All Over Creation

At the recent Adweek Creative seminar in San Francisco, I was reminded of my first Adweek seminar more than 15 years ago. It was there that I discovered something astounding. I found out that I worked in a service industry.

Over the next 15 years, I on a personal level and we as an agency dismissed the notion that we were part of the service industry and began to build a model and philosophy around the idea that we were in manufacturing instead—that our ultimate job was to produce great marketing products. Notice I say ultimate job, because there are elements of service to what we do. And I’m not the kind of revolutionary who wants to do away with account-service people. Many of the best ad people I know work in that department. And we all happen to believe that if it’s possible to succeed at the service yet fail to deliver the marketing that does the job, then we can’t be in the service industry. Great account people, media people, planners and production people deserve and take as much ownership of the marketing product as any person in the creative department does.

At this most recent seminar, somebody at Adweek decided I deserved an award for innovation—something I didn’t really see myself as an expert in. So, the first thing I did was look up the definition of innovation.

Def.: The act of introducing something new.

The word new exploded off the page. New is not something you want or expect from the service industry. What you want from your travel agent is to have him or her book the destination and the hotels, and that’s it. Don’t screw it up.

For years, we got by on this idea that we were in the service industry. It wasn’t important to create new and innovative products if you could simply force people to see them. So, if the products didn’t really matter, what did? Service. A good meeting. A good golf game. A nice dinner.

What is good work is debatable. The process for making something new and innovative is not. It is done by people who are smart, passionate and educated in their field. They work hard enough to find a path that is new and fresh. It is not done by giving up in the name of good service.

“Hey, it’s not going to work, but we did a good job because this is what our client wanted.” Bullshit. Our clients want brilliant marketing. And by surrendering our expertise over the years, we’ve created an advertising culture that doesn’t know how to operate when the end goal is to make something new.

Well, we’re in a bit of a pickle now. Because the product matters more than ever, and believe it or not, it will probably become even more important in the future.

This isn’t about creative. It’s about creating an industry culture capable of introducing new ideas.

So, if we aren’t in the service industry (because we can’t be if we expect to succeed), then which industry are we in?

The manufacturing industry?

Although pretending to be in manufacturing here at CP+B was a handy exercise for us to change our own behavior, that can’t really be it. Too much—in fact, pretty much all—of what we do is custom-made. We don’t have assembly lines. And we aren’t expected to do something new and different every few years; we are expected to do it every day. We create thousands of new products a year. We attempt to tap into, and perhaps even change, pop culture hundreds of times a year. And we create and stimulate and maintain dozens of brands a year.

Unless you’ve been living under a copy of Ogilvy on Advertising lately, you’ve noticed that every day what we do becomes more like the movie and television business. For some of you, the lines between what you do and the publishing business may have blurred. And some of you may find yourself harnessing industrial design and architecture to help build brands.

It’s no coincidence. These are our sister professions. All of us share a common industry. Advertising, movies, music, television, publishing, architecture, industrial design and graphic design. We are all part of the creation industry.

I believe we always have been. It’s just more obvious now. The market forces created by the rapid demise of mass media and traditional media models have made the real business we’re in clearer than ever. We’re in the business of leading our clients in creating new ideas and even mediums so compelling and entertaining that the consumer searches them out. These ideas can’t be familiar. These ideas won’t be comfortable. These ideas won’t be obvious.

Brilliance will be more powerful than ever, and yet everything from above average on down will become invisible. Produce ordinary ideas and nobody will even see them. Great clients will expect from great advertising agencies the same things we all expect from the other creation industries: Create something so funny, charming or useful that I don’t want to live without it.

The service model worked when anything we did created awareness. And so wine cellars, golf-club memberships and nights out on the town were what separated good agencies from mediocre ones. Good news: It won’t work anymore.