Once, in a darkened corner of the mr.h office, sat a wise man. He was a great thinker, innovator and someone I’m proud to call a friend.
The bulb in that corner of the office has since been replaced, but the seat is now empty (except for Dave who is currently hot-desking).
Alas, my erstwhile colleague has flown the nest, but his legacy lingers like a troublesome smell – something which, I’m glad to say, has also been addressed.
To respect his privacy, he shall remain nameless, but this deeply profound Norwegian Art Director offered a fresh perspective. He implored people to question everything and find meaning from anything. And he’d achieve this with a carefully chosen phrase. A refrain so robust - so concise - it left all that encountered it questioning the very value of life’s most important – and least significant – considerations.
Whether it was a choice (‘would you like salad with that?’) or a constructive suggestion (‘wouldn’t you be more comfortable wearing trousers to work?’), his response would almost always be the same:
‘What’s the point?’
And, as all in his presence would be left to ponder this conundrum, his heel would have turned and his exit taken. Yes, he was quite the enigma alright, but a total liability in a client presentation.
But, the point remains:
what is the point?
Even, as I compose this crucial text (or ‘blog’ to be less accurate), I hear his mantra reverberate in my head, leading me to believe that I have either laboured this preamble or, worse still, forgotten what my actual point is.
Finding the point though is an important distinction. It shouldn’t be reserved for moments of existential crisis. It should be harnessed to challenge all of life’s encounters no matter how trivial they may seem. Applied correctly, it can unlock reason and open a world full of discovery.
Take this Amazon logo for example. A pretty run-of-the-mill logo, right?
Wrong! Look again. You see the orange smile that sits underneath the text? That smile is, in actual fact, an arrow pointing from the ‘a’ to the ‘z’ of the type above – it’s a graphical element which hints at the very service offered by the company.
But wait, you already knew that, didn’t you. That’s because you’re smart. Just like the rest of my support network.
For me though, it was an epiphany. Because I had dared to question, because I had the goddamn audacity to challenge, I was able to find meaning from something which, for years, had left me to assume had none. I had finally emerged from the wilderness of unknowing and I could, at last, take my place among the ranks of the enlightened. I could barely suppress my arrow smile.
You see, it pays to be curious.
I have a saying: great rewards await those who are prepared to interrogate. Admittedly, it’s not much of a saying as something I’ve just this moment written, but it’s nevertheless true – particularly for those working in a creative role.
It’s fair to say that the creative process can take you on some surreal flights of fancy. And embarking on these strange tangents of imagination can occasionally direct you on some highly colourful journeys of thought, but take too many wrong turns and you’ll soon find you’ve arrived at the creative destination of Plymouth. A place so devoid of worth that it should be severed from the isles of your mind, pushed far out into the ocean and forgotten about. I lost my thread there, but suffice it to say, Plymouth is an awful place.
As a relative newbie to the advertising world, it can be very tempting to become so consumed by an idea that I lose all sense of objectivity. As a result, it can sometimes be a challenge to identify when my idea of Arcadia is, in fact, Devon’s second city.
It’s not until I find myself pitching Alan Titchmarsh riding horseback topless as: “precisely the kind of creative solution Pampers needs,” that I’m finally confronted with the very question that I should have asked myself at a much earlier stage of the process:
What’s the point?
Of course, there might be an incredibly valid reason for Titchmarsh to be saddled, semi-naked in a nappy endorsement (he remains very keen), but if the creative execution doesn’t effectively communicate the insight or idea from which it emerged, then it’s back to the garden with Alan.
That should be the case, you’d think, but a trend seems to have emerged in advertising over recent years. Inspired by the genuinely joyous vision of the Cadbury’s gorilla beating the drum to In The Air Tonight, it’s a trend that has mutated and abandoned the convention for reason simply because… it’s random! It usually manifests itself in the form of cult cartoon characters, nostalgic whimsy and animals doing what animals don’t, just because it’s popular timeline fodder.
That’s not to say brands can’t and shouldn’t indulge abstraction as an entry point to communicate their message, but it should be embedded in some kind of purpose. Indeed, there appears to be quite an appetite for this arbitrary approach to advertising – and there are plenty of decent examples out there – but random for random’s sake, for me at least, is not an answer. Random is a CD-player function that we briefly enjoyed in 1995 (touch me, I’m random).
As a storytelling device, it might occasionally evoke a fleeting titter or a small sense of nostalgia, but if it fails to draw a connection back to the product and its benefits, then what purpose has it served other than to be a distraction?
Case in point, below is a video of the American magician David Copperfield. Watch as he definitely and most-majestically defies gravity. Bring to question the very nature of human possibility as he soars himself skywards. Behold the acrylic glory of his jumper (and hair).
Incredible, right? I mean, it has no relevance with anything I've so far discussed, nor does it lend any weight to my argument – it’s quite literally weightless. All it has served to do is deflect you from the very point of this blog. That said, it was much more compelling than anything I've had to say. And maybe that’s the point.