Memos from the Department of Common Sense

I thought I’d kick the week off with a short refresher course in the bleeding obvious. 

Drawn squarely from the well of personal opinion, none of what I’m about to impart will come as a surprise to anyone with an ounce of gumption.

For others, principally those in the thrall of our industry’s latest fads, gimmicks, and bright shiny objects, I live in the hope that these simple maxims might serve as a gentle corrective. 

Yeah, I know, fat chance.

So, anyway, here we go.

Memos from the Department of Common Sense

1: If your Creative Brief won’t fit on one page, it isn’t brief enough.

2: How long does it take for a creative to come up with a great idea? 5 seconds? 5 minutes? 5 hours? 5 days? Exactly. No one knows. So please stop obsessing over timesheets.

3: Clear direction and a little space to think is still the best way to get great work out of a creative team.

4: You will never hear of Blockchain again. 

5: There is not a single ad person over 50 who doesn’t “get” social.

6: A banner ad is just an outdoor board at the top of a web page. 

7: Let’s use radio more, damn it!

8: One day we’ll look back on the Influencer Marketing fad and have a good chuckle to ourselves.

9: Dig deep. It increases your chances of creating work that no one’s seen before by 100%.

10: Experiential is like VAR in football: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

11: If you don’t have the talent to put something back together again, please refrain from tearing it down.

12: The quality of an ad is inversely proportionate to the number of people needed to approve it.

13: “Cheap, good and fast – pick two” isn’t dead. It’s not even unwell.

14: Instead of letting legal find reasons why something can’t be said or done, how about we ask them to find reasons why it can?

15: No one ever saved themselves to success.

16: Brand Purpose will be dead in the water as soon as the adults get back from lunch.

17: If the client rejects the work 3 times, the problem’s not the work. It’s the brief.

18: The appeal of Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the great mysteries of modern marketing. 

19: There is strong evidence to suggest that there just as many good creatives on outside looking in as there are on the inside looking out. 

20: Agile training teaches managers how to run a project from start to finish. Shouldn’t they know this already?

21: No good ever came of focus groups. 

22: Data may be able to deliver an ad in the right place at the right time, but without a good idea, it’s worth diddly squat.

23: An inclusive company culture goes wide and deep. Sadly, most are narrow and shallow.

24: In any downsizing or layoff, the people who really need to be canned are seldom the ones that are.

25: Car ads will start getting better any day now.

That’s it. 

Stay tuned for another exciting installment soon.

What The Hell Happened To Car Advertising? Vol: 2

Social Car 1 AM

Honda has some cars for sale.

Anyone want one?

This miserable effort pretty much sums up the state of car advertising on social platforms:

Phoned-in copy. Dull layout. Zero wit. The whole sorry business built on the assumption that if you can drop something into someone’s field of vision, you don’t have to worry about the concept or the quality of the idea.

Here are some more heinous examples.

Social Car 2

Social Car 3





This kind of work is all the more baffling when you consider the current state of the automotive market place.


Source: Statista

There’s no real market leader, it’s a battle for market share. 

A battle where a 1% or 2% gain could rake in millions.

The question these automakers should be asking themselves is:

“How can we differentiate ourselves from our competitors?”

Instead, the intent seems to be the exact opposite.

More “How can we blend in?” than “How can we stand out?”

As I said, baffling.

There are 101 reasons for this, but the principal one is that no one seems to care.

No one wants to put in the hard yards to unearth a genuine point of difference.

To outthink, outsmart, and outsell.

Not the agencies who should be challenging their clients.

And not the clients who should expect more from their agencies.

Yes, cars and trucks today are pretty much of a muchness, but whoever said the business of advertising was supposed to be easy?

I can think of many a creative who’d kill for a chance to work on an automotive account, to think big, find an edge, and cream the competition.

And I bet you could, too.

But that doesn’t seem to be what’s required anymore.

Perhaps everyone is comfortable with the share they have?

Perhaps they make enough money as it is?

Perhaps they don’t want to upset the applecart by getting into the nasty business of “selling”?

Perhaps all the marketing directors are pals and go off on skiing holidays to Telluride twice a year?


All I know is that automotive advertising used to be the gold standard for our industry.

It was one of the main reasons why many of us were attracted to the business in the first place.

Today it’s a shadow of its former self.

Of the countless ads from the past I could have used to illustrate what we seem to have lost, I’ve chosen this one for the American Motor Company by Wells Rich Greene.


In 1968, AMC was about to go into Chapter 11.

Its market share was negligible and what it had was slipping through its fingers.

It didn’t have time to fool around.

It needed to sell some cars and damn quick.

When that’s your brief, you don’t mess about with “relationships” or “experiences.”

You go for the jugular.

You talk about the car, its features, its benefits, and why it’s better than the market leader.

That’s the way you save a business.

That’s the way you sell a car.

Experience Advertising vs. The Real Thing

Get a load of this.

“Consumers expect a lot more from brands than ever before. They don’t simply want delivery of products or services. They want brands to engage with them in meaningful ways. They want experiences that deliver meaning and community. They expect their brands to bring them joy.”    

It’s from a recent Adweek article on Momentum Worldwide’s “We Know Experience 2.0” research

I read it. 

I reread it. 

I registered the extensive nature of the study and the clout of the agency behind it.

And I still don’t buy it.

I don’t buy that people expect more from brands.

Or want to engage with them.

Or expect them to bring them joy.

Not really.

It seems to me that if you ask people a dumbass question like “Do you expect brands to bring you joy?” they’re almost certainly going to tell you, “Sure, why not”

Who wouldn’t?

Similarly, if you ask them, “Would you like brands to deliver meaningful experiences for your community?” is anyone surprised if the response is, “Yeah, that would be great, too.”

How about if they engaged you in “meaningful ways”?


Ask a leading question, get a misleading answer.

Here are some more choice insights from the same article:

83 percent of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take away stress or anxiety.

86 percent of consumers believe it is important for brands to make them feel better.

Does anyone actually believe that?

There are no prizes for guessing what the study’s conclusion is.

“Experiences matter and experiential needs to move to the center of all brand marketing plans. The future is about doing, not saying. Experiential makes brands authentic and real.”   

This is the kind of lazy thinking that nowadays passes for real thinking.

Real thinking isn’t easy.

It’s hard work.

It requires you to dig into a product or service and discover something compelling about it. 

How is it better, stronger, smarter, faster, greener, easier, or otherwise more useful, different, valuable, or beneficial than its competitors?

This takes time, effort, and patience.

Done well, it will result in work of substance, significance, and longevity. 

The proponents of lazy thinking can’t be bothered with any of this.

They’d much rather just make the answer an “experience” and be done with it.

It’s okay to have a set of values and a purpose that go above and beyond what it is you make and sell.

But sometimes people just want a hamburger.

Or a razor blade that gives them a close shave.

Or a car they know to be preferable to another.

And while it’s undoubtedly more satisfying to create an experience than it is to roll up your sleeves and deliver work that actually sells, the best does both.

As luck would have it, Coca Cola has a great new campaign that does exactly that.




A simple truth.

Powerfully told.

Based on an experience.

It’s the real thing.