Seth Godin is on fire today.
Thinking about thinking, creativity and the power of ideas.
They just pop into your head.
At least, that’s how ideas are supposed to happen. This simplicity — anyone can do it, just think! — is a potent misdirect, one Idea Makers have borne forever. The reality is, there is structure, habit and process behind every idea, even those that came to fruition in the blink of an eye.
2018 marks the beginning of my second decade writing about ideas, idea people and the business of ideas as holistically as possible. Seems like a good a point as any to look backward for relevant context.
Lets return to the Holy Matthew Weiner-Glorified Era of advertising ideas.
One of the achievements ad legend Bill Bernbach is perhaps less lauded for—but for which he deserves great acclaim—is the idea of the Art Director and Copywriter team.
Before the Mad Men era, ideas were typically developed by Copywriters alone then “slipped under the door” of Art Directors to illustrate. In other words, ideas were the responsibility of a lone individual—served by others to refine and polish. (See Rothenberg’s Where the Suckers Moon if you want to go down the history rabbit hole.)
Imagine the allure, the power and the pressure. Your brain almost alone in defining ideas that influence culture. Heady stuff. This Loner Ad Genius system fits well in our reverie of post-war America, where individualism titillates. You’d light a cigarette, inhale and—poof! Idea!
Bernbach shook that up, in more ways than one.
First, the idea of an idea-creation duo pulled Art Directors out from behind their drawing tables and elevating their role beyond production. We’ll see this seismic shift repeat itself decades later. But for the moment, imagine the politics.
Since the beginning, advertising ideas had been developed by individuals. Suddenly, it’s a sport for two. Now there’s a sense of competition, but also teamwork. The ratio of account managers and process roles versus idea people goes from Everyone Else:One to EveryoneElse:Two. I’m convinced this doubling of creative roles had a profound effect on the defense and selling of ideas, and hence, the Creative Revolution. (Hard to win a battle all by your creative lonesome.)
Second, it began the narrative of idea-creation as a collaborative adventure, one which could be visually oriented just as easily as headline oriented.
Helmut Krone, Art Director + Julian Koenig, Copywriter (1959)
What constituted an “idea” within advertising expanded from a vocabulary rich in words to one equally fluent in images, shape, color and design. (Side note: Many credit Bernbach with defining the “concept” of conceptual advertising ideas, too—a welcoming of ideas that didn’t fit the status quo of ideas. Such irony.)
Given the many decades since, the shear volume of ideas since, it probably seems timeless and inevitable for agencies to staff and create advertising in pairs—one part visual, the other verbal. Just as the preceding decades of Loner Ad Genius had some inherent logic.
From the mid 1950s into the early 90s, generations of advertising idea people knew nothing but a system predicated upon The Creative Duo.
But then computers and the Internet had to go and ruin everything.
It is difficult to imagine making ideas now without the glorious machine under my fingers. Oh sure, ideas still flow. But the corralling, organizing, refining, consensus-building, selling and producing of ideas is a 10x better system post-software. (Granted, some might not agree.)
It started with enabling technology.
Individuals could always create ideas all by their lonesomes, but software put booster rockets on that capability, especially the visual components. And cheap content distribution (cheap media?) freed the ability to express from the few who had access, to everyone who wanted to express themselves. To paraphrase the Barbarian Group in the late 90s—”our work’s competition isn’t the work of other brands, our competition is everything on the Internet.”
Which meant the most potent or viral advertising ideas didn’t necessarily have to come from a Writer + Art Director any more. In fact, maybe that old perspective was a bit blind to What Could Be and what the Internet wanted to laud.
So by the early aughts, agencies started expanding the pair to a trio: Writer + Art Director (or Designer) + Technologist (or Strategist or Designer), because ideas had to consider more than two dimensions or time-based narratives. Now ideas had to thrive within digital architectures. We had to consider the conceptual nature of the space the idea lived within. (No one ever had to consider the architecture of a print ad, it was pre-defined. But a website? How wide, deep, structured should it be?) And the very idea of what an ad agency is changed, too.
Then came interaction.
Ideas before code, before the Internet, had no real purpose for inter-action, for response. Sure, coupons existed. But as periods at the end of transactional sentences. Perhaps Gossage was alone in viewing coupons as a conversational component.
But the purpose of 1.0 websites and banners was to enable a very binary back and forth between audience and idea owner. It was engagement at its simplest—the click, weak as it was, gave power to viewers and immediate reaction to idea creators. If you’d made advertising ideas for decades without any real sense of how audiences reacted to your ideas, how strange the Internet must have seemed. Why would audiences want a role in advertising they were just meant to consume?
