Resistance + Tension Could Future-Proof Your Agency
“Resist” is a verb that means to “withstand, strive against or oppose.” The act of “resisting the usual” in the world of a marketing and communications professional is an inherent drive to question the status quo and to push beyond it to find creative greatness. In the agency environment, it’s a verb to live by.
Two key reasons
There are two key reasons for this: first, resist embraces the inescapable truth that the value of any idea is inverse to the number of times it is used. It, therefore, demands an unrelenting commitment to expansive thinking. Secondly, resist sets the smart problem-solving bar unrelentingly high; it’s damn hard to do consistently and well. That is as it should be.
There may be little described as ‘easy’ in today’s world, least of all the provision of creative solutions. As modern-day marketing desperately tries to keep up with the fickleness of our buying habits and the flightiness of our attention spans, resist is our unwritten contract that binds each of us to the intelligently unexpected.
Resist also reminds us that our obligation is to kick the tires daily on everything we have thus far taken for granted, that we cannot write the future in colours of the past and that, at its core, advertising agencies are all works in progress (WIPs).
As a WIP, creative folk should embrace the fact that no discipline can be favored, and that it makes little sense to talk about one discipline against another. As a WIP, we should eschew the notion of 360, because tomorrow’s new discipline is being hatched right now (320 at best…). As a WIP, we should all be, first and foremost, creative companies — concerned with business and concerned with brands. And hell-bent on finding ways to make both matter.
New solutions not always required
Not that every problem requires a new solution. In a world that increasingly worships a right-first-time efficiency, it would be wrong to attempt to unearth the brand-new at every turn and blindly place the consequence (and risk) at our clients’ doors. Resist brings with it a weighty responsibility. This is not difference for difference sake. This is the tension between difference and relevance; the tension between wanting and needing; the tension between temptation and restraint. The tension inherent in a WIP, we believe, is healthy and it is exciting — as much for the brands we build as for the agency we love.
Think about it: have you ever sat next to someone at a dinner party and became so engaged in conversation that you found them irresistible and hung onto their every word? Then, in contrast, think about the last time you had to sit next to someone who was lacking in character, someone with a very one-dimensional personality…
In terms of brands, one-dimensional propositions will never break away from their category peers. They will be seen as obvious, clichéd and boring stereotypes. They will not matter. Those with depth and tension are far more irresistible, unforgettable and engaging. They keep us connected and engaged. They are at one with imperfection. At best, they too, are a WIP.
Our engine is people
In terms of agencies, our engine is people and our currency, ideas. People, as we know, are wonderfully irrational, brilliant, emotional and enigmatic… and managing them efficiently is never easy. Ideas, though, are impossibly ephemeral, exciting, intangible and confounding… and are often a real struggle for clients to get their heads around. It’s natural that right-brain creators and left-brain commissioners fuel their own explosive tension — creative people have a fear of the obvious while (many) clients have a love of it. Additional tension lies between the need to create a solution that should (ideally) be repeatable, but (ideally) not replicable.
Add to all of this that our industry’s accepted commercial model is itself in permanent tension (selling time by quantum for ideas that in themselves defy being quantified) and it’s clear we’d better fast be at one with the unyielding imperfection tension imposes on us.
No one has articulated these opposing forces more eloquently than the influential thinker, EF Schumacher:
Without order, planning, predictability, central control, accountancy, instructions to the underlings, obedience, discipline — without these nothing can happen because everything disintegrates.And yet, without the magnanimity of disorder, the happy abandon, the entrepreneurship venturing into the unknown and incalculable, without the risk and the gamble, the creative imagination rushing in where bureaucratic angels fear to tread, without this, life is a mockery and disgrace.Any organisation has to strive continuously for the orderliness of order and the disorderliness of creative freedom.EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A Study Of Economics As if People mattered, 1973.
What to expect
So what should we expect if we continually seek to resist and, in doing so, maximize the healthy tension necessary in a creative industry? My hope is future-ready agencies that embrace these contradictory forces in order to generate the excitement, anticipation and palpable energy that defines our future, our clients and, ultimately, our very selves.
Andrew Welch, CEO of Y&R South Africa, is renowned within the branding community and has worked with world-class client-brands during his career. Since relocating to South Africa four years ago, he has gained a deeper understanding of the national brandscape and is now proud to call it home.
Andrew Welch, resist the usual, future proof your agency, future of advertising, thought leadership, South Africa, yr south africa, Ideas