A cup of tea with James Sinclair

An exchange of opinions really, over the discussion:

DON’T TELL ME IT’S CREATIVE UNLESS IT SELLS. HOW MANY TIMES HAVE CREATIVE GUYS HEARD THIS? DO YOU AGREE OR NOT?

in the Clio Awards group, LinkedIn.

My first response was: Art is suppose to serve capitalism. Otherwise, there is no need for our services. [of course I couldn't shut up long enough and I had to add] Dear colleges, ego & testosterone runneth over here, please let’s try to reduce it and get down to business: strategy is THE power & motive behind all successful ad campaigns.
Creativity is *only* the vehicle.

James (The legend behind DoubleLife and so many other campaigns) said; Hey Ruth – if people don’t dig the vehicle – especially in Fashion-vibe brands (but not exclusively) you can seriously handicap your sale. What about cool-kid syndrome?
Certainly started more kids smoking than advertising strategy ever did. The ‘art’ or the art direction or the aesthetic tone should be part of the strategy, non?   

He was serving me a nice cup of tea…that was my answer:

@James, I’ll take my analogy one step further – If people don’t dig the vehicle, ‘traffic’ accidents will happen, and have probably already happened.

The question we should ask ourselves is why did it happen? Wasn’t the message clear? Was it vague? Was it contradictory? Was it used as a blunt instrument or was it just more noise routinely filtered and then lost in space.

The bottom line is that the ad failed. A post mortem of the ad may save us from repeating the mistakes the next time round – or maybe not.

The cool-kid syndrome – aren’t we as ‘ad people’ the ones to blame for this to begin with? Didn’t we create this monster?!

That takes us to a different issue: do we practice any ethics in advertising at all? And if yes, is it any more than the ‘ethics’ of blindly making money?

My point of view is that the art direction (esthetics, copy, medium) is a derivative of the strategy. We have to create a message that is unambiguous, salient in its presentation, and effective for that target audience (and beyond) to act upon.
In other words, make a sale – conceptually as well as materially.

James ;

You are of course right Ruth – and I do agree that strategy is at (or should be at) the basis of everything – I do think perhaps we need a more formalised system for the articulation of non-verbally expressed strategy. Everything other than the words. Ethically, I actually believe that we follow the will of the people. Commercial success depends on rapport with the values of those buying into them. I’m sure that ‘green’ issues would not have won so much favour in business so quickly unless there was real demand for it. I believe buying anything of any kind is a form of self expression. So what are we trying to express with what we buy into? I thing markets are sensitive to this. As a creative (on a personal level) I take the responsibility of being allowed to communicate with the masses very seriously and see it as a privilege – and try to create comms that reward for that interaction with and entertaining equation of some sort – but also by making sure the message is either life enhancing in some way or at least not harmful and has integrity – without being worthy or self righteous of course. So do we practice ethics as an industry (not sure we do universally). But I do believe – as I believe in the good in many people – that many do. I’m a glass half full kinda guy. So in short we have to make a sale , conceptually, ethically, emotionally and rationally – to make one materially. The product at the base of the sale must also fulfil a physical need as well as a more emotionally based one – a rapport of needs and values.

