the Wheat and the Chaff

Category: Uncategorized

Dear Agency Whiners: Do Something


My W+K colleague Jen Lewis has a pretty inarguable response to a widely shared and pretty scathing critique of the failings of agency culture by Murat Mutlu.

A couple of months ago, an article by Murat Mutlu appeared on Digiday called “Why Talented Creatives Are Leaving Your Agency,” and it touched a nerve in the industry. I saw it shared many times and picked up on other blogs, and all of the commenters were ecstatic: Finally, their all-too-familiar frustrations now had a voice. Since then, I’ve frequently found myself in the middle of this discussion with others, online and in person. And while this is exactly the kind of debate we should be having about the advertising industry, just pointing out what’s wrong is not enough.

It’s easy to blame agencies and the agency model, but the reality is that we each need to take responsibility for the situations we put ourselves in. So rather than ranting about what’s wrong with agencies, here is a list of a few ways people in advertising can help make the right career choices so they aren’t in situations where they are unhappy and frustrated.

1. Take responsibility for yourself.
The original article points an abstract and reprimanding finger at agencies: “You need to win these projects that push our boundaries, it’s down to you,” said Mutlu. But who is this fictional “you”? An agency is just a group of people. It’s us. So if we want to win projects that inspire us, the responsibility is on our own shoulders. The fact is, nobody wants to make bad work. Not creatives, designers, account teams, planners or clients. We all want to look good, so we have to find ways of doing that together. No one will hand you a carte blanche brief to just go do something “amazing.” If you feel like you’re missing opportunities, create them. Ask to be involved in other projects. Propose your own.

2. Believe in what your industry does.
We work in the advertising industry. We create advertising. If you’re not on board with that fundamental idea, you’re already in the wrong place. If you’re smart, you know that advertising can be bigger than just selling products. If you make work with a voice and point of view more ambitious than the product alone, you can start conversations with the community and, more important, contribute positively to culture. If you don’t believe advertising has a role in creating culture, don’t work in advertising; otherwise you’ll always be frustrated. If you only want to make films, or art, or stories or games in the abstract sense, go and do those things.

3. Work for someone who has the same values as you.
If you don’t share the same creative values as your boss or your boss’s boss, you’re at the wrong place. Find a place that shares those values. You might care more about salary, so go to an agency driven by commercial goals. You might care more about work/life balance, so go to an agency championed by someone who does too. Maybe it’s just down to the creative work, so find a place driven purely by that same ambition.

If you join an agency full of people who talk differently about their goals and ambitions than you, don’t be surprised that you feel alone and frustrated. Read their tweets. Read their blog. Ask around. What do those who are hiring you care about? What questions are they asking you? Are they the same things that matter to you the most? If not, don’t kid yourself.

4. Understand the realities of the workplace.
This is your job. You are here to work. Sometimes work is hard. Sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes you have to work late. Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into a project that falls flat. Sometimes you don’t get your way. That’s the reality of going to work. In every industry. Around the world. Since the dawn of time. As creatives, why do we deserve to be molly-coddled more than others?

5. Have some perspective.
In what other industry do you get to flex such a range of creative muscles? We get to do strategy, problem solving, user interaction, directing, photography, animation, copywriting, event management — the full bloody works.

We get to spend our days talking about what we find interesting in the world around us. We figure out how to apply that to the work we create. We get to talk about technology and business and politics and music and art and film and storytelling. We get to make something tangible and share it with the world. If we’re lucky, we get to make something people do actually give a shit about. Maybe that’s as simple as making them laugh, or it could get them to see the world from a new perspective, or take an action they otherwise wouldn’t. Sure, we’re not saving lives. But if that’s what you want, become a doctor. There are other industries to work in.

6. If you hate something, change something.
This industry is built by people. By us. Our future depends on us taking responsibility and finding solutions to the problems we face, not lamenting and pointing fingers. You can’t be upset that your agency isn’t taking risks and trying new things if you aren’t either.

