An advertising manifesto (not like those shitty ones that are basically three quarters of all ads these days): part 2

So here we are at the foothills of your journey to change the advertising industry and the world.

One thing to get out of the way: who the hell am I to tell you how to do this? I’m not Sir Hegs, Lee Clow or David Abbott. Why should you bother to read my words?

Well, the honest answer is that there’s no particular reason. Feel free to stop now and have another go at The Alchemist or Man’s Search For Meaning.

The unfortunate reality is that there’s only been one creative revolution in the ad industry, and it wasn’t even started by one of the superstars of the time (and there’s a fair amount of evidence to say that the BIG CHANGE didn’t happen as a result of Mr. Bernbach sending an all-knowing thunderbolt of brilliance through the industry. He just collected some very talented people and took 8+ years to do it). So if there’s going to be a second one, my suggestions might be as valid as anyone else’s. If anyone reading this wants to add their own thoughts, they’d be very welcome, then people can decide for themselves which advice to take, and which to ignore.

And these words of ‘wisdom’ are not going to be of the specific genius variety. Bill enabled people like Helmut Krone and Julian Keonig to do their best work and get it out, but he could never have written a manual that said ‘this kind of layout/headline/strategy is good, and this kind is bad’. That stuff comes later when you’re looking at the ads. What we need now are some of the higher-level principles, plus a few suggestions based on what seems to have worked or failed in the past.

Success might look like one of you starting an agency that has transformed the industry by 2030; it might look like a totally different kind of company that creates solutions to a range of problems, from military to old age; it might look like someone cracking the communication code for the Climate Crisis and literally saving the human race.

The point is that you can really only see a revolution in reverse. If you take it on, the process will have so many off-ramps and spaghetti junctions that there’s no chance of it looking exactly as you envisaged at the start. Viruses can pop in; new people can be elected president or prime minister; a volcanic eruption can bring a halt to months of flights.

Did Bill see VW Lemon when he started? Impossible. Would Levy’s Bread have seemed too crazy for the 1950s? Probably. Did the idea of putting the art director together with the copywriter come to him in 1945, 1948, 1952 or later? Who knows? What I’m saying is that it wasn’t one well-thought-out plan that was perfectly executed day by day from a Google calendar that he filled in at the beginning of the process. It changed with the times.

I’m taking far too long to say that the intention of this blog post is to inspire more than zero of you to take something on that will improve your life, and perhaps the lives of millions of others. It won’t happen in a straight line, and you might go bankrupt on the first nine tries, but revolutions are messy things. Be prepared for that.

But the great thing is that chaotic times are perfect for bringing something new into the world. How many headlines have you read that assert ‘COVID-19 is going to change ________ forever’? People of all stripes are leaning into the maxim, ‘Never let a good disaster go to waste’. That means lots of arseholes are beavering away to fill the gap left by the virus with exploitation, profiteering and power. But that also means you can take the same opportunity and turn it into something that helps you and other people.

It’s not as if you’ll be trying to persuade anyone of something that they disagree with: literally every sentient being on Planet Earth thinks that 99%+ of all the ads they see are dreadful. Most people have suffered a decade or more of post-crash austerity or wage freezes. A huge number have lost their job in the past eight weeks.

You can take all that frustration, creativity and nothing-to-lose-ification and recruit it for your non-evil scheme.

Last week I saw some people in the UK had set up an ad agency called ‘Not Fur’ Long’ to pair furloughed agency staff with companies that could use free top-level marketing help. Now, I have a few reservations about the ‘free’ bit, which I’ll get to in Part 3 or maybe 4, but that’s the kind of shit I’m talking about.

Many people have not much to do right now. They want to keep busy, they want opportunities to show what they can do. They want money (OK, that might be a tricky one, but it should be one of your goals). If you give them something good to get behind, they will get behind it. If you idea is crap, or you’re not much good at persuading people to do things, either have another go or perhaps consider that advertising might not be the job for you.

It’s undeniable that the iron is hot. The sun is shining over the hay-making fields. The diem is very carpe-able.

Now, on to part 3…