By Alex Wadelton, Executive Creative Director at ZOO Group.
Over my twenty career, I’ve worked on hundreds of campaigns. Some big, some small, and many in between.
Out of these I can count on one hand how many went through as I imagined them when I first came up with the idea.
Along the way, thousands upon thousands of ideas have been dreamt up, discarded, re-worked, presented internally, tweaked, rejected, gone to a client who has combined three ideas into one, or put it into research, or rejected because the brief has changed, and then deferred to international work, or changed just enough to make it not be as good as it should be.
And then, if you’re lucky enough to get something approved by the client, it goes into production.
Whereupon a whole new level of scrutiny is applied.
Director’s treatments are written, some completely missing the point, the others that are good are often over budget, which means more meetings to “manage expectations”, cast members are rejected, the budget shrinks, “internal stakeholders” (who you never meet) add an extra proof point, music is rejected, the voice over is not quite right, the deadline moves forward, or it’s all put on hold “until next year”, the website isn’t ready in time, the marketing director leaves so everything has to be re-done, and then, and then… you’ve finally finished something that kinda looks like what you first envisioned, but is just missing that couple of percent of sparkle required, but a trim there and a trim there… what difference will it make?
Nobody will notice the detail, will they?
After months and months, and sometimes years, you get to the end and because you’ve worked on it for so long you’re exhausted, and doubt it’s any good any more, and you look at your baby hardly recognising it, and want nothing to do with it.
At this point, you reckon people are finally going to find out you’re a fraud. That you’re washed up. Or that you were never any good in the first place.
You doubt all your abilities, and at that point, and only then, does the PRing of the idea begins.
And then, almost inevitably, it gets ripped to shreds by your peers.
I’ve had a heap of my ideas torn asunder by anonymous commenters.
Campaigns that have run for ten years around the world in dozens of markets? Slagged off.
Ideas that have helped lower the road toll? Destroyed.
Work that has won Grand Prix and Gold in a raft of award shows? Shat on.
Occasionally you’ll find something that meets the approval of the creative masses, but not very often.
Why, oh why, do creative people, who know how much work goes in, who know how many times work can be altered, who know how difficult it is, religiously destroy the very work that they’d be proud of if they had it in their folio?
Here’s my theory.
Because they are constantly rejected inside their own agency by their creative director, by the planning department, by account service, by the client, by research, by media.
We are rejected non-stop.
We are told we can’t do that. We can’t present that. We can’t shoot that. We can’t write that. We can’t.
99.9% of our ideas end up in the bin, never to see the light of day.
So, that makes many creatives bitter, and cynical, and keen to make other people feel their anonymous wrath.
It is of course, incredibly easy to pot shot someone’s work without knowing what went in to produce it. Obviously, the public only ever see the final product- they don’t care about strategy, meetings, research groups or any of that stuff.
But they just ignore it if it’s crap.
But creative departments Australia-wide are all too ready to tear shreds off the work that their peers produce if it doesn’t meet their lofty, undetermined quality.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if you should take it seriously.
I remember many years ago when I left DDB to move to GPY&R a commenter said this:
(Yes, I’ve left the spelling errors in).
One was an ad featuring a solar eclipse, another was a campaign that featured animated characters, and the other saw thousands of people banding together to lower the Earth’s temperature. Not saying whether these ideas are any good (two in particular haven’t really stood the test of time), but surely it’s plain to see that all of these ideas are completely different.
Recently, I attended a corporate leadership program with all the other management types of the Zoo Group.
Allan Veal was the guy leading it and he took us through a series of tasks that ultimately lead us to question whether we displayed red or blue behaviour.
Red behaviour is when you immediately get defensive and are negative- tearing down people’s ideas, dismissing them, being snarky, or just generally acting superior.
Blue behaviour, obviously, is the reverse. Where you are supportive, or try to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one. Where you take the longer view and try and involve people in decisions instead of just forcing your view down someone’s throat.
Obviously not everything that is produced is awesome, but just being so destructive is not actually helpful or healthy for our industry.
Now, clearly ripping apart other people’s work is red behaviour. Obviously not everything that is produced is awesome, but just being so destructive is not actually helpful or healthy for our industry.
Constructive criticism, of course is invaluable. Suggesting ways for work to be better is useful, and would make our industry seem supportive and always striving to improve.
But being a prick is not good for anyone.
The person who posts a snarky comment makes themselves feels superior. But in a hate filled negative way that can’t be healthy for them personally.
The person who has seen their hard work destroyed by anonymous trolls doubts themselves, and becomes bitter about the industry, and likely to want to pour scorn on other people’s work to try and gain back some semblance of their own worth. And to also start doing scam ads.
A client who happens to stumble upon these comments is never likely to support their agency if they are presented something outside of the norm… because who wants to see their work so viciously attacked?
So, the safe decision is always taken. The safe, boring option. Which holds our entire industry back. And leads to more work likely to be attacked.
So, what’s the solution? Well, I think it’s pretty simple.
If you like something, comment.
If you don’t like something, comment, but in a well thought out way. In a way that would actually add insight. As if you were a Creative Director trying to get the very best idea out.
How enjoyable would your job be if every time you presented something to your Creative Director, they screwed up your work, said that it was shit, and pushed you out of the office?
Not very, I should imagine.
The best Creative Director I worked for was Ben Coulson at (then) GPY&R Melbourne. Every time you showed him something he would think deeply about it and try and help you improve it. And his suggestions always made the work better.
Every. Single. Time.
Or he’d just say he loved it and let you get on with it. He’d never say, “I think you can just push a bit harder.” Or “That’s been done before.” Or “That’s shit. Next.”
He was supportive. Of every idea. His feedback was considered and helpful. He was the epitome of blue behaviour.
It’s pretty simple stuff.
If we can be supportive, the whole industry will improve. Because our clients will trust us more. And it goes back to the saying we hear throughout our childhood, that so many of us have forgotten… treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself.
So, which behaviour do you display?
Are you red?
Or are you blue?
Or in other words… stop being a can’t. And be a can.