30 Under 30: Adam Ferrier – “Ideas That Don’t Get Attention Are A Waste Of Time”

30 Under 30: Adam Ferrier – “Ideas That Don’t Get Attention Are A Waste Of Time”
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We’re slowly closing in on the 30 Under 30 Awards, presented by Vevo, B&T’s annual showcase of the industry’s young blood and new wave of talent — the ones to watch for the future.

In the lead-up to the event, we’re chatting with some of advertising’s most creative voices, and success stories, people who began their journeys close to where you are standing now.

There are few creative thinkers in Australian advertising as well known as Adam Ferrier, the consumer psychologist and founder of Thinkerbell, co-founder of s p a c e, a Gruen panellist, and a frequent columnist for B&T magazine.

In a recent Q+A with us, Ferrier revealed why advertising needs a resurgence of “the amazing artists and mercurial, abstract thinkers to help develop ideas with awe, charm and wonder”.

The ad man also divulges which ads have made him envious—and why—along with the industry’s biggest stinker. There’s all that and more in this thought-provoking piece.

B&T: Adam, you famously said your advice to young people is to start with the idea that will get them sacked and work backwards from there. Do you still subscribe to this theory?

AF: Yes. Ideas need to push boundaries and get a reaction. If they don’t get attention, they are a waste of money. Perhaps the best place to start is to think of ideas that’ll get you fired and work back from there.

Further, getting fired means exploring themes that are (for good reason) regulated or controlled by society and laws. Just dabbling in the dark side of humanity and what we are capable of is always interesting.

‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, said someone much smarter than me a long time ago.

[Editor’s note: That certain someone was Socrates.]

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’d give him loads of advice, but for now I’d limit it to five things.

  1. Learning to fit in is an under-rated skill. Most people need to fit in before they can stand out. I wish I’d known this — especially at school. Fitting-in is a massively underrated skill, it makes life much easier.
  2. Keep your expectations low. It’s amazing how often good stuff has come to me when I didn’t covet it, and conversely its equally amazing how a few things I was sure would happen didn’t. Maintaining low expectations is a wonderful way to stay happy and satisfied.
  3. Develop deep interests outside of what you do. They will be a well of inspiration you can constantly draw on. The weirder the better.
  4. Learn to play the drums or guitar, and
  5. … another language.

What were your biggest mistakes and what would you do differently?

As my wife Anna says, the mistakes I’ve made have led me to where I am and professionally. I am really happy being a part of Thinkerbell (with DOA and s p a c e) also doing our thing.

But I guess if I were to make decisions again, I’d be more discerning in who I chose to work with, and say ‘yes’ to opportunity cautiously.

Who do you hate the most in the industry?

Over the course of my time in the industry there have been very few people I genuinely dislike. But I don’t know if this is a good thing. I love a bit of tension and battles of divergent thinking and I sometimes worry there are not enough people to fire others up.

I like people who take a stand and show a bit of passion. I also sometimes hate it when people do something really, really good. It makes me envious—but I guess in a good way. The first time I can remember feeling that was then I saw the ‘Magic Salad Plate’ ads years ago.

What ad was the all-time most damaging for the industry? What was the best?

The most damaging ad? I think ‘Peggy‘ was peak faux-innovation and summited a dangerous genre in advertising where we are pretending to innovate—or even worse save the world when it’s evidently complete bullshit (for other work like this, Google ‘FMCG products trying to create world peace with trite award winning ideas’).

It was a peg that helped you tell the weather and helped you decide when the clothes were dry (apparently it worked better than opening a window or feeling the clothes respectively). It was absurd and should have been treated like the parody it presented as. Unfortunately scam innovations make it much harder for brands that have genuine innovations and trying to make them happen.

The best ad in our time is the Bunnings TVCs coupled with the sausage sizzle and catalogue.  Marketing genius.

If you weren’t working in our industry, where would you be?

I’d still be in forensic psychology. I keep telling myself I’ll get back into it one day. I loved working with people who had done really harmful things, and working with them to help them understand their own behaviours and motivations. It’s endlessly interesting. More resources are desperately needed to help broken men as they have a habit of taking other people down with them.

Failing that I’d take my son out of school and sit with him for eight hours a day and train to be a team on the next series of Lego Masters.

We all know how much advertising has changed since you entered it in 1998. What particularly blows your mind?

Banksy once said: “The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.” I love this quote and on a cynical day I think he was talking about advertising 20 years go.

We need the amazing artists and mercurial, abstract thinkers to help develop ideas with awe, charm and wonder. I wonder if that used to happen more regularly before?

You’re one of the biggest names in advertising today — why is that?

Three reasons.

  1. Wil Leach, lovely guy who has a great consultancy, said to me once: “Flying under the radar is not a good business strategy”. It’s really stuck with me for both my business, but for me as an individual too. It’s fun having a bit of a profile, and also it’s important to maintain ‘mental availability’ in the minds of others if you want opportunities to happen
  2. Be interested in how it all works. I have a lot of thoughts, and love to share them to get feedback and understand things a little more. The more stuff I share, whether it be a book, a creative idea, or a think piece, the more I learn
  3. Distinctive assets get you a long way — black hair, always wearing black, shaggy unkempt look. In short I’m pretty easy to spot.

What’s a hidden talent of yours?

I’m pretty vocal about any skerrick of talent that I have so trust me, there are no hidden ones. A talent I’m proud of is I’m a deceptively good listener. People wouldn’t think so (and often tell me I’m not!) but I am sure I am!

Do it: Back yourself and enter B&T’s 30 Under 30 Awards! You can submit your entry here.

The 30 Under 30 Awards will be held at The Factory Theatre, Sydney on Thursday, 15 April.

If you’d like more information on the event, head to this website.

Other key information

  • Entries close Monday, 22 February 2021
  • Late entries close Monday, 1 March 2021
  • People’s Choice Poll launches Wednesday, 3 March 2021
  • Judging period: Wednesday, 3 March to Friday, 19 March 2021
  • Shortlist announced Wednesday, 24 March 2021
  • Early bird tickets close at 11.59pm Wednesday, 2 April 2021
  • Full price tickets on sale at 12am Thursday, 3rd April 2021 (until sold out)
  • People’s Choice Poll closes Friday, 26 March 2021.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors for making this event possible.

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30 under 30 2021 Adam Ferrier

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