My first (creative) partner was a girl in my ad school during my third year doing a Bachelor of Communications at AUT.
She was great, we did a lot of interesting work together.
There was one thing about her that I found odd.
She didn’t watch television.
Her family didn’t have one. She was raised like this. Instead of watching TV, she’d pursue hobbies like dancing, which is all well and good because she was an excellent dancer.
And her parents took her to different countries when she was little, so she was well travelled. Phenomenally so.
But she didn’t watch television.
And to me, this left a gap in her thinking.
Sometimes, I would suggest an angle we could explore or lines we could use based on popular culture originating from a TV show, and she would come back to me; expressionless.
I think there was one time I mentioned a TV character like Captain Planet.
"Captain Planet. You know, the Planeteers? Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart? Go, Planet?"
"Nope. Are you sure people know who that is?"
"Are you serious?!"
Good advertising messages stem from insights. Insights about the product, where it’s made, how to use it, the people that use it, an so on.
The best advertising messages stem from life insights. Aspects of daily living that transcend language, age and gender boundaries.
And the best way to come up with these life insights is to experience life.
If you’re disconnected somehow, you’re not going to reach those crucial truths you need.
In a way, this means to travel; see different people and cultures and view life from a unique perspective.
In a more realistic way, this means to branch out from what you already do.
Just because Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney hang out at MacLaren’s Pub all the time, doesn’t mean it’s cool for you to do as well.
Read a book you by an author you don’t normally read; see a movie you wouldn’t see; watch TV, a lot; go to a restaurant you haven’t been to and order something you don’t normally eat.
Every new thing you do gives you a new perspective and broadens your thinking.
You could notice how people who can’t handle spicy food look like they’re taking a Lamaze class when they eat, or how the majority of commuters read books on the train, or all the weird tips and tricks for picking out perfect produce you learn from farmer’s market patrons.
They can all birth interesting ideas that come from simple life insights.
Another thing I would recommend is to watch a lot of stand up comedians. All and any you can. Local ones, international ones, male ones, female ones, transgender ones, old ones, young ones, Irish ones, American ones, Spanish ones, Chinese ones, Nigerian ones, bad ones, really bad ones, all of them.
Especially those who specialise in observational humor.
What these people do for a living is take even the tiniest life insight, like the faces men make when we shave, and turn it into something relatable, funny and entertaining.
Gee, that sounds familiar.
And you can tell they’ve hit the nail on the head with these details of daily life because of the immediate laughter from the audience.
Young creatives could learn a lot from these people. The more you watch, the more perspective you benefit from - it’s simple.
As a creative (especially one working in advertising), you’re not just living life, you’re exploring it. And the best way to do that is just do something different from time to time.
A friend of mine, Iain Nealie, a creative at TBWA\Tequila in Auckland, once did something as simple as using a different mode of transport to go to work each day for a week.
He managed it (walk, run, car, skateboard, bus).
Simple as that.
Or just at least make sure you’re getting enough TV each day.
Last year, I spent my Easter holiday hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A phenomenal experience. If you’re ever in New Zealand, and only do one thing that’s naturery, make it that.
The day my friend, Abby and I completed the hike, we went to steak house near our lodge. We shared a table with a boisterous couple who were going to do the hike the next day.
We got talking, and it turned out that the woman was an executive for DB Breweries. A dream client.
Now, at the time there was a small rumour going around at the time that DB was putting themselves up for pitch following an enormous change at Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland with the CEO and the ECD leaving the agency thus undergoing a significant leadership change.
So I figured I’d dig.
I commented on a billboard I had seen for Heineken in downtown Auckland. It was executed on a particular ad space that covered two sides of a shopping mall. The headline ran along and around the corner of the building, making it only readable from a very particular angle. Most of the time, you only saw half of the headline from where you were on the surrounding streets.
She agreed. It wasn’t one of their billboards she was most proud of.
She said to me,
"When they showed us the layout, it was one, long strip. And looking at it like that, it looked great. What we should’ve asked for, was to see it in-situ."
A lot of advertising looks great on the screen of the designer’s Mac, or on your Creative Director’s desk, or on the boardroom table. But the question you have to ask is how does the work look in the real world?
As creatives, we are always being reminded that the work we do is not principally for us, but for them, the consumers.
And one important element to consider rather thoroughly is the context the ad is in.
Where is the billboard? What magazine is it in? What website? What are the people likely to be doing when they view it?
When all these questions (and many, many more) are considered and creatively answered, you get something closer to effective and cool.
In a previous post about portfolio advice, I quoted Bob Barrie, ECD for BDM*. The one thing he asks when looking at a portfolio is, are the ideas real-world applicable? It’s one thing to have creative ideas, but something else entirely if you have creative ideas that work.
Looking at your work they way your audience will see it will, quite simply, help pick out all the grit you only tend to notice after the ad has run, otherwise referred to as when it’s far, far too late.
*My god, the ad industry is alphabetical, isn’t it?