What separates agencies who make ads from agencies who make great ads. Part 3

I wrote this parable about the lack of “success” that choosing to be right often brings. Since it seemed to give a different spin on what separates agencies who make ads from those who make great ads  I’ve joined it with the others in a way I hope is helpful to you, dear graduates, as you enter the ad agency business:

 Two knights are given a task by the king: 

“Bring me a stone to make soup from.” 

The first knight goes away but returns in only a few minutes with a ham bone. 

He says, “This will make good soup.” 

The king says, “That is not a stone.” 

“Well of course it’s not a stone,” the knight argues, “Who makes soup out of a stone when they can have soup made out of a ham bone?” 

The king says, “Put him in the dungeon.” 

The second knight also goes away. 

After many days of eating and drinking and traveling at the king’s expense, he returns with a thousand drawings of a thousand different stones. 

“Which of these beautiful stones do you wish me to bring you to make soup from?” the knight asks. 

There is delighted murmuring from the king and from his court. 

“Give this knight a chest of gold” says the king, “and take the drawings to the Queen that she may choose which stone suits.” 

                                                               Moral of the story:

Doing what you know to be right is always right. But so is following orders.

Welcome to the conundrum.  It’s a simple dance, complicated by people. You’ll love it.

What separates agencies who make ads from agencies who make great ads. Part 2.

It struck me in reading over the 1st part of this post that I’d described something–found insight–but not given an example of it in action. The admaker with the best story I’ve heard about the value of found insight is someone I know who was also nice enough to write the story out:  
“In the late 90’s, Tiger Woods was winning so often it seemed like everyone else on the PGA Tour was showing up to compete for 2nd place. And Tiger was a golf Terminator–all fist pumps and intensity. Nike asked us to show another side of Tiger. A more human side.
We developed a spot called Driving Range. A simple story of Tiger on a range with average golfers who begin mimicking Tiger’s swing resulting in a ballet of perfect golf — until Tiger leaves and everyone reverts back to slices and duck hooks. We asked Lasse Hallstrom to direct. During a break in filming, we saw Tiger bouncing a golf ball on the head of his driver. Cast and crew loved it. It was amazing — and fun — to watch. We thought it would be a nice thing to put on film and show at a sales meeting. So we put Tiger in next year’s apparel and shot it during the lunch break.
I remember walking up to video village after we finished with my partner Chuck McBride and looking at playback. It was obvious this was more than a meeting toy. It was something we had found that did a better job of making Tiger human than the commercial we were shooting.
Everybody remembers Hackeysack. Nobody remembers Driving Range .”
 -Hal Curtis, Creative Director, Wieden & Kennedy

What separates agencies who make ads from agencies who make great ads?

It’s not what city the agency is located in.

It’s not who the creatives are.

It’s not who the creative directors are.

It’s not who the clients are.

It’s not whether the agency is digital or big or small or pharma or business-to-business or family-owned or young or old or the staff is composed of any permutation of colorgenderrace or if the offices have doors or whether there is any office space at all.

It doesn’t matter what language the agency’s work is written in.

It doesn’t matter how the work is art directed, produced, traffic-ed or presented to the client.

What separates the tiny cadre of agencies who make great ads from the legion of agencies who just make ads is whether the agency’s process looks for and depends on found insight or whether the agency’s process kills found insight.

Found insight is what one gets once one has started on a project.

It is not the map with which one starts a reconnaissance of an area but the redrawn map one returns with from having been there to look and smell and measure.

Found insight is something you discover that you wish you’d known when you started.

It is the nature of the really good stuff about products and audiences to hide itself from the view of normal investigation.

It is the way the world works that the best answers to problems do not come to the surface before they’re needed, but rather are only found in the penultimate moment before they must be put to work.

99% of agencies kill these found insights, these unknown discoveries. They punish those who bring them up and reward those who stray least from the exact terminology of the project’s starting point.

1% of agencies thrive on implementing found insights.

1% of agencies (maybe fewer) will stop what they’re doing and shift direction to the found insight and turn it into great advertising that surprises and delights.

Dear students, this is not the only way to look at agencies.

Not everything is as simple as the look through this particular lens makes it seem.

Neither is this an incitement to disregard briefs or to provide argument for the value of every cobbled-together-at-the-last-minute piece of work that you do.

This is merely an invitation.

To those Brand Managers-to-be: Leave room in the process of deciding what to say about your product for the agency to discover something you didn’t know was there. If you dare, require them to find such and not accept their work until they have.  And if you dare greatly, reward them for not bringing you merely what you asked for.

To those Planners-to-be: Briefs are more helpful when they establish a place to start than when they are fashioned as a hoop the finished work must jump through. And, if you dare greatly, don’t leave all the fun for the creative teams–create starting points no one else would have dared to.

To those Copywriters & Art Directors-to-be: Kill your darlings. The first sentences you write that sound like headlines have to go. Yes, first thoughts are sometimes good. But mostly they represent the same thoughts anyone else would have if they spent 20 minutes thinking about the product. There’s gold in looking longer and harder at something than anyone else is willing to.