Getting Away With Success

Use Andy Warhol as an Example

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Andy Warhol said, "Art is what you can get away with." This is something that advertisers should consider when selecting their agency of record. Will the agency break a few rules? Will it challenge the status quo? Will it make people nervous? If you are a challenger brand or if your growth has stalled the agency must be more aggressive for your sake.

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Alex Bogusky recently came down to speak to the New Mexico chapter of the American Advertising Federation. I can't think of anyone who has practiced the "Warhol" approach in advertising more than Alex. Before the nay-sayers out there start pounding the keyboards, listen up: None of us in advertising can get away with just anything if the advertising doesn't work. Did you hear that? Yes? OK. Now we all know that this is about getting away with something that works.

Consider the success that this attitude has had in our industry. For a stroll down memory lane, read Jonah Bloom's column on Marketers Need to Stand Up to Hysteria From the Outrage Nuts. Bloom calls for us to stand up for what we do rather than fold like a cheap deck chair every time someone with an agenda wants to use our work for their own political gain. There are ideas worth saving -- maybe not the Super Bowl ads of 07 -- but other, better ideas. If we bring clients our best thinking, then there will always be risk involved. We must have the backbone to try to do our best.

When Alex visited, he brought copies of Crispin Porter & Bogusky's book "Hoopla" (written with Warren Berger, published by Powerhouse Books) which everyone at the event eagerly snatched up. This book is a great reminder that trying to get away with something can have rich rewards. Not everything you try is gold. Some of it might be bad, but if it is going to start a revolution or change the world it is going to upset some people. Trying to get away with something can also define some brands and change the way an industry thinks and thus, does things.

There are clients out there that need and want the risk-taker agency. Many of our clients know that when it comes to marketing, you take no prisoners. You can't afford to be safe. You have to accept someone's going to be offended. It's a part of the price of connecting on more intimate level with your customer. I'm blessed with clients with this attitude – and there have been times in my career when I had none.

We look for clients that like pushing the envelope -- the ones that believe that it's the only way to push their businesses forward. These clients believe sameness breeds indifference. Don't misunderstand my position. It's not that we have to shock people with outrageousness, inappropriate antisocialism, rebellion and the like. It's about ideas that change the way society view things. It's about changing society.

I think this is what Warhol was really saying. If you accept change, you get art. That is the art of advertising in a nutshell: Changing people. Getting them to think and do what they previously have not. This requires provocation. Which brings us back to Warhol.

I doubt Warhol was trying to "get away" with something as much as he was just trying to get away from everything. Separate a brand from the crowd and you may sell it. Don't separate it from the crowd and it's a lock you won't.

I like a lot of what's going on in advertising today, but it's an embarrassingly small minority of our output. Small agencies have an agility to move the industry forward. Crispin is an indisputable example. We should set similar goals. Not mimicking what others have done, but refining an industry that easily falls into the status quo.
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