People are always asking me where advertising is headed.
Well, there are big changes happening in advertising right now.
We’ve never known anything like it before, have we?
New media gurus saying traditional advertising is dead.
The only possible future is social media.
Brand planners who know the only possible answer to any and every problem is to redefine the brand.
Creative directors who know that a new visual technique is the essential ingredient for any new ad campaign.
Everyone’s got a formula.
Everyone’s got a foolproof answer to what we should all be doing.
And yet, everyone knows we’ve never faced such uncertainty before.
In fact, I recently got hold of this letter.
It’s from the creative director of an ad agency, to the board of directors.
See if you can guess who.
Our agency is getting succesful,
That’s something to be happy about.
But it’s something to worry about, too.
And I don’t mind telling you I’m damn worried.
I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of worshipping techniques instead of substance.
That we’re going to be drowned by superficialities, instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals.
I’m worried that hardening of the creative arteries is beginning to set in.
There are a lot of great technicians in advertising.
And unfortunately they talk the best game.
They are the scientists of advertising.
But there’s one little rub.
Advertising is fundamentally persuasion.
And persuasion happens not to be a science, but an art.
It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency, and that I’m so desperately fearful of losing.
I don’t want academicians.
I don’t want scientists.
I don’t want people who do the right things.
I want people who do inspiring things.
In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people, writers and art directors.
Many of them were from the so-called ‘best’ agencies around.
It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative.
Sure they had advertising know-how.
Yes, they were up on the latest techniques.
But look beneath the techniques and what do you find?
A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.
All this is not to say a technique is unimportant.
Superior technical skill will make the good better.
But the danger is in a preoccupation with technical skill.
Or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.
The danger lies in the temptation to employ people who have a formula for advertising.
The danger lies in the natural tendency to go after people that will not make us stand out in competition, but rather make us look like all the others.
We must emerge as a distinctive personality.
We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed upon us.
All the problems in that letter are the same problems we all face.
The over-reliance on formulas.
The proliferation of people who call themselves creative but aren’t.
The ability to talk a good game succeeding over actual ability.
It could have been written last week.
But it wasn’t.
It was written by Bill Bernbach when he was creative director of Grey Advertising.
Two years before he opened Doyle Dane Bernbach.
In fact, he wrote that letter the week I was born.