Why I am no longer a Creative Director*

When I started in advertising the Creative Director of an advertising agency was the most senior person in the creative department. Depending on the size of the agency they may also be a partner in the business or even the agency owner. The most creative advertising professionals, the ones who won gold lions at Cannes year on year were Creative Directors.

On the creative ladder, CD was the top. It was an aspirational role for sure and unique to the advertising business. But something happened a couple of years ago. Perhaps with the popularity of The Gruen Transfer or just because it sounded ‘cool’, the title Creative Director started popping up all over the place. Suddenly magazines had Creative Directors. Then record labels had Creative Directors. Then startup businesses that loosely worked in the creative industry had Creative Directors. I think this is all Don Drapers‘ fault!

True Creative Directors were people with minds that worked differently to everyone else’s. Beyond the creative side of their remit was the business side. They were as familiar with marketing strategy as they were with managing client relationships. They also had a great sense of humour and presentation skills that could sell anything to anyone. I once saw the CD of one of the big agencies I worked for, fake a heart attack in the middle of a presentation to their bank client, then get up and continue on with the presentation, all to win a $100 bet with the agency MD. Inspired!

I was immensely fortunate to be taught by George Betsis and then train under four great CDs; Grahame Bond (at BondStrothfeldt), Bob Mitchell (at Clemenger), John Anstey (at SASS) and Jan O’Connell (at Grey). And when Tim Hunt promoted me to Creative Director at Capital I had 15 years experience under my belt working in some of the biggest, some of the best creative departments on some of the biggest brands in the world. When I founded my own agency I continued as Creative Director. And that’s when the real work started. Inside someone else’s agency there is a support system. Not so when you’re doing it for yourself. But the flip side is unprecedented freedom in every aspect of the business you are creating; in reality, a true Creative Director.

CDs in adland noted this devaluing trend in the title and started looking for alternatives; Creative Partner, Executive Creative Director or my personal favourite, CCO (Chief Creative Officer). WTF! IMHO none of these fit the bill. So they drew upon their creative minds and looked left field; Head of Ideas, Principal Thought Generator, Ideationist. I mean seriously, rather than defining what their roles and responsibilities, these titles sound at best confusing and at worst a joke.

I experimented with alternative titles when I was CD at Left FIeld. The company name deemed that we needed to be different and we wanted to portray that difference at every opportunity. Staff titles was the first place we started. I was Creative Director, Knower of Things and Chief Swashbuckler. The format was simple; real title from employment contract, a talent, a personality trait. We rolled this format out to all staff. They appreciated it and so did clients and other stakeholders. A great icebreaker as well as serious communication device.

But I will no longer call myself a Creative Director. The title has lost any true value and now is as useful as describing someone as a ‘consultant’.

* For the purposes of being pigeon holed and LinkedIn, I have to keep calling myself a Creative Director. At least my mum now understands what I do for a living.

Can’t Beat This

Ever since the mysterious “Can’t” poster campaign started appearing about a week or so ago, it has reminded me of the ad below. Stunningly simply, immediately communicative, irrefutably hilarious and time tested.

As per the credits; created by Alan Crew and Darryn Devlin with photographer Michael Corridore – won Bronze at AWARD in 1996 and Folio Best of Year in 1997.

The client was Ford Pills and the agency was the now extinct BAM founded by Rob Belgiovane, Phil Atkinson and Reg Moses.

This is reproduced without permission from anyone but I do thank Campaign Brief for printing the ad in their 1997 publication ’10 Years of Creative Australian Advertising’

A life changing moment

While procrastinating instead of job hunting this evening, I searched YouTube for this ad. It was made by Clems and won Australia’s first Gold Lion at Canne in the early 1990’s. I’m willing to stand corrected if it was not the first but it was surely before the new metal they give out these days; the Platinum and the Titanium.

In all my time in advertising I always wanted to make an ad this brilliant. Not for the metal but for the emotional impact. I still cringe slightly at the last line but that is my only criticism. I love the single long shot, timed to perfection (before computers) so that we hear ‘speared‘ and then start to see the smash.

And while searching for this clip I discovered one of its creators, Mike Dowd passed away this year. I wish we were turning out ads just as good these days; something with an idea instead of the pretty, lifestyle, appeal to the masses shit we have thrown at us now.

In full disclosure: I chose to buy a very old Benz. Because of this ad. If I could, I’d own a very new Benz. Because of this ad.

The Secret to Writing Great Copy…

… is not using typographical tricks like placing an ellipsis at the end of a headline to “lure” the reader in.

I mention this because I have just received another marketing/spam email offering me the opportunity to learn the ‘Top Tips’ of a master sales copywriter. I’ve already learned the craft of copywriting from some of the legends of the industry; writers who can take the smallest or most seemingly insignificant benefit of a product or service and create a big idea to entertain and persuade their audience to change their behaviour. No easy task.

In the email I received there are at least another 30 “Top Tips” that the so called expert copywriter is willing to teach ordinary people. (I’ve never meet an ordinary human especially as there are 6 billion unique models running around the planet).

Let’s be very clear; the best copywriters in the world work for the best advertising agencies in the world. They do not write spam emails about how to write spam emails under the guise of Internet marketing.

So here is my three top tips for spotting scam copy online or in an email;

  1. It’s very, very, very long – You’re halfway through it before you have any idea what it’s about except you’re promised that your salary or penis will be much larger for little cost and/or effort just by clicking a link.
  2. It’s too good to be true – turn your annual salary into your monthly, weekly or daily salary. Quadruple your profits overnight. But you only get to the ‘offer’ after reading a type of prose which is a written is a style that is half evangelical and half brain washing.
  3. It’s full of praise – Typically the praise is for a person or system that the sender is trying to convince you to use.

What I really hate about this kind of Internet marketing is that it preys on the naive, gullible, simple or desperate. And for this reason alone I will do my best to educate people as to the different types of deplorable tricks that the majority of Internet marketers use.