The craft of creative director is arcane and full of mystery — a strange alchemy of cigarettes, black wardrobe, an extensive collection of Tom Waits records (vinyl only!) and sarcasm. To the uninitiated, we skulk down hallways exuding that certain je ne sais quoi that says, “Stand back, rock star at work.”
Which is why I’m risking my membership in this secret society by spilling the beans on all it takes to be an effective creative director. In fact, I can sum up the secret in one word: Hate.
If I see, hear, or get even the smallest whiff of an idea so strong it consumes me with hatred for the person who came up with it, bingo, there’s a winner.
There’s nothing in between. Disgust? Nope. Indifference? Uh-uh. Amusement? Not a chance.
But pass something really, really good in front of my nose and my Hate-O-Meter is burping and blipping like a Geiger counter in front of an A-bomb. (Of course, I never let anyone I’m working with know this. It stays between my mental health provider and me.)
Feeling the pressure of the rotten economy, the erosion of the mass media as we know it? Tired of context obsession, Twittering, blogging, YouTubing, TiVo-ing? The fact that you’ll have no more extended stays at the Sunset Marquis doing post-production? Could be that a little more of good, old-fashioned hate may be just what you need to fight your way out of the doldrums. Face it, a truly hate-inducing idea can blast easily across any media silo the techno geeks or algorithm peddlers care to erect.
Take J.C. Penney’s “Doghouse,” for example. Despite the critical pickings of nits and the fact that it’s way longer than 30 seconds, it works. The minute I heard the concept “man gives wife vacuum, wife puts him in real doghouse, high jinks ensue,” I was consumed by an irrational hate of the person who came up with the idea. Why? Because that person wasn’t me.
Furthermore, the ad has gone viral — every communicator’s biggest dream these days — and found me via my art director’s sister-in-law’s brother’s wife’s son’s daughter in Colorado!
I had the same reaction to Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s “Whopper Freakout.” All I had to do was hear “a hidden-camera stunt wherein people can’t get their Whoppers” and I was gone. It’s brilliant. I hated it. Then came the follow-up: finding people who never had burgers and exposing them to Whoppers. Nice. Liked it. Especially the traveling the world part. Cute. Nice film. But I didn’t hate it.
When I first heard the idea behind H&R Block’s “I’ve Got People” campaign, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I thought, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that? I hate the sucker who nailed that one.”
The reason these ideas are so odious is because they’re so obvious. They’re just sitting there. Why didn’t I see it? Why did someone else?
And this feeling isn’t limited to advertising. I was sitting in a Le Pain Quotidien admiring the long, communal table when I picked up a card that told me the table was made from the recycled floorboards of old French trains. I almost choked on my 12-grain, $7.99 muffin. What a brilliant idea! So integrated, so right, so deep into the ethos of the brand.
These days, this visceral reaction is more important than ever. With all the noise out there (and the Internet has amplified it to a roaring din that’s sending a lot of prognosticators and pundits running for the hills), anything short of brilliant or astonishing will be invisible.
Sure, a new Web gizmo can attract a certain amount of attention due to sheer novelty. And user-generated content can birth all the ideas of the future. And there’s no question that great YouTube videos can induce as much hate as anything ever developed in an ad agency. (By the same token, if you took 10 copywriters and had them type with blindfolds on for a billion years, by sheer chance they’d type out the collected works of Crispin Porter + Bogusky — but who’s got a billion years? Who’s got 10 copywriters, for that matter?) But they hardly register on the meter compared to brilliant, gut-wrenching great ideas.
To get back to the hate, er, point, I’ll paraphrase a quote I stole from a friend who once worked at Australia’s Campaign Palace: “The best creative director in the world can’t sell a good idea, but the dustman (read: garbageman — no offense intended) can sell a great idea.”
Or, put another way, if it’s a hate inducer, it will fly.
Think about your career, whether it’s in creative or marketing or Internet. The really great ideas pegged your meter, didn’t they?
Or, to further paraphrase, here’s something I ripped off from Howard Gossage: “The purpose of advertising isn’t to sell products, it’s to scare the hell out of your competition’s copywriters.”
So, if you care about saving this business, your job and the future growth of the American economy, sing after me, loud and clear: “I’d like to teach the world to hate!”
Ken Krimstein is a partner and creative director at Partners + Jeary. He can be reached at email@example.com.