Ted D’Cruz-Young on ‘Oleg’ and More

CHICAGO Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ted D’Cruz-Young, 38, studied economics at Glasgow University and found his way into advertising. After working at BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi, he proclaimed the traditional agency client model dead and launched his own practice, Ideocracy, last year.

It aims to sell creative ideas directly to clients, such as Fox, which in April ran a series of eight-second animated shorts centered on “Oleg the Cab Driver” to stem commercial skipping.

This fall, Ideocracy is working on an idea called Wikistory, which D’Cruz-Young says will be a “replacement for the 30-second spot.”

Q: So what is Wikistory?
A: Oleg the Cab Driver was able to drive traffic from [TV to the Web]. What we wanted to do was monetize that when we drive traffic to other sites. People are able to play with the content.

How does it follow from Oleg?
We tried to disrupt viewing patterns with Oleg. People are saying this is the death of appointment television. Maybe with this we can create appointment advertising.

Why call your shop Ideocracy?
The great thing about “ocracies” is that they’re much maligned and misunderstood. I was at Saatchi for a period and ran a business called Fahrenheit 212. Our intention with it was to form an ideocracy. To simply let the ideas do the talking-the notion that the first amongst ideas wins. I wanted to set up a business that was completely idea-centric and I wouldn’t sell anything else. Ideocracy seemed like a good way of bringing that together. It’s a word, but it’s not really a word where there’s a central compelling proposition.

How are you different from all the other people who purport to sell ideas?
I trade on the ideas. I don’t work on fees. I prepare things and I’ll go into a company and say, “Here’s what you should do.” And I’ll put it in front of them and say, “Here’s what I’ve got and here’s what I’ll sell it for. Don’t go asking me how much time I spent on it because it’s none of your fucking business.” Advertising agencies and businesses have gotten into this pact where the agencies hate their clients because the clients are watching every penny they spend, principally because the agency tried to stuff them on every possible margin. It’s hard to get respect when you charge $18 to convert a PowerPoint slide to PDF.

How do you convince these marketers that what you’re selling is worthy?
I invest a hell of a lot in every idea. A product for a large school products company was an idea I had. I developed the proposition. I developed and tested the product. I tested the product in Bases 1 and 2. So I ended up with a volume revenue score against their demographic. So before I had a word with them, I had a revenue number against the idea. The more form you put to an idea, the quicker you get to know whether it’s any good, the quicker you remove stupid questions. I’ve got lots of friends in big agencies. I know the hard place and the rock they’re between. There’s no point sitting at the top of BBDO and saying clients won’t pay you for the ideas if you’re not willing to invest in them yourself.

But the fear they have is that 80 percent of their ideas aren’t going to make money.
It’s a probability game. The agency side has walked in lockstep with the client. One thing they’ve not done is looked at the client reality. It’s all well and good coming up with a fruity-ass creative idea. But I have to sit and look at it from the client perspective. Every company looks at the probabilities, and agencies don’t. If I go into a company and say, “There is a market that I think we should have a look at,” I would go through a market sizing.

Where are you doing the most work?
Media, because it’s the biggest black hole out there. It’s constructed for a bygone era. We sensed with the Internet that maybe things would change. I think we haven’t caught up with what has changed and how that’s affecting things. It’s not that a 17-year-old doesn’t watch TV, it’s that he watches them all at the same time.

Is that how you came up with the idea for Oleg the Cab Driver?
He came up because I had a view that the problem with the commercial break isn’t that commercials are bad, although many of them are. The problem is that the 30-second spot is dead, and that viewing patterns don’t support that mode anymore.

How did you get into advertising?
I’m an economist by training. There are two sides of economics that are very equally balanced: One is the rational side where we measure everything; the other is the emotional side where we can’t measure anything at all. And there was one industry that could obviously play that. I did strategy consulting and then moved into brand consulting. And then I got into advertising. But I’ve never done traditional advertising.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?
Deciding that I didn’t fit in advertising.

