A few nights ago, I visited one of my favourite restaurants (I won’t say where) and ordered my usual – the beef steak. After waiting patiently for about 15 minutes, I heard the cracking sizzle of my tenderloin approaching with speed. What landed on my table? Chicken! WTF? Although I was peeved and mildly insulted, I didn’t want the food to go to waste so I swallowed my bias and accepted the dish. But as I took my first bite something unimaginable happened. It was good... real good! It was at that precise moment that I had a bizarre epiphany. This is exactly like what happens in the ad industry.
See, as a hungry diner, I was the client. I had visited the agency (restaurant) and briefed them on what I wanted (or at least what I thought I wanted). The creatives cooked up something else in the kitchen and the client service person (waiter) brought it to my table and served it to me, obviously without double-checking. But at the end of the day, I was satisfied, and then some.
Typically, this sort of thing happens in advertising all the time, or vice versa. A client feels like he/she has clearly briefed the agency, but the agency comes back with something ‘unexpected’. Sometimes it works. Other times, it’s a complete disaster. And when the time comes to take credit or blame, it usually depends on how well or poorly things went. But the truth is, just like the food business, the ad making process is rife with subjectivity.
Whetting the appetite
It all starts with the brief. Nowadays, most briefs aren’t ‘brief’ at all. They’re painfully lengthy and chock-full of oodles of irrelevant information. Worst of all, they’re boring. This is usually the client’s attempt to provide the agency with everything they need to come up with a solid idea, but it ends up overwhelming them instead.
"A brief should be concise and inspiring. It should give agencies just the right amount of information, while leaving them with enough leeway to squeeze out some creative juice."
Some of the best briefs I’ve ever seen were one-liners. “Makes you feel as sexy as chocolate.” (That was actually a brief). Arguably, developing a good brief is just as challenging as developing a good idea. It has to guide and inspire without bombarding or over complicating matters.
Creative people also need to learn how to control their creativity. Creativity is like alcohol: it needs to be handled responsibly.
Talking across the table
When it comes to ideation, people often mistake this to be an agency-only domain, which is a fallacy. Good ideas can come from anywhere or anyone, and often do. We once had a proofreader who came up with a great idea for a television commercial that actually made it to air. Was he particularly creative? No. He just had the right amount of exposure, clarity and confidence to say “hey, what if we did something like this?” Similarly, brand managers should also be capable of thinking creatively just as agencies must be capable of delivering ideas that are practical, business-orientated and cost-effective. Knowledge needs to be traded. That’s how learning takes place. Agencies and clients have a lot to learn from each other. They need to start thinking like one another. Only then can we develop an environment that’s conducive for creating insightful and powerful advertising.
"I don’t mean to go all ‘civil rights’ activist’ here, but I too have a dream. I dream of a world where clients, client service and creatives all work together in harmony for the betterment of the brand."
A world where there are no divisions between clients and agencies; where everyone puts their egos aside, sits on the same side of the table and takes equal responsibility for the brief, the idea and the execution.
The real difference between the advertising and food industry is that we don’t serve one-off dishes. We tell stories. We play with emotions. We build brands. And for that, we need to break down the walls that restrict us and rethink our own roles and the way we come up with good ideas and communication. The more we compartmentalise, the more we struggle. By opening up to one another, we welcome evolving thoughts and shifting opinions. We stop judging each other and start learning from one another. We start working towards the betterment of the brand rather than the betterment of our own careers. That, in my opinion, is the recipe for delicious advertising.
— Illustration by Creative Unit.