"Principles endure, formulas don’t. You must get attention to your ad. This is a principle that will always be true.
HOW you get attention is a subtle ever-changing thing. What is attractive one day may be dull the next."
This quote is over 40 years old – maybe even approaching 50. It was made in an age when digital campaigns, social media, the Internet and more weren’t even a glint in some ruffian’s eye. And, as Dave Trott wrote in his blog today (“Principles endure, Formulas don’t”), there’s a whole generation of people in the industry who never got to read or hear Bill Bernbach quotes. Which is a shame, because so many of them hold true and so much of what he said is simple, straightforward, good thinking. It’s part of why Doyle Dane Bernbach was such a revolutionary agency. You might even be forgiven for thinking that Don Draper is a bit of a Bernbach representation in Mad Men.
Anyway, the point is: this is good advice. And what follows is slightly “thinking out loud” but it strikes me that we’re ignoring this simple, sage advice. I look around at the campaigns out there and see more than just “house style” in some of them. I look at stuff I’ve worked on in the past and know that we re-applied some of the structural thinking to another campaign. And I look at some of the campaigns out there and wonder, “why bother when you’re doing something that’s clearly a tired old formula?” I think the world of digital has given us a new set of traps to fall into, too – because the technology and the idea are harder to separate, so the formula is there but hidden in the media deployment.
I think we’re becoming more formulaic as an industry.
Easily said, but the opposite is hard to do – doing great work is difficult and I don’t deny that everyone (almost everyone) is trying for great work all the time. Producing something new is a labour of love. And it’s easy to slip along the way. Time pressures, workflow, production needs, and more, all stand in your way. A lot of times, the formula is hard to differentiate from process. When is it formula and when is it gold standard deployment? When is it good media choices rather than ‘the same old plan’?
Well, I think we kinda know. It’s formulaic when it’s the same idea re-attached and re-envisioned for another client. It’s formulaic when your media plan looks the same every time. It’s formulaic when the number of people interested falls on every campaign you deploy.
So fight it. Don’t accept the formula, in any variation or form… ask yourself:
Are you using the “TV script to define the idea” then briefing digital and other teams from there?
Are you asking “how do we use Facebook?” rather than “where does this idea come to life?”
Have you promised to repeat the success of your best campaign, only to repeat the format instead?
Are you producing ideas that are true to brands or ideas that you re-deploy for different brands?
In the end, it’s the same old fight for great work, new ideas, or real insight. The quest to do something great doesn’t change, but don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that re-applying your previous successes is genuine greatness.
What do you think? A cause for concern? Or overly-harsh?
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