic version of a song you liked until you saw the ad.

The interesting thing about this is the extent which it showed how hard it is to do those things well. If you don’t have a shit-hot creative department and Dougal Wilson to hand it can be very hard for your JL knock-off to rise above 7/10.

However, I kind of hoped we were out the other side of this ‘genre’. Then I saw this:

It’s so John Lewis it might as well be for John Lewis. Little kid? Check. Sentimental expensive song? Check. 60 seconds+? Check. No dialogue? Check.

Alas, it copies the formula but misses everything that makes a JL ad good:

First off, there’s no story. It’s just a little girl walking through an airport. Where is she going? Where is the story going? She’s getting on a plane (yawn) and the story is going nowhere.

Next, the track. I love David Bowie enormously. I got married to Kooks and I even bought the bloody Tin Machine album, but this is not his best track. It’s boring and limp, kind of like the ad.

There are literally no charming or insightful touches (and I include the anvil-heavy swimming-goggles-as-flying-goggles gagette). Check the shot where two people kiss (50″): no emotion, nothing to engage with, nothing for us to take away. She looks in a shop window, she sprays some perfume, she walks about a bit seeing people of no consequence… I’ve watched it a few times just to check I haven’t missed the hidden meaning behind any of this, but I’m pretty sure that’s it: we’re supposed to share in her wide-eyed amazement at visiting an airport for the first time, but like all visits to airports, nothing much happens.

And a owl? A owl?