Advertising’s, ahem, process.

As long as I’ve been in advertising and in every agency i worked at as a creative, this has been the “process”

PERSON 1: We need some advertising ideas about this in two weeks time.

ME: Cool!

And then we would go away and think about it and come back with some ideas in less than two weeks.

That’s all there is folks!

There isn’t any more.

And it’s the same thing at every advertising agency in the world, no matter how much they try to convince you otherwise.

I used to laugh at ad agencies that pretended they had a unique “process”. Like Ogilvy’s famous 360 degree thing. What does that mean, you say. Well, that’s Ogilvy’s hook. “Let’s talk about it!” says the Ogilvy new biz person.

It’s basically an attempt by bigger ad agencies to pretend that it’s not all voodoo when you hire this agency.

Oh no, here they have successfully harnessed the voodoo to work for you! No more guesswork, no more intuition, no more mystery. These guys have solved it for you!

I guess it’s an effort to soothe nervous/impressionable clients willing/wishing to believe that “process” alone will yield great advertising.

And if you examine this “processed” advertising you’ll find it to be a rather bland and unsatisfying dish.

The truth is creativity and creative execution is voodoo and always has been and always will be. Look at Hollywood.

So be sure you hire the best voodoo practitioner you can find.

Because all those smiling advertising people selling you on their surefire “process” are lying to you.

9 responses to “Advertising’s, ahem, process.

  1. There was a piece on Radio 4 on the weekend (you’ve got some highfalutin fans) about link between modern sports and food. The millions upon millions spent on the science of food, dieticians and whatnot; of course all interweaved with the latest gruelling training techniques. The interviewer then pops an innocent question to one of the top food scientists “Why is it with all of the new thinking and process that some records remain unbroken for 60 years and that others are broken by mere seconds or inches?” The answer wasn’t a revelation he said that some people come along and they’re super human. So, not matter what you do or eat a boy will be born who’ll be able to throw a cannon ball up a field further than anyone else and there’s nothing you can do about it. What it boils down to is when there’s money involved you can’t leave anything to chance. And some people are very wealthy because of it.

  2. yes feargal, but will there ever be a boy born who can swim faster than a shark? ;-)

    And you’re right. Clients do crave at least the appearance of a process. And will pay dearly for it.

    David Ogilvy’s French castle is proof of that.

    i will check out that BBC4 thing. thanks.

    • you skewered it better than I did Vic. people having ideas, that’s all there is. it’s only as good as the people having the ideas.

    • Great post Bob. Great minds think alike eh? I guess a lot of it is lack of experience at “purchasing” advertising. I guess i’d probably be looking for superficial signs that everything is going to b OK too, if i’m really honest. I would WANT to believe that advertising is science.

  3. Agreed. Process is great for factories. Hospitals. Insurance companies. Accounting firms. Creative endeavors, not so much.

  4. Vinnie, Vic, Bob: I agree 100% with the general direction of your comments/posts.

    However, to be completely fair here, I think when agencies sell “process” they’re selling or describing everything EXCEPT the 2-4 weeks called “creative development” within the timeline. Everything except when the voodoo/magic happens.

    There’s a ton of process BEFORE the creative development, normally leading to the creative brief. A very, very high percentage of this ends up being BS and other ass-covering maneuvering for both agency and client. But the objective is legitimate: to increase the chances of getting a good creative outcome by feeding in a good brief.

    There’s a ton of process AFTER the creative development, normally covering production and post launch effectiveness tracking. Again a high percentage of this is BS and/or throwing money in the wind. But the objective is also legitimate: to increase the chances of really delivering or improving (or hey, at least not screwing up) whatever magic comes from the creative development.

    I’ve never worked in an agency that tried to codify the actual “magic time” during which ideas are created. Because you can’t. And even dumb account guys like me know that:) That’s why the single favorite part of my job is the moment when I first see the creative, after those 2-3 mysterious weeks. Because nothing within the process before (or after) ever truly prepares me for that inspired moment when you meet an idea that blows your mind.


  5. >>>>everything EXCEPT the 2-4 weeks called “creative development” within the timeline.

    That’s the problem I have with so called agency “process” Martin. That the “having the ideas part”, ie the creation of agency’s product, is viewed as a discrete part of a process. it’s not. it’s all there is.

    ALL the time should be devoted to developing the creative ideas.

    Yes there is some necessary research and organizing “big picture” thinking to be done. But it should be done with an eye to how it might inform the creative product. And done in a hurry. it never is.

    At big agencies, in my experience, there is precious little big thinking. Just some people who have “strategy” in their job title who dawdle around pretending to have “insights” who waste time and more often than not get in the way of producing great creative product.

    The only great brief i ever came across in my life was for Budweiser. And it simply read:


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