Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Ad People

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I guess the idea of this piece is to share some of the wisdom I've acquired over my 30 or so years in the business. Unfortunately, one of the few things I've learned is that most acquired wisdom isn't all that wise. It's generally just a bunch of well-worn tracks in the cerebral moss leading back to the same old crap. I mean, you do learn a few things along the way; like, it's probably not a good thing to make inadvertent chicken sounds in a new-business pitch, and it's good to close your mouth while chewing at a client lunch.

One other thing I've discovered is that while everybody knows how hard it is to do good ads, very few people appreciate just how incredibly easy it is to do bad ones. There is a surefire body of acquired wisdom for creating lousy ads. In fact, whenever you see a real stinker - an ad that makes Mentos look like Almodovar - you can be sure its creators followed one of the following sure-to-fall-on-its-ass tenets:

First: Become the client. This defies the natural order of things. If they wanted someone to dramatize their ideas, they'd hire a ghostwriter. They're paying you to have your own ideas. They already have theirs. Trying to come up with a great campaign while second-guessing the client is like trying to climb K2 in flip-flops.

Second: Have lots of good meetings. Unfortunately, the definition of a good meeting is kind of floating. For some, it means a meeting at which they weren't fired or yelled at. There was a period several years ago when I had nothing but good meetings: How was that meeting? Great! I'm going to a good meeting. I just came from a good meeting. I'm about to have a good meeting.The meeting isn't set yet, but when it is, it'll be great. Then I noticed the work wasn't as good as the meetings. A good meeting, however contentious, however painful, ends up with good work and good ideas. Otherwise, it isn't any good.

Third: Agree with everybody.

Fourth: Believe that everything that emanates from you, every script, layout, every beer-soaked doodle, doesn't suck.

Fifth: Be happy with the strategy, even though you really haven't read the whole thing.

Sixth: Be happy with the strategy, even though you really read the whole thing and don't understand a word.

Seventh: Value no one's opinion. Or everyone's.

Anyway, I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Actually, after all these years, I should be able to give some kind of positive advice. Well, here it is: Pay attention. Read the scripts (every word). Look at the pictures (really). Open your eyes. Make good choices. Don't hear footsteps. Don't go ego blind. When your head gets too big to fit through the door - quit.

And, naysayers au contraire, it's good to know there will always be great brands. And that they will always need great ads.

Ted Sann is chairman/CCO of BBDO/New York and vice chairman/CCO of BBDO North America. However, he likes to simply be known as someone who has been making ads in the same location for the past 30 years.

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