Rant: the Advertising industry

I recently watched the Axe Harlem shake ad, eish, it inspired the following rant.

From ‘single ladies’ (Vodacom), to Ayoba (MTN). Can brands not transcend mimicry!?! Its alright to derive inspiration from a cultural phenomenon, but to just copy it? Never forget that brands and advertising have immense cultural impact, and as an intrusive part of everyone’s lives we should be responsible enough as communicators to advance culture and consciousness. Are we still making brands that follow cool kids around and do whatever they do?

I have in my short life met many incredibly creative people in and outside agencies, and I wonder why we still see such intellectually un-stimulating dribble? Does this approach even deliver sales results? Perhaps the problem lies in agency structures, and agencies’ internal ability to discover the great ideas? Studies have found that organisations often have latent great ideas that the organisation does not exploit, due to hierarchy, job roles, relevant internal networks, or strategic constraints. Maybe we should take a closer look at these constraints and try to minimise their impact on the production of great work?

It’s also possible that the exploitation (see Ad Talent salary guidelines) of creative people that undervalues them as a resource. The low compensation may result in low employee satisfaction, or creative people believing the agencies do not deserve their best ideas (many creatives also freelance giving the best of themselves up to make more money, or for better creative opportunities). Maybe advertising bodies and standards authorities need to put more thought into how the standards pay affects the quality of output?

Maybe it is the standard of advertising education? Putting together great sales driven communication is as complex as any other field, so it makes no sense that the advertising schools are so easy to get into and graduate from (have you seen the AAA website?? and they teach advertising). Don’t get me wrong, many great products came from the advertising schools in the country, but honestly they would have been great either way. One of my greatest teachers came from an advertising school, even he seemed uninspired by the world he found himself in. To be frankly honest, some of the graduates are also below par. MOOC’s (massive open online courses) may be a better solution and may provide diverse access to quality knowledge. I still believe the campus experience does a lot for ones growth, and personally, it was from having robust debates with people from different studies and viewpoints. Advertising campuses often find themselves so far removed that the environment is homogenous in outlook. Without the random excursion, one becomes very concerned with peer recognition and thus has a higher propensity to use problem solving techniques that result in this e.g.  winning a Loerie vs. solving client’s problems. Awards are important, don’t get me wrong.

Perhaps it is the outdated communication models that still preside with the management teams in agencies and with clients? More capital needs to be injected into the R&D of better models and processes. As a strategist I had countless debates about what works and how to make it better. My youth was often my biggest disadvantage, constantly told I didn’t know how things worked (which I feel was was advantageous, learning an old dusty way of doing things may be difficult to unlearn). I would point to people my age turning the world on its head, outliers. I would think to myself, I am an outlier, how many other young outliers are being told the same thing? How do we expect solutions with this attitude? What also surprises me is how quickly clients/managers in suites will tell you how this design does not work, or that copy is wrong, etc., while creative people are told they cannot comment on business as they don’t understand it? I smell hypocrisy. More importantly I see a missed opportunity to collaborate on a meaningful level, letting the best ideas win and not the “best” people. In fact when you look at Kirton’s innovation styles see below, you see that you will need different types of thinking at different points in the solution process. My question, is the industry doing enough strategically to grow itself and the business’ they have as clients?

Radical Innovators Adaptive Innovators
Less disciplined Prefer precision
Manipulate problems Resolve problems
Work in short bursts Work steadily
Take control Act as authority
Challenge rules Work within rules
Seek radical change Seek implementation

I feel the traditional big agencies are well on their way to disruption, (see The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen) by smaller more agile, results driven market entrants. Remember the music industry? Blockbuster videos? Reader’s Digest?

One of the things I always loved about advertising is that it was an industry that championed the power of creativity in a world of cold logic. It gave the person who would come up with thousands of brilliant ideas, that would break rules, change norms, and shift perspective, a home and a sense of economic value. It is desperately important that the industry reforms in a number of ways.

I would expect that advertising agencies should have a wealth of data to share on creativity, from process, to nurturing to impact. If our country is ever to shift from a re-engineering to an innovation economy, this is the information we need. We need the creative businesses of this country to step up and do their part in transforming our country, not just make a feel good ads about it, ’cause with PVR, people may just fast forward, skip and flick past  it and get back to what they actually want to see.

By Neo Matsau – CEO, Bamboo


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