Yes, old models will die. Old agencies full of lackluster talent will perish. Taking their place will be the new agencies or startups, or whatever you want to call them, that are driven by a united ambition to solve problems and create culture. They’ll be staffed by people who take responsibility for their futures, who believe in their product and believe in those around them.

Agencies aren’t dead. They’re evolving. If you want to come along for the ride, stop moaning and start moving.


Aeroplane’s defiantly sun-soaked January mix


As the UK sees out January pretty much as it began, soaked in the miserable gloom of January storms and floods, we can at least rely on Belgian Balearic spinner Aeroplane to take us up above the clouds and into sunnier climbs with his first ‘not-so-monthly mix’ of 2014. I hope it goes some way to brightening your weekend.



Data – Soldier’s Flag ( The Reflex Revision )
Bondax – Giving It All
Moullinex – To Be Clear ( Kraak & Smaak Unreleased Edit )
Situation – Stand Tough ( Greg Wilson & Derek Kay Get Ruff Remix )
David Shaw & The Beat – No More White Horses ( Dombrance Remix)
Crazy P – Clouds
Lauer – Tyler
Tensnake – Love Sublime ft. Fiora & Nile Rodgers ( Ewan Pearson Remix )
Ken Hayakawa – Positive effects
Allusion – Search For Ecstacy
Dirtytwo – The Remedy ( Caserta Knows The Cure Remix )
Bambook – Give It Up ( 303 Mix )
My Favorite Robot – White Light ( Jimmy Edgar Remix )
Eurocrats – Black Hole Bass ( 606 Version )
Crowdpleaser – Nenekri ( Mickey Moonligh Remix )

Russell Brand: Good Pundit, Bad Thinker?


Much has been said and written about Russell Brand’s erudite and pretty irresistible virtuoso performance on Newsnight a couple of weeks ago, most of it overwhelmingly positive. But have normally sensible people been so blinded by his charm and charisma that they’re unable to distinguish some pretty poor political reasoning behind his posturing? The Atlantic‘s Parker Brown reckons so.

The art, music and poetry of data visualisation

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This wonderful deck from Tom Uglow of Google Creative Lab in Sydney on ‘The Art, Poetry and Music of Data Visualisation’ is well worth your time. A nuanced point-of-view reinforced with some great examples.

(via Only Dead Fish)

Why the backlash against Dove’s Real Beauty sketches?

Champions League pitch deck - dortmund

Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” quickly became a viral phenomenon. But as it blazed past 1 million views on YouTube, the video has racked up its fair share of critics, too. The Ogilvy-produced clip, which shows a police sketch artist drawing women as they perceive themselves versus how strangers see them, has been praised by thousands of women as a heartwarming wake-up call for women to stop being so hard on themselves. But some feel the video actually reinforces beauty stereotypes by depicting one sketch as “uglier” than the other.

AdFreak has catalogued a few of the specific complaints about the campaign that have been bouncing around the Web this week:

1. It features too many traditionally attractive white women.
Jazz Brice on Tumblr: “When it comes to the diversity of the main participants: all four are Caucasian, three are blonde with blue eyes, all are thin, and all are young (the oldest appears to be 40). The majority of the non-featured participants are thin, young white women as well. … Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.”

2. It seems to define beauty as being thin and young.
Kate Fridkis on “Looking at the two portraits of herself, one woman described the one meant to be prettier as looking ‘much younger,’ which seemed to be true of all of them. The more ‘beautiful’ facial representations seemed to all be thinner and younger-looking. If that is the crux of beauty, then I guess we’re all pretty screwed by that obnoxiously inexorable bastard called time.”

3. It positions beauty as the yardstick by which women measure themselves.
Stacy Bias on “Is the pinnacle of success always beauty? Believing that others see us as beautiful? Believing that we are beautiful? I want people to question their negative self-perceptions, sure. But I would love for that to happen in a context where beauty doesn’t always end up valorized. This is a mindfuck—’everyone is beautiful, so you are beautiful, too!’ still reinforces beauty as an aspirational value.”