And suddenly audiences weren’t just consumers anymore. They could make the ads and distribute them, too. Maybe with less craft, less expense, but also maybe with much more authenticity.
Hello, influencers who have bigger audiences than global brands.
Hello, word of mouth.
Hello, PR is the new Advertising.
Hello, mobile and mobility.
Hello, publishers who are now ad agencies.
Hello, technology platforms that say they aren’t media companies but sure act like media companies and also act like ad agencies.
Hello, historic business consultancies who are also now ad agencies.
Hello, all-encompassing, vertically integrated manufacturing/marketing/media/content/commerce/distribution entity that is also an ad agency.
Hello, marketing as a service.
Hello, “the product is the marketing.”
Hello, software that is the marketing that is the advertising.
Hello, walled gardens of content.
Hello, content that isn’t advertising it’s content.
Hello, drones. Because.
Hello, augmented and virtual canvases and processes for advertising ideas.
Hello, location-enabled idea targeting.
Hello, fake news and fake analytics and fake audiences.
Hello, ideas that are statues.
Hello, new age of voice-focused ideas.
Hello, marketing and ideas automation.
Hello, cognitive idea generation and optimization.
Hello to a very different landscape for people who are paid to make ideas for advertising.
Consider that almost nothing changed in terms of making advertising ideas between the era of Mad Men and the arrival of the Internet. No software. No connectivity. No enabled audiences. You could enter the industry, rise the ranks, achieve accolades and retire after decades without any substantial change to the process behind your ideas.
And yet, in less than the span of one career we now have a radically different world in which advertising ideas come to life. Sure, the romantic Writer + Art Director duo still exists today, of course. As does the hybrid loner. But check the credits for any modern campaign and you’re just as likely to see dozens of names and roles attached to the making of one modern idea.
This isn’t criticism, but reflection.
Ideas are still the result of our brains connecting, inferring, extrapolating, dramatizing. But the process behind insights and briefing, the process behind seeking and refining, the process behind selling, the process behind making and distributing advertising ideas today has almost no parallel with a past just three decades gone.
Is it a wonder the ad industry is in such vibrant, efficacious upheaval?
And yet ideas still just pop into your head.
Making Art is messy and fraught with the unknown.
“Make what has never been made before.”
At least with Science there is the vague notion of objective when searching and creating — a cure, a hypothesis, a patent — a rallying cry to follow. Science is rarely for the sake of itself.
But Art often is. Watch any toddler with a marker — like the adult Idea Person, they are seeking with only a vague notion of what constitutes success.
“And if you could also make it legible and meaningful and insightful for the greatest diversity of audiences, too, that would be great.”
“Also, for the ages.”
Whether in novel form or mural form or screenplay form or :15 social media video form, there is little safe harbor on the journey for Art. Who knows what’s out there (or not out there) in the fog? And this isn’t said to elicit pity. The stakes, the cost, of Art are clear enough miles and years before the work begins. Idea People choose to be here in a subjective, emotional realm.
No. This is said for those who are on the journey for other reasons.
“And make sure it matches the King’s 13th couch — the one in the second tower on the 7th floor with the Norwegian dragon theme…”
“The presentation got pushed up to tomorrow.”
“I’m really nervous about this, you guys.”
As Fenske has said, “Advertising is Art in the service of Business.”
So we shouldn’t be surprised by the appearance of frustration or other emotions during the Art-making process. We should welcome them. Imagine Picasso politely, even robotically accepting every mistake, every criticism, every change request along the journey. It wouldn’t be the movie we all have in our heads about how Art is made!
Because advertising is a business, however, we often are surprised when emotions arrive amidst the briefing, the developing, the reviewing, the assessing, the presenting, the selling. As if, we business people making Art in the service of Business shouldn’t be emotional while making Art.
This is where respect gets tricky. It takes a different form.
Now, of course business people get emotional at work. That’s humanity, at work.
Art/Idea-making is inherently uneasy and uncertain and uncomfortable.
It is the business of creating the un-status quo, the not-yet-accepted; embracing the new long before the new is common or liked or popular. It is the business of trafficking in absurdity with cold calculation. It is the business of creating then killing your creation, over and over and over. It is a business of faith. There’s very little sustaining psychological comfort in seeking the unknown to fit specific business criteria, day in, day out.
This is not an environment in which to confuse feeling comfortable with feeling respected.
Simply because, there is little, if any, comfort in the seeking, articulating and road-testing of Ideas. As the Jesuit psychologist and author Anthony De Mello it, “The only way someone can be of help to you is in challenging your ideas.”
