Ernie Schenck, legendary copywriter/creative director and Communications Arts columnist, is not scared. And that’s the problem.
How many dangerous ads have you seen lately? How many dangerous ideas? The kind of ideas that dare CMOs to open the door and let them in. The kind that could just as easily bite a client’s head off as they could make her look like a genius. I don’t see that kind of creative anymore. Scary creative. Freddy Krueger creative…
Once, we were monsters. Tearing through the soft underbelly of mediocrity without hesitation. No challenge frightened us. No creative obstacle stood in our way. And, oh man, the work that came out the other side—it trampled everything in its path.
But something has changed. The monsters aren’t as many anymore. They’ve turned into something kinder. Gentler. More willing to go along to get along.
In other words, we’re soft now.
In my estimation, the pervasive softness is a societal condition, not an affliction unique to marketing or advertising. The value in Ernie’s reminder is knowing that advertising is more of a martial art than a form of yoga. When done right, advertising is a full-contact sport that you need to train for and stay in shape for, or risk being badly beaten by the competition.
Required: Heart of a Poet, Skin of a Brick Layer
One of the first things a junior creative learns is the value of a thick skin. Creative Directors will shoot down ideas, often for no good reason. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking.
The job requires you to produce lots of viable ideas fast. The job also requires a state of emotional detachment from the ideas you’re producing and presenting. Just when you think you found the one best solution, the Account Director comes in and poo-poos the whole notion. Back to the drawing board.
The best creatives are sensitive as hell—this allows them to feel and to create something fresh.
The best creatives are tough, and sometimes rough around the edges—this allows them to survive in corporate environments, where for all intents and purposes, they do not belong.
Adopting Organizational Arrogance Can Mask Personal Insecurities
When a person has a good job, it can do a lot for the person’s self esteem. When a person in advertising manages to find her way to one of the few elite agencies, it can do wonders for the person’s self esteem, or cause relentless stress and lingering imposter syndrome.
When you step out of the day-to-day grind, and start operating as an independent contractor, there is no foundation (which goes nicely with the no salary and no benefits). There’s just the lone worker and her talent and fierceness in the face of fire.
Meanwhile, people inside the lofty office spaces let the sense of security that comes with a job ease their minds. What bites is when the sense of security also softens the mind.
A lazy mind faced with multiple marketing problems to solve is a mind at unrest, and a mind at unrest is not prepared to go deep for the answers that live below the surface. To get to the scary stuff that Ernie calls for takes discipline, and a willingness to grapple with unforeseen fears and challenges as they come.
Actively Cultivate Fearlessness
If I had to name one word to describe this time in America, the word would be “passive.”
Things should be different. People ought to know better. The criminals must be stopped. People really need to vote. And so on.
It’s like everyone is standing on a stool, instead of their own two feet. The voices are notably shaky because next to no one is grounded and speaking from their diaphragm.
Kick Your Ego to the Curb
Advertising is not the military and creative people do not respond well to authority. Straight lines and barked orders can go to hell, according to me and people like me. The route to greater discipline (that leads to braver work) is the pathway of the conscious warrior.
Laugh if you must. I do! When you recover from your paroxysm, here’s the deal: Only when you remove your own bloated ego from the room, are you ready to engage in the martial art known as concepting.
Concepting does not hurt, and there is no loser. It’s mental sparring, where you kick and chop the problem in order to break it down. The conscious warrior is not concerned with awards that might be won, or with anything other than an elegant solution for the client and the client’s audience.
Egolessness allows for a successful creative rhythm. Good ideas get shot down and better ideas are born in their place—it’s the natural order of things and the desired state. There is a way to better, braver work. It requires a daily practice that strengthens the individual while improving the team.