4. It shows women as their own enemies rather than victims of a sexist society.
Erin Keane on “All of that body image baggage is internalized by growing up in a society that enforces rigid beauty standards, and since the target demographic for this ad is clearly women over 35 with access to library cards (which is to say, women who have had some time to figure this reality out), it is baffling that Dove can continue to garner raves for its pandering, soft-focus fake empowerment ads.”

5. It is hypocritical because it comes from Unilever, which also makes Axe, Slim-Fast and more.
Charlotte Hannah on “[Dove’s] long-running Real Beauty campaign has shed light on some important truths about the media’s unrealistic portrayals of women, but given the fact that Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe (ugh) and the company that produces Fair & Lovely skin lightening cream (double ugh), the campaign comes across as hypocritical and patronizing—a way for the company to pander to women for sales while practicing the very evil it preaches against.”

AdFreak decline to take a view here, but I think Laura Armbrust’s response in the comments section, reproduced in full below, offers a pretty decent rebuttal to these criticisms:

The argument you missed is that all of the above arguments are missing the point. As is said below, the point is “you are more beautiful than you think”. It’s a beauty company. 

1. Probably most people that buy their products are white, middle-class women in the 30-40 range. Wow, big surprise that they picked their own target demographic to make feel better about themselves! Or perhaps it was filmed in a predominantly white city/suburb, and that was just chance at work. Even the most random sample can be skewed.

2. The video doesn’t define beauty as being thin and young, PEOPLE do. The video is not about “beauty=success”. 

3. The video is a self-esteem booster for women, because, for reasons beyond sexism, looks-obsessed culture, and all that crap, girls, and women of all ages WANT to be beautiful. It is in our wiring. 

4. Victims? Can we please stop using that kind of language toward my sex? Calling us victims MAKES us victims, more than we already are. I don’t sense sexism. I feel like I can do anything! Until someone says the word “sexism”. Then I suddenly feel like my gender is something to overcome.

5. If doing something good is hypocritical because you also do bad things, then we’re all hypocrites. Should we all stop doing good things?

(What she said)

While we’re still on the subject, have you been wondering what would happen if you tried this same experiment on men? Check out the brilliant parody below from New Feelings Time Comedy. “Men. You’re less beautiful than you think.”

Fire Starters


Check out the Storify from last week’s Google Firestarters event on agency innovation. Eight rapid fires talks from eight of the smartest minds in UK planning: Patricia McDonald, Anjali Ramachandran, Antony Mayfield, Phil Adams, Beeker Northam, Glyn Britton, Graeme Wood, and Nadya Powell. Some truly provocative thinking on show. Most of the (excellent) decks are embedded along with some great tweets capturing some of the (considerable) buzz around the event. Excellent stuff.

5 ways to thrive during marketing’s shift to mobile

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During SXSW, major brands convened to discuss how to move forward with mobile. Urban Airship’s Scott Kveton outlines the key trends and strategies that emerged and provides examples of brands adding value via mobile in Co.Create.

The Quantified Self and hacking your body is nothing new: just ask Lance Armstrong

Had to post this fascinating article by Tim Carmody from The Verge on Lance Armstrong’s body-hacking and the science of doping. As well as discussing the most sophisticated doping programme in the history of sport, he poses an interesting question:

“…professional athletics at the global stage is in no small part about exploring the limits of human potential. We’re already in a world where surgery, prescription drugs, and new technology enable us to break our natural limits. If doping were made legal, open not just to professional athletes but to anyone willing to experiment on themselves, who would be harmed?

…The only consistent anti-doping policy, whether in medicine or in sports, is that use of banned substances, whatever their effect on performance, risks serious harm while posing no benefits to health. If the long-term and short-term risks of PEDs could be eliminated, and a boost to overall health, not just racing times or home run counts, could be shown, then we all may find ourselves tinkering with our chemistry…

Quantified self, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

Read the full article here.


Here’s your weekly list of interesting stuff with which you might fill your weekend.

Watch this: What Richard Did

A chilling Irish drama that dares us to consider just how far reasonable people are liable to go when the red mist descends. When a popular and charming teenager commits a sudden, violent act, it has a devastating effect on him, the community and his family. Don’t expect a happy ending. Trailer below.

