I bumped into an excellent bit of sarcasm yesterday written by someone I didn’t know. I tracked him down and asked him if I could re-print it. To my eyes, it was that good. He said “yes.” So here it is.
But first, an “About the Author.”
Joe Coleman is a freelance copywriter based in Manchester, England. But he works everywhere. He's won numerous major awards and was on this year’s writing for design jury at the D&AD awards.
You can see his work and get in touch at or follow him @JOETHECOLEMAN on twitter.
10 Ways to Stop Decent Work Ever Making it out of your Agency
Good ads come from distinctive single-minded propositions. So make your proposition broad and vague instead. Get this right and you can nip creativity in the bud, avoiding the awkwardness of having to kill off good ideas later down the line.
HANDY HINT - Use the construction “The smarter way to… ” in your proposition. This makes it sound like it’s single-minded, but actually means more or less nothing. It’s a really effective way to make sure creative thinking stays generic.
e.g. "Heinz Baked Beans. The smarter way to eat lunch." "Waterstones.com The smarter way to buy books." "Toyota Auris. The smarter way to drive."
ANOTHER HANDY HINT - Make your proposition confusingly multi-pronged, so it’s impossible to communicate simply. e.g. “It’s the combination of product, service and heritage that makes so special.” Then watch your creative teams flounder as they try to come up with even one functioning ad.
Identifying a tight target audience helps creative people picture who they’re talking to and talk in their language. So write “the human race” or “everyone really” in the target audience section of your brief.
HANDY HINT - You can also eliminate all nuances of language and culture by insisting your campaign “has to work globally”, even if it’s an Easter holiday promo for a car dealership in Filey.
Rather than deciding which executions are different, going to stand out and likely to stick in people’s minds, take a tick list approach and forensically analyse every ad to see which achieves the most of your objectives.
HANDY HINT - Actually create a tick list and send it to lots of “key stakeholders” to get their feedback. This way you can scientifically prove that the campaign that made everyone laugh isn’t the one you should go with.
It’s always best to completely ignore your end customers. They’re cynical, hard to impress and aren’t paying your monthly fee. Instead, build your thinking entirely around what you think your client will buy.
HANDY HINT - Take the “nuclear option” and refuse to present a campaign unless it’s what you think your client is expecting. "I already know they won't buy it."
Is the campaign a bit like that reference film the client said they liked? Is it a bit like that John Lewis campaign everyone loves? Is it a bit like that campaign their rivals ran last year? If the answer’s “yes” you can be sure no new ground is being broken. It’s good to go!
A good failsafe is to make sure a planner and senior suit are in every catch-up, so they outnumber the Creative Director 2:1. That way you can vote down anything unexpected and stop any maverick routes slipping through the net. Hell, bring an Account Manager and an Account Exec along too! A 4:1 ratio is even better.
Getting closer and closer to the presentation date and the work is still distinctive and interesting? Then it’s time to start chipping. Gradually grind the creative teams down by getting them to stay until 10pm at night and keep making small amends that seem like nothing in themselves, but which gradually add up to a full scale castration of the core idea. Keep at it and you’ll soon have a bland, broken shell of the campaign everyone liked when it was a set of marker visuals.
Hauled 5 people in off the street to look at some campaigns for £50 each and free sandwiches? Then obviously, you need to hang on their every word. One of the group doesn’t get a punchline? Kill the idea immediately. One of them has never heard of Star Wars? Then delete that reference from the script. One of them says “It’s alright I suppose” through a mouthful of crisps? Then it’s a winner! Tell your client, “We asked the public what they thought and this one really resonated with them.”
Build in multiple layers of approval, with one boss after another stepping in to make comments and amends. Make it a bit like playing an X-Box game. So, when the creative team have seen off one impossibly large, fearsome baddie on one level, they move to the next level and another baddie that’s twice as large rumbles in from the shadows.
Sales figures flat? Target audience shrugging their shoulders? Social media interaction limited to the client’s marketing team? Never mind, Ken and the team think it’s “really moved the needle in the market”. Put a glowing client testimonial on your website and the job’s a good ‘un!
There’s no silver bullet for killing great creative ideas. You need to be on your toes at all times. Creative people are inventive by nature and are always finding new ways to sneak interesting, distinctive things out of the door. But apply these techniques from briefing to post-campaign assessment and you’ll know you’ve done all you can to fight the corner for bland, generic and forgettable work. Good luck!