Maybe the New New Thing Should Be Nothing

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Credit: Portfolio

Creativity is the beating heart of our industry. It's our hero. It inspires innovation. It's awarded and it's rewarded.

But maybe we're doing it wrong.

What if the constant uprooting of ideas comes at a cost? What if vitality matters more than virality? What if marketers are better off refining and perfecting a singular signature story rather than chasing new creative?

This is what author and consultant Ryan Holiday believes. And in his new meticulously researched book "Perennial Seller," Holiday details through many examples why creatives should stick to crafting work that accrues rather than floating between ideas. The book may find a cult following on Madison Avenue the same way his work on stoic philosophy, "The Obstacle is the Way," did in the NFL.

While Holiday's message is largely focused on authors, entrepreneurs, musicians and filmmakers, he feels marketers too are creating too many ideas. They would benefit from trying to stay the course and investing in just one idea.

"Brands need to understand that momentum is really hard to create and once you get it, throwing it away for the next new thing is insane. It creates boom bust cycles," he told me by email. "As a company, you want to be the San Antonio Spurs - good year in and year out, with uniformity and continuity. You want to be AC DC, whose albums sell year in and year out. That's what customers trust."

Consistency was easier in the three-network, 30-second TV spot world than in today's more perishable two-platform, six-second video era. But Holiday thinks that the proliferation and obsession with the new toys are causing some marketers to lose momentum.

"Brands and agencies are always chasing the new thing -- the first to be on this platform or to do something with that type of influencer or to buy ads in that format," he said in our email conversation. "But flash forward a few years, and aside from a quick mention on a Wikipedia page, it's as if it never even happened. Nobody cares who the first brand in Second Life was, ten years later, or who did the first ad on Instagram."

So what's the solution? To ignore the noise. To stop creating so many campaigns and to invest in one idea that can become a franchise - much as advertisers did in the Mad Men days and Hollywood still does today. "The costs of creating something new are almost always going to be higher than the costs of keeping something great going," Holiday said.

True. But the proliferation of digital technologies has created a culture where sitting still is not in vogue. There's a cult of busyness in business. CMO tenures are short. Multivariate creative is more exciting than a singular idea just as high frequency trading is more sexy than a buy and hold investment strategy.

But "Perennial Seller" opened my eyes that the more things change, the more we need to not lose sight that the best ads are art. And while the palette is more prolific and the canvas is shifting, marketers need to focus on crafting lasting work that can stick in our minds -- and then iterate rather than create.

"You don't create something like 'The Ultimate Driving Machine' or 'Be All That You Can Be' chasing trends, you do it by focusing on what's timeless, what's deep," Holiday said. "This the kind of work that not only defines a company, but also defines your career and your legacy. The key is to ignore what's going on around you, what everyone else is doing, the allure of this fad or that one, and try to make something that not only can stand the test of time -- but deserves to."

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