Throw shapes here: Ben UFO Fabriclive launch party, Fabric, Fri 11th


There’s a stonking line-up this week at Fabric to celebrate the launch of FABRICLIVE 67: Ben UFO and the Hessle Audio squad return to Room One with the crew inviting Glasgow’s legendary Optimo to spin one of their mind-blowing sets alongside the more techno minded MMM duo, who are performing live.

Manchester’s Hoya:Hoya club night steps up for their first Room Two session, adding a couple of big name draws to the mix: Planet Mu’s trailblazing Kuedo is set to headline with his new live/AV show, and Hotflush’s Lando Kal is making the journey from his native Germany to join in the fun. There’s also a much awaited DJ set from Altered Natives.

Sonic Router return to Room Three  to help join the dots between the other rooms with a set from Hessle associate Peverelist, among others.

Fabriclive, Fri 11th, 10:00pm ~ 7:00am, 77a Charterhouse Street,  EC1M 3HN

See this: Peter Strain exhibition at Coningsby Gallery


Award-winning illustrator Peter Strain believes “much modern film-marketing imagery [has] no soul or meaning behind it” – so he’s reinterpreted a series of movie posters using his distinct hand-lettering style. His main skill is cramming in lots of information without making the artwork look cluttered. You can see the show at the Coningsby Gallery until 19 January (free entry, closed Sunday).  You can also buy reproductions of some of the prints on show.

Coningsby Gallery, 30 Tottenham Street,W1T 4RJ

Trust, morality and oxytocin

What drives our desire to behave morally? In an old TED talk, neuroeconomist Paul Zak shows why he believes oxytocin (he calls it “the moral molecule”) is responsible for trust, empathy and other feelings that help build a stable society. A pioneer in his field, Zak explains how oxytocin promotes trust in particular, and suggests that love can be good for business.

Calling himself “Dr Love”, Zak greets everyone he meets with a powerful and heartfelt hug. This, he explains, is to release oxytocin in both parties and create both a mutual bond and a sense of wellbeing. Zak prescribes at least eight hugs a day for our general well being and happiness. But it’s not just physical proximity and contact that causes the molecule to be released into the blood. This can be done by emotional proximity too.

In a now famous experiment he attended a friend’s wedding with a very large amount of blood testing equipment and measured the levels of oxytocin in the bridal party and guests both before and immediately after the service. Not only was there a significant oxytocin spike in the bride’s blood but also in family of the bride and the guests too. Clearly the emotion of the event was capable of triggering a release in oxytocin that in turn created a stronger bond between the participants.

Zak describes a cycle of events. An action or event creates empathy that causes the release of oxytocin which in its turn increases the levels of trust leading to further empathy building behaviour. In other words there is a virtuous circle of virtue.


The advertising industry has known for some time now that emotional persuasion is more potent than rational persuasion when it comes to marketing communications, but still have no real answer as to why this is the case. Does oxytocin hold the key?  Zak et al have already shown that giving oxytocin to people who are then exposed to fundraising advertising increases the average donation made by research participants in comparison with those administered a placebo. But it has yet to be proven whether an ad itself can trigger a rush of oxytocin that in turn builds affinity with the brand itself and influences purchase behaviour.

Neuroscientists like Zak undoubtedly have more of an idea how the brain works than marketers an idea of how advertising works, and I’d wager they might even be able to give the ad industry more of an idea about how advertising works.

However, more research is emerging which muddies the waters. While oxytocin has been linked to improving trust and bonding in some situations, equally, it’s linked with bias, favouritism and shadenfreude in others. The first two are clearly useful for advertisers, but it is probably too simplistic to think of the hormone as being the fount of morality. As Ben Goldacre (who has skewered Zak on his Bad Science blog in the past) is wont to say, “it’s a bit more complicated than that”.

So, in the meantime, expect for brands and marketers to keep calm and carry on ‘doing a John Lewis’ – without really understanding how it works – for the foreseeable future.