Monthly Archive: October 2010

Like An Old House, Brands Need A Lot Of Care, Or They Fall Apart

Umair Haque is a smart guy. He studied neuroscience at McGill, picked up an MBA at London Business School and he did postgraduate work in economics, strategy, and innovation at Oxford. Today he writes for Harvard Business Review and he’s the director of Havas Media Lab, a think tank within the agency holding company.

Ed Cotton of Butler Shine Stern & Partners says Haque “appears to be fighting a one man war with corporate America over their lack of insight and creativity.”

Indeed. Haque’s latest piece in HBR takes The Gap and Best Buy down a whole flight of pegs for failing to recognize how important design is to the enterprise.

Like most companies, the Gap just doesn’t understand the game-changing power of design.

Most companies see design as a superficial afterthought on which a few pennies are spent if there are a few bucks left in the budget.

Haque then uses Apple’s investment in design as a counterpoint to the unimaginative.

Taking design as seriously as most companies take (yawn) “strategy” creates more value for Apple in a year than most companies create…ever.

When you think about it, Apple chose an industry that was bereft of design altogether. Walk into Best Buy today and you walk into design desolation, aesthetic aridity, a dystopia of designlessness. There’s not a drop of joy, delight, amazement, or just plain well-though-out usability in sight; it’s a little bit like the emotional equivalent of taking a holiday in Sparta. And unless you’re a masochist, you’re probably not going to pay much of a premium for that.

This is all music to my ears, of course. For I’m in the business of selling design.

If you have a minute, I’d like to tell you a story about how I–a copywriter by trade–arrived at this place.

The journey towards design actually started a long time ago. Every copywriter quickly learns that his or her ideas (and words) aren’t worth a dime without truly exceptional visual solutions. So, from the very beginning, I became totally dependent on design, and the graphic artists and art directors who adeptly employ it.

Then, in November 2001 I met and started to work with Cathy Solarana. Cathy is a great designer and my design education, care of Cathy, had begun in earnest.

In 2005, I joined BFG Communications in Hilton Head Island, and quickly realized that BFG is, at its core, a design shop. One situated across the river and through the trees from Savannah College of Art & Design, where the great majority of BFG’s designers went to school.

Fast forward to 2009 and the creation of Bonehook. I had to decide between positioning myself as a freelance copywriter/creative director and starting my own shop. To borrow an analogy from the building industry, it’s like being a general contractor or an architect. They’re both great paths, but they’re two different choices.

I chose the brand builder path. No writer, strategist, account guy walks this path alone. To invent brands and reinvent them, one needs superior design. Design is fundamental. If the brand identity is wrong and the packaging is off there’s little point in investing in advertising, PR, social media and the like.

Like a beautiful building, a well-constructed and well cared for brand is something to behold. Don’t you want that for your company? I do, and I want it for my friends who run businesses.

Will Make Custom Communications For Food

Matt Herrmann, exec VP-chief strategy officer at McCann West, is a humanist. He’s also an ad man.

Writing in Advertising Age, he argues that machines are simply not capable of creating compelling advertising.

BETC Euro RSCG in Paris has made a software program called CAI (Creative Artificial Intelligence) that, after giving it some data on your target, product, and a basic strategy, spits out some mediocre print ads — no cantankerous copywriter required.

Stephane Xiberras, president and executive creative director at BETC Euro RSCG, said, “CAI creates something that resembles advertising, but that fundamentally isn’t, in the sense that it lacks essential qualities: novelty, inventiveness and the unexpected. In short, anything that only a human being is capable of producing. CAI is a fascinating but dangerous machine because it synthesizes the nemesis of our creative profession: standardized or formatted thinking.”

Herrmann concludes:

Our value as strategists and creatives is inextricably bound to our native understanding of humanity and our instinctual drive to make innovative and beautiful communication. And there’s value beyond just trying to win awards with that work; we’re ensuring the future viability of our industry against simplistic, mechanistic communication that can be easily duplicated, and easily dismissed. So go out there and make one amazing thing today.

People inside the ad business, and some outside of it, badly want there to a formula for producing great ads. But there isn’t one. The best work that communicates something powerful and lasting is created by chance, not by formula. Of course, the more chances the creative team takes, and the deeper they delve into the client’s particular marketing problems, the better chance that the work will be excellent.

I’ve never felt like what I do for a living could be automated. I don’t think that now. But it’s happened to a lot of people over the years, many of them skilled craftsmen. And when people who make beautiful things by hand are replaced by a machine that doesn’t, what ad man’s job is truly safe?