If you have any psychiatrist friends, do them a favor and tell them what I’m about to tell you because they are going to have a field day with this.
Something has happened in advertising. You can see it all around. This need to feel important, to feel that what we do matters, damn it, and if people rank us down there with car salespeople and members of Congress, well, that’s just wrong. After all, don’t those people know how complicated it is, this inventing desire thing? Well, it is! NASA puts a rover down on Mars and everybody’s all “ooooh” and “aaaaaaaah,” but bust your creative guts coming up with a killer Super Bowl spot, and it’s, “Oh, look at that, that was funny, ha ha, pass the nachos.”
So, what do we do? Why, we make up a whole new language of course. Big words. Fancy words. Words that say, hey, look at us. We’re smart. So damn smart, we’ve got brains the size of a boulder.
Here’s one: humaning. Maybe you’ve heard of it. So, snack giant Mondelēz came to the decision in 2020 that marketing wasn’t at all a good idea when it came to selling Oreos and Philadelphia cream cheese and Toblerone candy bars. Instead, it decided that humaning was a much nobler way of saying, “Here, have a snack.” See what I’m saying? Important.
Here’s one of my favorites: brand archetype. As I said, inventing desire is no simple thing. Not anymore, apparently. It used to be. But somewhere along the way, somebody in this business got the idea that Carl Jung was onto something with his four main archetypes for categorizing the human psyche. But, hey, why stop at four? This is important work, advertising! What do you say we jack that up to twelve? No longer is BMW the ultimate driving machine. It’s the Outlaw. Or is it the Ruler? I feel bad for the clients. They never saw it coming.
Disruption. I love disruption. Love it to death. But when exactly did we decide disruption is something that happens in a test tube instead of at the end of a sorcerer’s wand? Fly on the wall of DDB somewhere back in the Mesozoic: “Here’s an idea. What if we call the car a lemon.” Two creatives sitting around spitballing did that. But hey, did we leave well enough alone? Hell no. Because, you know, test tubes.
Storyscaping. I’m going to guess whoever dreamed this one up isn’t satisfied creating breakthrough advertising when what they really want to be creating are worlds. Which is totally amazing if your name is Martin or Tolkien or Lucas or Le Guin. But here’s the thing: This is advertising. Game of Thrones, it will never be. Bringing a big advertising idea to life is hard enough. But, I know, it sounds so pedestrian at your high school reunion. “Me, um, I make ads.” Better to just say, “I’m a storyscaper.” Definitely important.
Actionable insights. Seriously? This is one of those important-sounding things that are as hollow as a cave but nowhere near as cool. Again with the test tubes. Truly great creative has always been, and will always be, rooted in an idea that comes at a problem from an unexpected angle. It isn’t actionable. It isn’t unactionable. It’s just an idea. If it moves someone to act on it, great. Insights are insights. But if actionable insights impress your dinner guests, who am I to interfere.
And on it goes.
As creatives, we cannot get swept up in this. So what if we never land a rover on Mars? And, yes, OK, maybe we’ll never discover the unified field theory or win the Nobel Prize in economics or broker peace in the Middle East. Maybe the zenith of our careers will come and go with barely a ripple. But why should that diminish us? We know the truth. We don’t need to camouflage the work we do, dress it up in gold and satin just so we can feel better about the path we’ve chosen. No matter how bad it gets out there, no matter how long it might be before everyone around us returns to their senses, we need to be the keepers of the flame of simplicity.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything more important than that. ca