In this guest post, Ogilvy Sydney’s chief strategy officer, Ryan O’Connell (pictured below), argues what we probably all knew anyway – adland’s not always as trustworthy as it might pretend to be…
I’m currently doing my best to raise a six-year-old daughter, and it’s comfortably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Although I’m reasonably confident that if we revisit this topic in 10 years’ time, I’ll be proclaiming that raising a sixteen-year-old daughter is actually the hardest thing I’ve done.
Yet I digress. After just one paragraph. Typical bloody Strategist.
At present, one of the things I’m attempting to teach the little one is that lying is very bad, and that you should always tell the truth. Unfortunately, she’s a switched-on little bugger, and has already caught me telling porky pies on a number of occasions, rendering me a complete hypocrite with no credibility.
Worse still, she loves to grill me with hypothetical scenarios, then ask if lying is OK in that situation. They’re almost always positions in which you would, and should, definitely lie. So I either say yes, which teaches her that lying is, in fact, OK. Or I lie and say no.
Evidently, I’m clearly grooming her for a career in politics.
It’s been an eye-opener to the variety of times we’re forced, or feel it’s appropriate, to tell a little fib. And so, we come seamlessly to my day job and advertising; not exactly a profession known for its honesty. I’m not joking either. Last year, IPSOS did a study that revealed ad execs in Australia are deemed less trustworthy than politicians.
There are three big lies we tell in this industry, and the funny thing is, absolutely everyone knows we do, and it’s not really a big deal. Though I do love that we all pretend we don’t tell them:
1. “The creative came off the strategy”
We don’t post-rationalise? Um, yes we do. A lot.
I’m not just talking about award entries either, the absolute pinnacle of post-rationalisation.
Particularly when it comes to Strategists, the ability to post-rationalise is not just something we sometimes do, it’s an important and required skill set.
Someone smart I work with likes to say “Hindsight leads to foresight”, and I think that’s quite savvy and profound. So naturally, I lie and claim it as my own.
The reality is that sometimes the creative team come up with a solution to the business problem that didn’t come from your insight or strategy. And that’s absolutely fine. As long as it solves the client’s issue, and is on-brand and on-budget, it generally doesn’t matter if it’s on-strategy.
Good strategy provides a validated direction for the creatives, but it’s never been a guarantee of success, nor a promise of the only way in. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and admit a rogue idea will do a better job for the task at hand, and you should hastily post-rationalise the strategy to help sell it in.
I’m not sure that’s even lying.
Well, unless you overtly claim the strategy came first . . .
2. “Advertising awards matter”
This is a tricky one. Not to mention, a fairly banal one, given how much it’s debated. So I’ll try to bring something new to the table.
The truth is that awards do matter. They signify a sense of momentum about the successful agencies that win them. They help attract talent. They motivate staff to do great work. They help people get promoted and given pay rises. They celebrate and elevate brilliant creativity.
All extremely valid reasons that vindicate the belief that advertising awards do matter.
Where the dishonesty component comes in, is when we believe – and tell clients – that ALL awards matter. Because that’s just complete and utter horseshit. Only 25 per cent of awards actually matter. (Staying on-theme here, I just made that number up.)
There are so many freakin’ award shows now, that we’re actually starting to dilute their importance. A quick scroll through LinkedIn on – literally – any day of the year provides numerous posts from agency folk being “humbled” by another award show win.
Oh, and I’m fully guilty of being one of said people, so no judgement here.
Yet when awards are handed out every week, they cease to be special, and cease to carry much weight. Especially with clients.
A reasonable tip: if you’ve never heard of the award show, it probably doesn’t matter if you won one. And really, it’s untrue to suggest otherwise.
3. “Us ad people know how advertising works”
I’ve saved the most controversial lie until last. Warning: some people way want to stop reading now to avoid shattering the illusion that anyone knows exactly how advertising works.
Unfortunately, advertising is not an exact science. There is a science to it, but it’s not an exact science.
In fact, it’s a beautiful mix of science and art, and because of this mix, there’s no magic formula. There’s no set process. There’s no guarantees. The startling reality is that luck is a key ingredient in success.
While that may be a little confronting, it’s not to suggest we don’t know what we’re doing.
Insights, behavioural science, past campaigns, category learnings, engaging creative, etc, all provide a best-educated guess. It’s still a guess, but one that drastically increases the chances of being lucky, and therefore effective.
That’s exactly what a great strategist, creative, account manager, and agency does: gives an informed opinion that improves the odds of work working.
Just don’t let them tell you they know exactly how advertising works. Much like my parenting, behind the scenes they’re fumbling their way through it, but doing their best based on research, observations, what’s worked in the past, and leaning on experienced people that have done it before.
Now excuse me, I’m off to tell my daughter her latest monstrosity of a painting is really beautiful.
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