Part 3 – Permission To Suck / Talent Zoo Interview

Sun, Nov 28, 2010

Blogs, Fearless Creativity

Part 3 – Permission To Suck / Talent Zoo Interview

Six months ago I was asked a series of questions for Talent Zoo by writer Sara Barton, here are some of the questions with my answers.  There are over 20 questions, but I’ll post installments updating where necessary.  Here’s part III.

Can creativity be forced/rushed?

Rushed, I think yes – forced, not so much.  Deadlines can work well to frame a problem.  “Do your best in three days” can be easier than “take all the time you need” – it’s like built in Permission to Suck without the suck. I like limits. Yet, forced sounds too managed, and I’ve never seen that work well.

Why does the term “creative process” make you cringe?

There was this machine that processed my B+W negatives back in college called “The Versamat” – a Kodak product I think, maybe they still make it. You feed the exposed film in one end and it comes out the other processed and dried – no fuss no muss – no need to get dirty.  This is what I think about when I hear “creative process” – you get predictable results and don’t have to get dirty. Companies love predictable results because they can manage them.  Creativity isn’t like that; it’s messy, surprising, and unpredictable with every stroke of brilliance. I’m much more apt to respond to a “creative culture” in a positive way than to “creative process”.

If you had to choose between being original or adding value, which would you choose? Why?

Can I be both, original and valuable?  Well, if not – I’ll choose adding value because it sounds more team oriented. I love collaboration.  My favorite projects were driven by my relationships with team members. Collaboration is going to be more critical as marketing gets more complex too I think.  That said, there isn’t much that’s more valuable than offering an original viewpoint.

Here’s one issue I’ve been thinking about, forgive me if it’s naive: simple projects can be commoditized; think logos designers or a guy with a camera.

It’s tough to differentiate talent on a small scale; not impossible but very tough. No secret that creative collaboration is the frontier’s edge; think open source systems or crowd sourcing techniques. Forming a collaborative team that produces imaginative solutions to complex projects seems like it’s the inevitable rising tide. Make the team too big and you’ll lose permission to suck, but make the team to small for the project and you may lack the diversity to solve the problem.  Maybe big agencies will fit in well if they have the right culture.

Who do you think is the most original thinker of our time? Why?

Seriously, I thought I’d pass on this one because there are simply way too many talented brains to commit to one.  I watched Alex Bogusky’s weekly show “Fearless Q&A” on last week – it’s a fun folksy hour if you like that kind of thing.  Alex made a comment regarding hiring teams and said he likes to combine the more cerebral creatives with the more action oriented to make a team. I believe that’s right.  A great thinker may get credit but somewhere in the mix are the folks who get it done – 99% perspiration right?  It’s not creative unless you actually make it – saying “I thought of that” or “I could have done that” doesn’t count. However, if you want a thoughtful authority on creativity try Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: chick-sent-me-high) – his books where ground-breaking – or Rollo May’s The Courage to Create is another must read.

Is there such a thing anymore as truly original thinking? Or have all of the good ideas been taken?

Ha – I’m sure there is an original idea but I haven’t thought of it yet.  Someone will and I’ll say, “I could have done that”.  We keep making new people and they seem different enough – I’m sure there will be an original in there somewhere.

Seriously though, when I hear “there are no new ideas” I always think that sounds like frustration talking.  It may feel as though there is nothing new under the sun, but how can that be if there are no two people alike or no identical snowflakes?

What do you think is wrong with conventional advertising?

By conventional do you mean print, out-of-home, and broadcast? There’s too much of it.  I know that sounds a little snarky but the ads that seem to break through are humorous, clever, surprising, or highly informational (to the point of enlightenment) and I wouldn’t consider that conventional.

I am a huge believer in holistic built-in marketing – there is no more hammer and nail. The marketing idea has to be highly tailored across all channels and start as close to product inception as possible; think design – both big “D” and little “d”.

What do you hate most about advertising?

I don’t like advertising when it crosses into propaganda. In general, propaganda to me is influencing through deception or selectively omitting truth.   Yet, I adore creating campaigns that glorify aspects of a product or service – see my dilemma? I’m tortured.

I’m enjoying social media for its ability to force transparency.  Once upon a time you could sell millions worth of product before being busted. Remember the phrase attributed to Ogilvy,Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising?”  I’ve got a new one, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than a bad product.” – think Toyota.

Your advice to copywriters or art directors who find themselves less than inspired? How do you get over that?

