Ignore the Research and Trust Your Gut
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Relying on a "Dilbert" cartoon to soften the blow of an at times harsh condemnations of ad industry practices, David Jones, CEO of global agency network Euro RSCG Worldwide, said that rather than talking about how to redefine creativity in a fast-changing world, "we should just get on and do it."
As one of the ad industry's next-generation leaders, Mr. Jones dissed consumer-generated content and the research industry while exhorting a standing-room only audience at today's "Idea Conference: Redefining Creativity" to think of themselves not as makers of ads but as creators of short-form content. He said the industry needs to show how powerful creativity can be.
The Idea Conference was hosted by Advertising Age and sibling Creativity magazine.
Not a shy guy
After teasing a smattering of laughs by showing a "Dilbert" cartoon in which a character describes his day at the office ("As usual I worked 'til midnight, worsening a presentation for a meeting that won't happen for a project that doesn't exist"), Mr. Jones, who is not shy about speaking up, laid out his thoughts on how to move the industry forward. His talk focused on four recommendations.
His first piece of advice: Stop worrying about the 30-second TV commercial. The death of the TV ad is highly overrated, he maintained, and "to talk about it is to miss the point. Our industry is the best in the world at short-form content. We should think of ourselves as creators of short-form content, not 30-second ads."
Admitting to a bit of shameless promotion for his agency, he showed "Waterboy," an animated commercial that runs for more than two minutes, created and produced by Euro's Paris office. "'Waterboy' took on a life of its own" after it was aired, said Mr. Jones. The ad's soundtrack, which featured a cover of Queen's rock anthem "We Will Rock You" sung by a French schoolboy, was a spectacular success in France, where it was released as an album. The album went gold and the single reached platinum.
He then criticized a popular trend in advertising today: the use consumer-generated content. "We've got to stop thinking that consumer-generated content is an idea," he said. "It isn't. It is a phenomenon." The problem with relying on communications created by regular Joes, he said, is that they "rarely create content with your brand strategy in their pocket."
While admitting that some of what's posted on sites such as YouTube and Heavy.com is good, he called most of it "crap" and added that brands for the most part are not welcome on those sites. The exception, he said, is "if you post brilliant ideas, you'll get attention. The brand then gets control." To show how that can happen -- in another promotional push for Euro -- he offered up consumer takeoffs posted on YouTube of an ad, called "Dancer" and created by Euro RSCG London, in which a Citroen C4 grooves in a parking lot. "Our industry cannot delegate the creation of brilliant ideas to consumers. We have to be at the starting point," he said. "Consumers can take off from there."
Taking a "swipe at the research and pre-testing industry," Mr. Jones next exhorted listeners to stop asking permission. Drawing on a "truth" from British comedian Vic Reeves that "96.2% of all statistics are made up," Mr. Jones -- also a Brit -- argued that some of the most well-liked ads aren't based on research or focus-group results. Instead they but rely on a creative director's gut instinct of what consumers will like. He cited Procter & Gamble's effort for Charmin toilet tissue created by Euro rival Publicis Worldwide that riffs off of the many euphemisms for elimination. "Publicis took a risk, and did it without a bit of research," he said.
And by way of reinforcing the previous point, his last bit of advice was for creatives to "trust your gut." Advertising is changing fast, and to not take a risk is risky -- even though it's scary to take a risk. Risk-takers who've won big, according to Mr. Jones, are Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and director David Fincher ("Fight Club," "Seven").
Really redefining creativity
He suggested changing the current format of Advertising Week, the weeklong boozy schmoozefest where industry insiders host seminars and events attended by more industry insiders, to focus instead on having the industry collaborate to solve big issues. "Others are doing it," he said, citing ProjectRed, an effort spearheaded by Bono and Bobby Shriver that brings together brands including Gap, Converse, Motorola and Apple to fight AIDS in Africa. "If we really want to redefine creativity, let's do something good with it, and use it to tackle some big issues."