P.S. advertisers are not to blame for cool kid syndrome – that’s the point. Its more Alpha male or Woman than that. You see a kid you think that is cool smoking – you think smoking is cool. Simplez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@ James, “non-verbally expressed strategy” – I found these words intriguing. Are we talking about intuition here?
Being almost-the-master of non verbal communication (applause, thank you, thank you ver’much) I have never met the phrase: non-verbal strategy. I’ll take a stab here: do you mean beating someone till he changes his phase state from solid to liquid? Otherwise, I have no idea what are you referring to.
You must have a very cynical sense of humor – you actually used the word ‘ethically’, ‘advertising’ and ‘will of the people’ in the same sentence.
We are creating new ‘ethics’ as we go. This is our power and the game we choose to play. We’re justifying this as a straight function in response to culture and time we live in. It seems that we are lowering the bar (in ethics, of course) every year.
We push boundaries and then flex some more with a potpourri of propaganda, the patina over our cultures we educated people swear by. This IS our job after all – and we are very proud of it, especially if some of us are able to wrap it in a very entertaining, clever and creative way. We feel so very powerful taking any product, whatever it might be (soft drinks, Alcohol, cars, tobacco, presidential candidates or just a fried potato) and we make it the center of the universe with all the ingredients you and I agreed upon: strategy, great copy, smashing art and a sagacious medium to spread & share it all around the globe.
I do believe that you, on personal level, take responsibility when you communicate with the masses. Listen, I adore your DoubleLife copy; you inspired me to dream about worlds of possibilities that are beyond games. Your words helped my thoughts ascend well beyond the commercial. But how many copywriters have the integrity to pay attention to the meaning of their words? Or to the devotion for life-enhancing matters?
Putting our money where our mouths are about ethics, in our line of work, is being ready to open Pandora box, and being strong enough to rewrite the laws. But who is going to monitor this? Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Are *you* ready for this?
You subscribe to the half glass full perspective and I say that the glass is too tall.
Yes, we have to make a sale, conceptually, ethically, emotionally, rationally. And monetarily. However in the same breath, we have to make a living as well. And sometimes more often than we want, or are willing to admit, we compromise on the quality and values ‘needed’ to make 2 ends meet, and hence, the huge (and I mean f**g huge) volume of whale dreck ads that exist on the market.
BTW – of course we are responsible for the ‘cool-kid’ syndrome. We (the Ad community and the communication industry at large) took a existing social behaviors and we empowered them with the products and all the noise we are creating. (when was the last time any of us used the ‘cool kid’ to sell vitamin C ? We created a beast and even helped the corporations manufacture canned ‘all-in-one social behavior role kits’ (The Monkees, Britney, Justin Bieber all the Idol crap, etc).
To prove me wrong, we have to break this circle.
Were gonna sell Armani Jeans:
First let’s take *Bertha* the 56 year old fat lady that lives down the road with dandruff, acne scars and big front teeth, a crooked smile and one big hairy mole on her right cheek. Oh, she also has a PhD in Astrophysics. That denim lookin’ gooood on Bertha, at least as good as the one Megan just slipped into… or try and sell Ray-Ban aviator sun glasses.
Sometimes I feel we have to break the cycle, make new role models – our scientist, our cutting edge techno weenies who bring giant leaps into the world, not all those clowns who are in charge of today’s cheap entertainment … It is on my Bucket list

WOW Ruth, you really do have a beguiling intelligence. Gotta take a deep breath for that one.

So firstly, non-verbal in my context just meant what is expressed is anything other than the words. Like any personality, using film as an analogy – say Jack Nicholson, in a scene where he doesn’t speak, is just leant up against a wall looking toward camera. His look, the posture, his expression, the micro expressions, clothing etc etc, all express the mood and motivations of the character – informed by the back story, the character’s experiences, current conflict and so on – and for me this is the same in communications. We have a literal message to convey, of course. More likely this is the ‘product’ story – in the film it is the plot – what the character wants; but then there is also the ‘brand story’. The values and beliefs and sponsoring thoughts behind the brand’s existence and modus operandi. This is the ‘why’. It’s the same as the ‘why’ that drives the character in the film (or in life for that matter). And finally the manner in which the what and why are expressed is the ‘way’ – in comms this relates to the tone of voice – in words, but also in pictures, type, layout, photographic approach. (Or this is how I see it anyhoo).

I have always believed in looking for the truth in the product – and there has to be some truth in everything for it to find favour (again – or so I believe).

I am in fact the opposite of cynical. I have a fundamental believe in humanity and its potential for goodness.

I agree becoming self-righteous with our ethics is a pandoras box – but we cannot escape our beliefs. They are just was is. We either realise it or not and take conscious control of it. I don’t mean shoving our morals down people’s throats but we can at least convey what truth there is with responsibility. But what I can’t stop myself doing is things like – not showing people being unkind to one another for no good reason _ unless there is a grander point being made, to at least show kindness and a positive outcome where ever possible. That’s my little secret and my way of spreading the love – a little at least. I know it sound a bit cheesy. I guess I am.

With regard to manufacturing ‘coolness’ and ‘desirability’ you’re right, its a crock at its worst but can be inspiring at its best. And I do not believe advertising invented the notion anyway. I think advertising is reflective of what is natural to us. It certainly takes it to an extreme – but surely wanting to do anything well, make it look good, taste good, show it in its best light, is simply part of what we are. Advertising can subvert that natural tendency and sometimes turn it into something repulsive but in the end the public sense the BS. I must just add that the public (or humanity’s) ability to sense the BS in others and the stories we tell about products and brands is only commensurate to our ability to sense the BS in ourselves. For as long as we believe in the need to buy trinkets like watches and jewelry to express our status then advertising of those trinkets in a manner that reflects that sense of status will be effective. Once we grow out of that material status notion then then advertising it – no matter how beautifully we portray the items – they will simply have no effect. Cheap entertainment is the same. Or cheap newspapers. I worked on a particularly crass tabloid for a while and asked myself – if I had the power to remove this rag from the world would I – I came to the conclusion that is was not my place to decide what other people enjoyed or not – no matter how ridiculous I believed the content to be. Like children I believe we all have to learn for ourselves who we are. If we want to influence we must live by example. What else can we do? I love your passion to want to strive for something better though. I’m with you on that 100%.

I’ll toast for that my new friend