Exile on Madison Ave.

Mick Jagger

Rediscovered this gem recently.

Mick Jagger briefing Andy Warhol on the sleeve design for a new Stones hits album in a bullshit-free missive of brazen honesty is not only a gas, gas, gas – it also affords a plethora of readings as a best-case scenario for agency life.

My preferred interpretation puts Jagger firmly in the Creative Director’s chair.

Chiefly because it reminds me of the two key roles that a good CD must play.

First and foremost, he must be the catalyst-in-chief, challenging his charges and creating an environment where they feel free to be as creative as possible.

And two, once said work has been created, seamlessly becoming its principal champion, advocate and salesperson to the client.

Mick’s ballsy, fuck-it attitude is what gives the pieces its swaggering charm. 

(When you’re the pre-eminent rock star of your time, it’s easy to do that.)

For today’s CD, rock star or otherwise, it take a little more: passion, nuance, tact and no small amount of courage.

It’s why I love the letter and take the necessary from it: be fearless in your approach to both the work and the business of selling it.

The hits album never materialized but later that year Warhol would go on to create the artwork for Sticky Fingers – one of the seminal sleeves of the time.

He did indeed just “do what ever you want.”

And, yes, it involved all manner of fucked up production process delays.

But the client bought it and if you were to gather together a book of the coolest sleeves of the last fifty years, Sticky Fingers would undoubtedly be in it.

I wonder how Andy answered the query “and please write back saying how much money you would like.”

Ah, those were the days.

To Fear Is To Fail

Of the 5000 or so ad messages your average punter sees every day, only about 4% are ever remembered.

200 messages out of 5000. Not many.

If you’ve got a lot riding on a campaign that’s a pretty low hit rate.

Getting into that top 200 isn’t going to easy. 

You’re going to have to fight your way in.

And your competition is pretty formidable. 

In any minute of any given day you’re going to have to overcome what’s really consuming the attention of your intended target: Life.

“Can I make the next car payment?”

“What happens if the results come back positive?” 

“Is that idiot about to pull out in front of me?” 

“Is my wife having an affair?” 

“What’s for dinner?” 

“Crap, it’s my day to pick up the kids from school.”

In this kind of environment, safe isn’t going to cut it.

It’s not enough to simply place you ad in their general vicinity and hope for the best.

You’re going to have to jump out in front of them and interrupt what they’re doing.

Tell them something fascinating, intriguing, meaningful, challenging, even outrageous.

And do it with charm, wit, the element of surprise, and a capacity for laughter, joy and tears.

It’ll take courage but it’ll get you noticed.

That’s what the 4% of remember advertising does.

Does yours?

Here’s to the New Ad. Same as the Old Ad

In the early seventies, the only popular music that people took seriously was known as Progressive Rock.

Its principle protagonists were the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes.

They produced albums with big concepts and big ideas.

(And big hair and big guitar solos.)

It took itself very seriously.

In contrast, pop music was considered quick-fire throwaway and frivolous fun.

Only David Bowie, Roxy Music and Marc Bolan managed to bridge the gap.

Then, in late 1976, something interesting began to happen.

Out of the clubs and pubs of London, a new sound and attitude began to emerge.

It was fast, furious, frenetic and angry and its bands had rough hewn names like The Damned, The Clash and The Sex Pistols.

It was everything that Progressive Rock wasn’t.

Progressive Rock was all about long hair and flared jeans.

Punk was short hair and drainpipe jeans.

Progressive Rock placed a lot of importance on virtuosity and musicianship.

Punk didn’t care if you could play your instrument or not.  One ad at the time suggested that if you knew three chords you should form a band.

At a Progressive Rock gig, the audience came to “dig” the music. It was so laid back as to be comatose.

In contrast, a punk gig was an anarchic moss pit of writhing bodies; people were literally bouncing off the walls.

It was so iconoclastic that many thought it had irrevocably changed the world of music forever and would sweep away everything that had come before it.

Only it didn’t.

Within three years, punk had mutated into New Wave, a watered-down, sanitized version of its former self.

Where once Johnny Rotten had put fear into the hearts of the establishment we now had Billy Idol snarling coyly on the newly founded MTV.

Essentially, punk rock was assimilated into the mainstream.

It didn’t replace what came before.

It redefined it.

Punk rock reminds me a lot of New Media.

When it first burst onto the scene ten years ago, it seemed fresh and revolutionary.

Newly minted “experts” said it would sweep away traditional advertising.

TV was dead, radio was dead (again), print was dead.

Only they weren’t.

And they never will be.

Instead, what has happened is that social media is has quietly been assimilated into the marketing mix, its more shrill and outrageous claims for reach and influence resoundingly debunked.  

This is not to say that social media hasn’t had an effect, it’s fundamentally changed our daily viewing habits.

It’s just that its impact on other media is a lot less radical than many people thought.

It certainly isn’t going to replace TV.

Or radio. Or outdoor. Or print.

Who knows, in a couple of years time it too may come under threat from a new media revolution that threatens to replace it.

How will that turn out, I wonder?