Thursday, August 13, 2020

A relic speaks.


The other day, I got sent a briefing form from the great creative agency BBH. I'm not exactly sure when the form dates from, but I'm guessing, partly because it's not sullied by Holding Company legalese, that it's from a quarter of a century ago, if not more.

Regardless of its exactly age, seeing this document is a bit like finding an old Cuneiform tablet. Those clay plates from 3000 years ago were most often not foundational stories or epic poems--they were usually accounting tabulations. Essentially the BC version of powerpoint.

Even so, those artifacts gave us a solid look at what life was like in Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit. They showed us how many dates were stored, how many camels were needed to transport how many ewers of water and in the inflow and outflow of various goods and trade routes.

This briefing form does the same for me. It shows me an industry we threw away with both hands.

We threw away what make us work and what made us good:


Start with the form itself. It's just one page. Not seven pages.
It asks simple questions, smart questions, fundamental questions.

And all those questions are clear and written without jargon or ambiguity.

The template gives the author a limited amount of room to answer those questions. So the person filling out the form can't go on and on and on. It's a form that makes covering your ass hard. And it asks for a SINGLE most important idea. 

That would be special in an "everything is top priority" world.

Next, look at the little rectangle in the lower right of the form. 

It calls not for 17 rounds of reviews, not reviews by 21 levels of creatives, not 88 different people and 176 eyeballs. It also contains pertinent information--budget and the phrase "final sign off."

Final? In 2020? 

I haven't been inside an agency in seven months. I ask all of you who are still getting briefs, to compare yours to this. The 29-page powerpoint explaining the psychographics underpinning a banner ad, or the four options of a Call To Action that the client wants to see. The five-hundred words of legal mandatories and more.

When I was a kid in advertising working in-house at Bloomingdales's I learned a very important lesson.

Every so often an ad would go through round after round of revisions. You, as the writer were dedicated to answering everyone's qualms and just getting the damn thing out of your typewriter and into production.

My boss came into my office on one of these occasions. He must have heard me screaming "muthafucka" at about 177 decibels. He read my copy as it came out of my Selectric.

"Stop trying to fix your copy," he said. "They broke it. Turn it over or tear it up and start fresh."

I think that might be where we are today in advertising.

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