What’s the worst?
Believing that a good idea was enough. It’s not enough. Everyone has good ideas. It’s what you decide to do with them. And a lot of people still think if it’s that good it will happen. It simply doesn’t. You have to fight every single step of the way.

What’s your biggest fear in life?
Being too afraid to try things, feeling that I can’t try.

Who has influenced you the most?
People who have said “just do it.” I worked for a guy named Philip Bergner, who ran Club Med, and he used to say that a lot. Dave Lubars and I got on very well. He’s been a positive influence for me. My mum: She’s been quite an influence, but it’s been mostly negative.

What did you learn from your parents?
To believe anything was possible, and that if I worked hard at any one thing, I would succeed. That simply is not true. I think that “anything is possible” is right. But it’s not just from working hard. It’s from playing it. It’s not just having a conversation with someone. It’s when you have a conversation with someone, it’s the conversation you have before you have a conversation with that someone.

What’s the most recent idea you’ve seen where you said, I wish I had done that?
Can I tell you the one I think they got wrong? I think Apple has made a massive misstep. I think they completely disenfranchised the thing that’s driven their business for the past 30 years. The secret of their success lay in this extraordinary brand advocacy and cachet. Regardless of how big they got, they were able to sustain this sense that not everyone was in on it, even though everyone increasingly was in on it. Those who aspire to that went out day one and queued up for the iPhone. And Steve Jobs got himself between the rock and the hard place. He wanted to be a player in the cellphone market. He has to create significant momentum and sales volume against that product. And he’s now done that at the expense of that core group who, every time he utters a word, are waiting to write a check. And they might not do it now. That makes Apple a different business from now on.

How do you get past a creative block?
I think you walk away and you come back, and you walk away and you come back. Everything is about angles and, sometimes, you’re looking at things from the wrong angle and you’re not giving yourself a chance to see things from the right angle. You change the order of words in a sentence and it changes everything, but it’s the same words. Even when you think something’s great and you cracked it, you still may be looking at it from the wrong angle.

How do you escape being paralyzed by that point of view?
Time lines. A very wise person told me that when you brief someone, regardless of the scale of the work, give them one week. Because time can go on. You need serious discipline.

What would be your dream assignment?
To rebrand the USA. As an outsider who lives inside, I find in traveling the rest of the world that the U.S. is the most exposed and talked about and verbalized, in terms of pop culture. It is the most celebrated country on the planet, and it is equally the most misunderstood. It is infinitely better and worse than the world sees. The U.S. has an amazing story. And a lot of nasty reality has forced it into a bit of a cul-de-sac.

If your business model is thinking of ideas and then meeting with people who might buy them, what would stop you?
Nothing would stop me. The only thing that would stop me is not having enough hours in the day. In terms of top-down identity, I think an effective rebranding of the U.S. would be an extraordinary fill-up for the country.

Who are you dying to work with?
Probably Dave Droga. I haven’t heard a single person say a bad thing about working with him. And you never hear that. I’ve never met him. Maybe this can be my calling card.

Give me three words to describe yourself.
Small, angry, Scottish.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment so far?
Not believing my own bullshit. I think that’s a terrible affliction where you back yourself into a corner and become a caricature of yourself—where if you’re a financial guy, you have to look like a financial guy, and if you’re a creative guy, you have look like a creative guy. I think I’ve been able to avoid all that.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People saying, “I’m going to be devil’s advocate.” That means nothing. It’s invariably about being subjective. I think that’s a great truth I’ve picked up on: that everyone is subjective. I find that really tiresome. I think everyone is hiding behind things—titles, budgets or whatever. That always starts with someone saying, “Forgive me, but I need to be devil’s advocate.” It means I’m going to have to answer a bunch of the wrong questions.

So there is such a thing as a bad question?
Oh, totally. You know it. The question determines the answer.