One thing I’ve really noticed about the ad industry, and probably the wider world, is that it really matters where an idea comes from.
In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be true. I’ve heard plenty of agencies philosophising about how, at their agency, it doesn’t matter if the idea comes from the creatives, the account team, the finance department, the receptionist or the CEO’s dog. An idea is an idea, and all ideas are born equal.
Much as it would be wonderful if this were true, it really isn’t. For example, I’m a relative young’un in the industry, and like all creatives, I have a portfolio of stuff I’ve done and stuff I’d like to do. If I were to walk into an agency to have someone senior critique my ideas, those ideas would inevitably be viewed through the filter of my age and experience. Imagine little early-twenties wet-behind-the-ears-me sitting in the Creative Director’s office at somewhere brilliant like Wieden + Kennedy, and saying:
“OK, this one’s for a chocolate brand. It’s a TV ad. We open on a guy sitting at a drum kit in a gorilla suit. He looks like Bigfoot. We watch him sitting there for a bit as some Phil Collins – yeah, Phil Collins, what of it? – music plays. Then it gets to that big old solo in In The Air Tonight and he bashes it out on the drums. We end with branding and whatnot”
I can only imagine the bewilderment on the CD’s face, and the hurried ushering out that would follow. Admittedly, I didn’t describe the ad very well, but it’s clear enough for the idea to come across, which is all it needs to be. So why does this sort of ad only get taken seriously when it comes out of the mouth of someone with a track record, someone hailed as an ad genius, like Juan Cabral? For those not from the UK or who live down a manhole somewhere, this is the ad I was describing:
It’s brilliant, and it’s rightfully won a whole heap of awards. But the idea would never have been made if it had come from me. Why? Because judgement calls are a fundamental part of human decision-making, and a sensible and probably subconscious way of deciding how to judge something is to look at the track record. If I’ve made ten D&AD Black Pencil-winning ads, chances are this one is brilliant too. If most of the stuff I’ve done has been mundane or even rubbish, this one’s likely to be a dud. And if I’ve got no track record at all? There aren’t many incredible creatives in the world, much less young ones. So, chances are this idea probably isn’t genius. (Of course, all of this only applies if the ad could potentially be great or not. If it’s definitely rubbish, then it’s rubbish, no matter whose brain it came out of).
So while it might be true that great ideas can come from anyone, it’s also true that those ideas will likely only be judged as great in the presence of a raft of previous successes. I’ve actually heard of Creative Directors having idea suggestions anonymised before they receive them, to prevent this kind of bias. Which might be the only failsafe way we’ve got of seeing ideas for what they are, not whose they are.
Of course, you could argue that the reputation approach is useful for establishing whether a risky ad is worth a punt. And it is. But by playing it safe, there’s always that glinting speck of doubt that in doing so, you skipped right over the next Gorilla.