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There's no point teaching advertising

Recently, a really good advertising college asked me to do a series of lectures.

Eight videos, each on a different part of the process of what we do.

Taking each area apart and explaining the logic step-by-step, building gradually into an overall knowledge of how to do good advertising.

I said it was a good idea but I wouldn’t do it.

The college asked why.

I said I knew about creating good advertising, but that wasn’t what was wanted in ad agencies today.

Consequently it would be useless in helping students get a job.

Worse, it would confuse them.

They’d follow my logic: understanding, and analysing the market to work out who would buy the product.

They’d listen to what I’d said about researching how it was made: the R&D guys, the factory, the sales people.

They’d work out the media that was most likely to deliver against the target market.

Then they’d write ads that were designed to be impactful and memorable to those people.

Questioning at every stage how to keep it logical and creative.

They’d build up a portfolio of work like that and they’d never get a job, because that isn’t what’s wanted in ad agencies.

What’s wanted is whacky executions that look like they might win an award.

Something that the journalists in the advertising trade-press can write about.

Whatever you do, don’t let a product difference ruin the ad.

And never do anything as corny as trying to get the brand name remembered.

In that situation, anything I could teach students is irrelevant at best.

Nowadays a ‘creative’ doesn’t have time to think, thinking just gets in the way.

The planners have done all the ‘thinking’ so it’s cast-in-stone and must be obeyed.

It might seem dull, formulaic, and boring, but it’s Gospel.

Just do a punny headline and stylish visual, you’ve got until lunchtime when the client’s in.

So students need a portfolio full of crazy and wild digital solutions to get a job.

Oh yes, digital it must only be digital.

No press or posters or TV, no dinosaur media.

That’s what Mark Read meant when he said the average age at WPP was under 30: “No one remembers the eighties, luckily”.

Because they’re not looking for ideas that could work in any media.

They’re looking for digital techniques, digital stylists, production line workers.

Not people who are going to start thinking creatively and maybe have an idea that wasn’t written on the brief.

Digital stylists: who know the answer before they even see the brief: the answer is digital, now just do a visual and headline.

That’s the version of creativity that’s required nowadays.

And I can’t teach that.

All I can teach is creativity which starts with questioning.

Question the brief, question the media, question the R&D guys, question the salesforce, question the consumers.

And when you’ve done all that, make the answer different to what everyone else is doing.

Most briefs start and stop at “Who’s buying it now?

But really creative questions will take you to “Who COULD be buying it?

That’s exciting, that’s fun, that works and it sells stuff.

I can teach that, but that isn’t what’s wanted.

So a portfolio of ideas like that won’t help them get a job.


This piece first appeared in Dave Trott's blog here.