This is just great.

It’s from Gareth Kay, and it sums up so much that has been occupying my mind lately in conversations with clients, and around the agency.

So much of our work, and what we promise it can achieve, is beset by our need to convince our clients, and ourselves, that each response will prove to be the silver bullet.

That our proposed solution is the best, most logical, perhaps the only, solution to the problem.

Most briefs to agencies tend to be written in such a way that they encourage a dream response, the perfect, contained and elegant solution that threads together all the disparate themes and challenges inherent in the brief.

As agencies who are eminently capable of being flattered, we’re also capable of believing such a solution to be our prize.

And as people, those of us in agencies are as guilty as anyone in having blind spots.

I think the routine, habitual way we respond to briefs is one of these, and I believe we need to start thinking about whether, in most cases, that solution even exists.

Perhaps agencies might start thinking more about, and recommending, multiple solutions to clients’ business problems.

Now I’m not talking about tissue sessions – for these still rely on the premise that the client will choose one, favoured route.

The ‘routes’ stage of creative development is interesting, though. And it was thinking about this stage when looking in retrospect at a body of work that first got me thinking about this.

Recently I was with a client during a session where our partner ad agency was reviewing its six years on the account, and the different incarnations of the advertising ideas. Because this was for someone new to the business, and senior at that, everyone in the room was keen to be evaluate why previous executions hadn’t quite hit the mark, or to explain why changes since that time rendered it unsuited to the task currently in hand.

I ventured to suggest at one point that, since the product in question (the teaching profession, if you insist) was so open to interpretation, so mutable, so much in the eye of the beholder, that there was a very high chance that for many people among our target audience those executions remained absolutely the right thing to have done.

With hindsight, these fully completed campaigns seemed like so many creative routes that would be equally valid.

But equally, there is a real danger that for many people none of these solutions will have been in themselves ‘right’. That, in fact, they were all wrong for many people.

We’re used to this notion when looking back, but not so willing to accept it at the time.

But it’s only time that made the difference.

What if we took time out of the equation?

It seems clear that summing up something as mutable as teaching in just one way can only ever satisfy one aspect of the problem, so why do we assume there should be only one answer? It’s a problem that”s equally true for most brands, products and services, but again something we tend to ignore.

But it remains true largely because those things are all used by people, and people are all different.

Brands exist mainly in the eye of the beholder. But, of course, we want everything to be ‘aligned’, to make sense to us, within an overall strategy understood (probably) only to us.

At this point it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of some the things people DON’T say about advertising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Props, of course, to the mighty Things real People Don’t Say About Advertising blog

And yet we persist.

Big client problem begets all-encompassing solution begets over-promise begets some communal nose-holding and some all-round hoping for the best.

And then we collude in the collective find-what-we-want-in-the-data game known as post campaign analysis. This is where we most tellingly detect our tendency to identify the right answer but draw the wrong conclusion. Almost always we find that the route we took was partly right – but take this to mean that our singular solution wasn’t sufficiently correct, rather than we didn’t employ a sufficient number of solutions.

Persisting with the agency-client dynamic we have now makes little sense, if it ever did. We need ideas that live for longer, that are more relevant to consumers, that are participative, and that can provide utility to people in order to add value.

The notion of ‘big ideas’ solving problems like these all the time looks increasingly untenable.

So, from now on, how about we agree on one thing?

That whatever solution to a brief we decide upon will be wrong. At some point, for some people, in some way.

But we won’t know when, for whom, or how, until we do it.

This is a liberating idea.

Because it means that instead of looking for the one perfect idea that groans under the weight of multiple requirements, we can focus on a few ideas that meet one each, brilliantly.