What constitutes respect in the realm of ideas is predicated upon embracing uncertainty while the clock is ticking, while the outcome is not clear, while we are being faithful something will appear to change our fortunes. Respect among collaborators in this realm is far from comfort-making. Instead, it is often challenge-making. In fact, comfort just might be the last thing you want to feel in creating anything new and differentiated and memorable.
“If you want to learn something, teach it” is probably my favorite adage.
And so, once again, I’m returning to teaching this fall—renovating and reinvigorating the Future of Advertising course I first taught at MCAD back in 2008 (after ruminating on it the year before). Almost a decade later and the future is still out there, and it starts in about a week. I’m grateful to MCAD’s Entrepreneurial Studies program for asking me back.
I wrote about the joy of teaching in 2009. It is a pleasure to stew in the subject material and collaborate with students to figure out what resonates and why. It’s also a great excuse to connect with the people much smarter than I and elicit their perspectives. I am forever grateful to everyone who reacted to the syllabus below, asking important questions, suggesting refinements and additional content. Kudos to Rosie and Faris Yakob, Chris Bradley, Edward Boches, Kevin Swanepoel, Zach Pentel, Paisley Schade, Rick Webb, Sung Chang, Julie Scheife, Jim Splinter and Lori Yeager Davis.
The subjects will evolve, of course, especially as a slew of awesome guest speakers influence things. Here are the building blocks of the official syllabus.
The marketing and advertising industry is grounded in the supremacy of ideas and is constantly adjusting to emerging communication platforms. This class examines those adjustments and emergence in depth to understand how effective ideas continue to come to life across digital and social media. We’ll explore and define how consumer, category, and platform insights matter. We’ll consider and develop strategic foundations that support ideas across multiple media. We’ll dive into the tools marketers and agencies use to power ideas today. Assignments throughout the semester will introduce students to exercises in developing content for existing and emerging digital platforms while exploring the relationship between humans, and existing and emerging technologies to create innovative campaigns. Marketing and advertising guest speakers will join the faculty in reviewing assignments and offering feedback on assignments. Prerequisite: Introduction to Advertising or Copywriting.
Students completing this course will be able to do the following and more:
- Understand context — how and why the marketing/communications/advertising/PR industry has evolved since the Internet (and why that matters)
- Describe the forces—new processes, platforms, technologies, roles and deliverables that solve modern branding and advertising problems
- Conceive, research, refine and pitch integrated ad campaigns that utilize longstanding as well as modern (i.e. programmatic, dark social, VR/AR, voice activation, etc.) components
- Develop work for a portfolio that demonstrates fluency relevant to the future of advertising
Various—lecture, guest speakers, online research, reading assignments, course assignments, etc.
Required Textbooks, Readings and Websites:
The course will utilize two books—one first printed in 1965 and the other in 2015. They are both remarkably useful when plotting the future of advertising. Both books should be available in the MCAD Book Store. You can also find new and used print copies and Kindle editions via Amazon.
- Paid Attention – Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob
- A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
In addition to the books, we will also reference various blogs, news articles and opinion pieces found online. I’ll share links with you when appropriate.
Please download and look through Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report (http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends).
And please bookmark the One Club’s online archive of over 250k iconic ads (since 1991) http://www.oneclub.org/awards/theoneshow/.
Finally, please subscribe to the following six email newsletters. Each will provide useful and frequent insights and information relevant to the course.
CB Insights (https://www.cbinsights.com/)
Launch Ticker (https://www.launchticker.com/)
Scott Galloway’s No Mercy/No Malice via L2 (https://www.l2inc.com/email-signup)
Bob Hoffman – Type A (http://www.typeagroup.com/)
The Prepared – curated by Spencer Wright (https://theprepared.org/newsletter)
Neil Perkin’s Only Dead Fish (http://www.onlydeadfish.co.uk/)
Class #1 – Course Overview / Welcome to the Future
Meet each other, set expectations, review course calendar, guest lecture schedule, textbooks and resources. Let’s also review the world we live and work in, as a means of clarifying the role of marketing and advertising—i.e. The way we own and buy products and services has changed, which means why and how we market and advertise changes, too. And what about the purpose of brands? Nevermind globalization and the transparent flow of diverse and niche cultures (Despacito, anyone?) and their impact on the business of ideas. Finally, let’s discuss the core skills advertising agencies (and their clients) need in 2017 and beyond.
