WHAT’S THE STORY?

Recently, a young creative guy wanted to interview me.
He started off by saying that advertising nowadays should all be about story telling.
I said hang on a minute.
I’ve heard that a lot lately, ‘story telling’, what is it?
He said it was, er, telling a story in. er, advertising and, er, any media really.
I said okay, so what’s good about that?
What’s new about it?
Where does it differ from what good advertising has been until now?
He said, well, er, it’s sort of, er, about telling a story.
I could see he was getting embarrassed so I let it drop.
But several things worry me.

How come we are using words and phrases and expressions that we don’t know the meaning of?
That we can’t explain to other people.

Isn’t this just learning the jargon in the hope that we’ll sound impressive?
Similar to dressing like a trendy creative person in the hope that people will think we’re creative.
Years back, when I was junior at BMP, we used to be able to spot the good creatives.
They didn’t dress like they were creative.
They didn’t talk like it either.
But when they opened their portfolio, wow.
All the creativity was in there, not on their body or in their speech.
John Webster, one of the best there’s ever been, dressed like a man going to the allotment.
He didn’t dress like a trendy creative.
Conversely, we’d get guys coming in wearing silver jackets, Elvis Costello glasses, long scarves, skinny jeans, pointy shoes, and calling everyone man.
Creatives straight out of central casting.
You knew their books were dull even before they opened them.
Because they had to dress and sound creative in the hope they could disguise what their work was like.
This is my feeling about jargon.
It’s there to disguise the fact that someone can’t do the job.
Our job should always be to simplify things, not complicate them.
The best people always keep things really simple.
Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to an 11 year old, you don’t really understand it.”
I think that’s where a lot of us are at nowadays.
We couldn’t explain what we do to an 11 year old.
We’ve gone back to the days of Mad Men, dull patronising advertising hiding behind jargon.
The jargon signifies you’re in the club.
Like a trendy pair of glasses.
It’s a shame.
The young man I was talking to thought that’s how you get into advertising.
Not through great work, but through learning all the jargon.
I asked him where he wanted to work.
He told me the name of a trendy agency.
I asked him why.
He said he liked their culture.
I said what about the work?
He said, it’s not so much the work it’s their culture.
I said, okay what’s their culture?
He said they’re, er, small, and they’re very, er, new and I just haven’t seen anywhere else like that.
At that point I gave up.
He couldn’t tell me what the words he was using meant.
He couldn’t tell me why he wanted to work at the agency he liked.
That’s what we’re teaching people about the business.
Bluff, jargon, and vacuity.
Just like the business was before Bernbach.
So called creatives who sound more like bad account man blag.
In fact we’ve regressed to the bad old days.

I’d hoped we’d moved on.

  • Micky Denehy

    Dave – spot on as ever, especially the story telling, culture and dressing to look creative observations.

    That said I hope you’re wearing your whackiest hawaiian shirt today, not to prove you are creative but to celebrate another birthday, even the sun has come out for you. Enjoy.Micky

  • NICK FITZHERBERT

    So good to know it’s not just me thinking these things.  I’ve got a two word clue for the young guy who can’t explain storytelling – ‘emotional engagement’.

  • Steve Dunn

    Really interesting, Dave. As a young man who also can’t explain storytelling, I figured that…

    Stories help us learn > Learning keeps us young > Everyone wants to stay young

    Maybe?

  • Dave Trott

    Steve, Nick, Micky,
    Nice to know I’m not the only one gentlemen.

  • Soap Box

    Very well said Mr T :)

  • john woods

    Was Max Bygraves in Advertising?

  • jeff hill

    Hi Dave,
    I worked @ GGT in media from ’87 to mid 90′s; don’t be too hard on trendy lad, maybe he meant that a good story with creative impactful can be told in 20 seconds – viz  your “kid drinking toilet water” 3rd World Debt ad. (Maybe one of the purest “GGT” ads ever made). Pity he didn’t have the vocab to get his opinion across, but that’s the BBM/TXT generation/situation that now prevails, as any ful no.

  • Dave Trott

    I totally agree Jeff, it makes sense.
    But if he meant that, why didn’t he just say it?
    I suspect he’d heard the word but didn’t know what it meant.
    And wanted to use it to sound knowledgeable.
    Like ‘meme’ and ‘iteration’ and ‘touch points’ and ‘brand interface’.
    All sensible ideas that could be explained simply.
    But make you sound much more professional when put into technical jargon.
    the idea being to obfuscate not clarify.

  • Shannon O’Hara

    Dressing for the Occasion
    The First Time I saw Chris Wilkins – (Cresta Bear:’Its Frothy Man’ – Cadbury’s Smash:’Intelligent Life in Huddersfield’ – all at BMP). He was dressed Black Tie: it was a the Introductory Presentation to United Biscuits, by the Saatchis, just after they had taken over Garland-Compton. He was introduced as the latest Creative Acquisition (Leagas made a silly joke about waiters , at his expense), off to an Awards Ceremony.
    I worked and drank with with him on various UB products later and he was as scruffy as he cared to be – Cartier lighter, latest BMW including Beer Glasses, the lot, he thought it was fun.
    The Last Time I saw Chris Wilkins, he had his own shop in Soho, and was dressed like a Country Gentleman, complete with tie, slightly-misplaced In Town – probably because he was appearing at a Client Meeting.
    My view: Know how to dress for the occasion – It may be important to your client.
    Kind Regards
    Shannon O’Hara
    PS Of course, you don’t watch Mad Men, no sensible person does, nor do I, but I shall not soon forget the episode when Don is confronted by a pair of Creative Brits(?), who refuse to be hired without each other, weird or what? And then when he realises that they are not necessarily homosexuals, very weird.

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