Everyone is different but there is huge value in getting distance – do whatever you do the fill your tank because it drains quickly.  Stay “horizontal” as long as you can; surf ideas, don’t take anything seriously, and just throw everything out there. Give yourself permission to suck before selecting the best of the bad ideas to explore further – don’t be afraid to start over.

As a photographer sometimes I’ll sit, absorb my surroundings and think about how I’d turn what I’m feeling into an image that would make others feel the same feelings.  I suppose any creative person could do the same with their craft: musician, painter, illustrator, or writer.

You know those stupid online “idea generators” that combine random nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc. to create faux meaningful phrases?  It works if you practice it yourself.  There were times when I kept a notebook of truncated thoughts that I’d later combine into image ideas; stuff you never thought could go together, go together if you’re clever with it.

I suppose there is no great solution other than: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Who do you think is the greatest Creative Director? Why?

Let’s see, who do I want to work with?  It would be hard to argue with choices like: Lee Clow, Mike Hughs, John Hegarty, Rich Silverstien, Helmut Krone, George Lois, or Hal Riney – but I’m sure with memory aides I could go on for pages.  I guess you’d have to rule on longevity; if they inspired the creative side of their agency to repeatedly produce memorable campaigns over years, it means they hired the right people and made them want to work hard for them.

In your opinion, what is the greatest ad campaign ever created?

I’m probably little different than anyone you’d ask. Of these greats: Just Do It, We Try Harder, 1984, Think Different, Think Small, Be All You Can Be, Ultimate Driving Machine – my fave is 1984 just because it was opportunity fulfilled; an innovative product, a great idea by W+K, and great production.  The impact it had after only running one time in an era with no Social Media enhanced word of mouth, is without peer in my opinion. It still feels fresh doesn’t it?

However, for the long run, “Ultimate Driving Machine” is pretty damn good though. I couldn’t see replacing that with something better, can you?

Today the challenge is greater because your target market has atomized and attention defines scarcity. We’re sick and tired of getting interrupted plus we can afford to ignore everything because everything is at our fingertips anytime we want.  Marketing is about creating relationships from the moment we design the product.  It’s as though your creating followers – as you do on Twitter – rather than consumers.  Remember when there were Ford people, Mopar (Chrysler Dodge) people and GM people?  It’s the kind of passion you need from advocates these days. Consumers shop around; advocates want to be identified with you.

What is the campaign you wish you’d created?

Pick the longest running campaign and I’ll say THAT one.  After all, I’m a business man too; all of us want security.  Seriously though, I’m not good at recalling specific campaigns that I admire because there are so many I’ve seen that make me say, “I wish I had done that”. That said,  I’m a photographer at heart so when I see a campaign that makes great use of imagery I love it.  I’m probably a little like Sarah Palin – “All of them Katie”.

The mid 90’s Porsche print ads were damn nice.  I think they were shot by Clint Clemons; attaching the camera to the car as it moved – pioneering for a still guy.  That technique transformed the way cars look in ads I think.

I also wouldn’t mind if I could brag about shooting the original Dewar’s Profile ads – they were iconic.

What are your thoughts on commercial advertising today?

This has to be one of the most demanding, confusing, painful, and potentially innovative – wonderful times we’ve ever seen in advertising.  From the perspective of the folks who actually do the hard work of creativity, it’s been challenging and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to let up anytime soon ever.  It’s a tough way to make a living unless you’re some kind of prodigy, creative maniac, workaholic, or magician – it helps to be 3 out of 4.

If a client said to you, “make the logo bigger,” what would be your immediate reaction?

That’s happened and I asked, “what makes you want to make it bigger?” They had a good answer in that case but regardless, if they had said, “my target market is over 45 and can’t read it” my reaction would be much different than if they said, “Because I like it and want it to take up more room on the page.”  I’d have an answer either way.  Presenting creative without being able to walk your client through the design of a well integrated thoughtful plan would be a big mistake in my opinion.

You’re working on a new campaign. What’s on your iPod?

My musical taste is roots based: blues, bluegrass, blues based rock, roots country, jazz and that goes for local music too. I have some very talented friends who take up some space on my iPod; isn’t it interesting how music becomes more compelling when you know the people playing it? Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Jerry Douglas, Bonnie Raitt, Big Bill Broonzy, Delbert McClinton, Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler, Jorma Kaukonen, Lyle Lovett, Mavis Staples, Mississippi John Hurt, Santana, Prince, Stevie ray Vaughan – You picking up any patterns?

Yet, when I need to write or when detail work gets too intense, the music goes off. Sometimes there is no extra room in my brain for anything but the task at hand.

What blogs do you read religiously?

I have a large collection but I’m usually up to date on these:

advertising, Creativity

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