By Andrew Durkan, creative director, The Tribe
“You’ll remember this notion from a few years ago: If you sleep with someone, you’re sleeping with everyone they’ve ever slept with, and everyone that they’ve ever slept with, and so on. In the end you walk away with whatever germs may have been lurking about.
I feel like that every time I walk into a meeting with a client. It’s a contaminated environment. And for once, this is not a moan about clients. It’s about every other creative director who has shared space with this client. Because, with a few exceptions, they’ve spread the rubbish virus.
Let me start at roughly the beginning. About 20 years ago, in Soho, Sydney and Sandton, a group of talentless soaks had run out of chances and burned too many bridges. Their future careers looked bleak. But what if there was a place where mediocrity would go unrecognised, even be rewarded? And so they came. With accents talking the talk, a bit of rock and roll swagger, and stories of when they shot with Ridley.
And for close on two decades, they collectively produced a pile of unmitigated rubbish. Work that was bad for the consumer, bad for brands, bad for agencies, bad for the region and – the part that I’m particularly concerned about – bad for every single person who succeeded them.
Here’s what happens when an agency presents work to a client: they talk a big number two about ‘thinking outside the box’; they talk everything up as a ‘big idea’; and they do so with expertly honed confidence. They say everything a client wants to hear about their advertising and the clients lap it up. They’re the experts after all. And so the seeds of mediocrity are sown again and again.
Here’s a reality check. The ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign was a big idea. There were perhaps two others in the world last year. They’re very, very rare and they don’t come cheap. But the whole notion of a big idea has been cheapened by every single one that pretends to be, but is barely an ad.
In my darkest moments, I question myself as honestly as possible about whether, if I were the client, I’d buy the piece of work that I’m presenting. And I always get to thinking: ‘No.’ Not because of the work, but because I suddenly think that being constantly deceived by people in advertising must make it very difficult to recognise the moment when you’re actually exposed to even a reasonably good idea, never mind a great one.
As a postscript, the above rant only has relevance to the approximately five creative directors in the Middle East who actually know what they’re doing. Who are they, you ask? Consider this: if there are 1,000 agencies in the region, that would mean that there’s a half per cent chance that any given piece of business is being handled by someone who has the skill and talent to do it justice. I know who they are. So do they. The problem is that everyone else is pretending they’re one of them.
I’ll get my coat.”