Class #2 – The New Infrastructure — Data, Location Awareness/Connectivity, Artificial Intelligence & Automation
Let’s dig into everything Don Draper and Peggy Olson never imagined. We work now in a world of ideas where data informs everything. A world that is “always on,” connecting faster and contextually aware. A world that automates and optimizes more and more of marketing. And a world where AI threatens the role of Idea Person. How do all these forces impact advertising and the people who work in it?
Class #3 – Social Media Platforms, Circa 2017 & the Rise of Dark Social
In less than a decade we’ve witnessed a global communications transformation that’s profoundly affected advertising: the rise of empowered individuals and digital communities. Let’s review how the evolving world of social—sharing, influence, ratings, creation tools—impact brand building and modern advertising strategy and ideas. And we’ll review the wealth of platform best practices to understand how they seek to engage and assist marketers and agencies.
Class #4 – Storytelling in Multiple Dimensions — How Ideas Come to Life across Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and 3D Holograms
Let’s dig into all of the ways in which brands and advertising ideas are moving off the printed page and untouchable screen and into our lives to provide a digital lens on the physical world.
Class #5 – Conversation Design—Advertising Through Voice Activation, Chatbots & Podcasting
Let’s talk about how we research for, strategize/architect and develop brand strategies and ideas when the medium is conversation. Let’s also talk about the recent rise of audio storytelling as a means of brand building via podcasting.
Class #6 – Influence & Truth & Everything is PR
Is Word of Mouth the most authentic form of advertising? Let’s discuss how branding and modern advertising works with influencers and across shifting contexts (i.e. within social networks, next to fake news and extremist publications, etc). We’ll also review how public relations and social sharing have transformed the way we strategize, define and produce advertising ideas so they generate even more attention.
Class #7 – Course Assignment Briefing
Class #8 – Agencies of All Shapes and Sizes, Circa 2017
Let’s compare and contrast how ad agencies are evolving and differentiating beyond Independent, Network and In-House (i.e. 3M, Hogarth, Best Buy), to include Consultant agencies (i.e. Deloitte+Heat), Social Platform “in-house” agencies (i.e. Facebook, Google), and Publisher agencies (i.e. Buzzfeed, Brainjolt).
Class #9 – Campaign Architecture – Business Definition and Marketing Strategy, Circa 2017
Let’s dig into all the brand work that must occur before modern creative briefs are written and ideas are developed. What critical analysis must occur to define and transform business challenges into opportunities which marketing and advertising can affect? Some say, “everything (in business) is (now) marketing.” If this is true, how does technology, data, digital targeting and marketing automation influence business operations, logistics, pricing, governance, etc.? In addition, let’s bring our own digital lives into consideration. How do our own biases and digital consumption affect how we perceive target audiences as well as marketing challenges and opportunities?
Class #10 – Media Buying & Technology & Measurement, Circa 2017
How are advertising ideas distributed, and how do we know if they work? Let’s focus on client-side and third-party marcom stacks (DMP, databases, etc.), advertising measurement as well as social listening, site and influencer measurement, always-on dashboards, etc. How are brands measured in this evolving age of digital? If you’re agency-side, how do you explain all of this to your boss/client?
Class #11 – Creative Briefing & Selling Ideas, Circa 2017
Let’s discuss the business and process of developing and selling modern ideas. How has the briefing process evolved since A Technique for Producing Ideas, and later, “A Fisherman’s Guide” (inside Truth Lies and Advertising) by Jon Steel? How do we effectively differentiate briefing for conversation platform ideas versus traditional one-way media ideas? What methodologies and tools have evolved to enable the briefing process?
Class #12 – Course Assignment Check In + The Modern Making-Of, i.e. Rapid Prototyping
First, let’s review your progress on the Course Assignment. Then, let’s get pragmatic and discuss the apps, tools and processes which enable modern strategic development, creative ideation, production and distribution.
Class #13 – The Business of Digital & the Future of Advertising
Let’s take a deeper dive into how Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook (Galloway’s “the Four Horsemen”) have become gigantic corporations and brands themselves. What does all this mean for the business of brands and advertising ideas?
Class #14 – Pitch Day: Course Assignment Due
Present your work to the class and potential visiting guests.
Class #15 – Wrap Up: Living in the Future of Advertising
Recap the semester’s topics, assignments and guest speakers. Make up assignment presentations as needed. Let’s focus on your path forward—what will you do next to prepare for and/or engage in the future of advertising?
(For those keeping score at home, you might question the delay in discussing strategy (#9) and briefing (#11). I believe it’s better to review the myriad forces impacting advertising (Infrastructure to VR to podcasting, et al) first, then dive into the agency world and their processes.)