Make an Oath: Inspire All to Better Creative

It's Time for the Advertising Industry to Adopt Its Own Hippocratic Oath

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We all consider ourselves members of the advertising and marketing cognoscenti. No one in our business wants to make bad ads. No one. We work long hours, push each other, compete and fight to make everything great. Everyone begins a project with the same mentality, vigor and enthusiasm. But how often do we still feel that way at the end?

Advertising is such a highly public medium. We cover the outdoors, the internet, phones, TV, and even take the form of a flash mob or two. Wouldn't it be great if our non-advertising friends stopped asking why so many bad ads exist? They clearly envision our profession littering the world, one creation at a time.

What we tell them is that behind every shoddy ad exists a legion of great ideas, which were originally created and proposed, but never made it further than a meeting room. So they ask the obvious question, "But why can't all the good ideas just get made?" Oh, if they only knew the five thousand reasons.

There's no easy fix to our protests, but before you surrender, here's one proposition: What we need is a shared mindset. Let's institute an advertising version of the Hippocratic Oath. If a common credo remained top of mind among everyone at all times, we might hold ourselves to an exalted vision, and do everything possible to obtain our desired end result.

A lot of agencies already do something in this vein. Wieden & Kennedy is famous for the "Fail Harder" wall at its offices. You should encourage everyone you work with to institute a shared rally cry. Imagine if your clients walked past a wall like that every day.

How do we create an Advertising Hippocratic Oath? It could take so many forms. Well, let's start with figuring out who best represents our Hippocrates. It seems obvious to use the godfather of creative advertising -- the man still often quoted in advertising publications -- Mr. Bill Bernbach.

I came across this quote of his in an old New York Times article:

"We don't merely try to be clever or do tricks on a page. What we try to do is to get a selling proposition and to make it memorable. There are two ways you can put a proposition across. Either you can repeat it over and over again at a cost of millions of dollars. Or you can make that proposition so memorable that the consumer will retain the message with the first exposure. We are in favor of this second approach. For, in addition to selling, we believe we also make a taste contribution. People are exposed more to advertising than to any other form of art of writing. And by doing good art and copy we can upgrade the level of public taste."

Amen, Bill. I dub thee "The Bernbachian Oath" -- a tenet to write and post on the walls of offices, cubicles and desktop backgrounds. What if your key decision makers had a quote like that always within eyesight? Maybe the tough choice to kill an idea would be given a second thought.

You should establish your own oath. Construct a piece that exudes a torrent of inspiration. Align it to fit the type of projects you work on and encourage your collaborators and partners to post it up in their offices as well.

Imagine our workplaces without as many painful memories of failed creative attempts haunting the hallways. We all have the same goals: to create great work and get results.

A common vow could be the guiding force carrying us through the long, muddled process of every project. It serves as a reminder, when so many other issues get in the way, what we love most about our jobs.

You may think an oath is a ridiculous notion, tantamount to performing a rain dance. How can a few words solve our struggles? Well, maybe I'm just a dreamer. But I'm tired of watching good ideas go to waste. Aren't you?

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