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August 6, 2003
Everything I Need To Know About Advertising I Learned From Star Wars

For unexplainable reasons, one night, my friend Tug and I decided to get a case of beer and watch the Star Wars movies in chronological order back to back to back to back to back.

I know, I know. My wife said the same thing.

Anyway, we were about halfway through Episode VI, when it dawned on me that we advertising people just might have something to learn from the ways of the Jedi.

So, that night, Tug and I wrote the Five Tenets of the Advertising Force. Five things that, once mastered, will qualify you for the title of Advertising Jedi. I hope you find them useful.

TENET ONE: Be a Padawan Learner.

The Jedi identify those who are strong in the force at a young age and bring them to the Jedi Academy for training. These students are called Padawans.

Now, all Jedi are born with talent. But not all Jedi are the same. For instance, Plo Koon has face appendages that sense changes in the Force. Oppo Rancisis uses the Force to induce nausea in opponents. And Mace Windu? Well, he is just a complete bad ass.

The point is that we all have different strengths that should to be nurtured and honored. The Jedi Knights do this by assigning every Padawan a mentor. Qui-Gon mentored Obi-Wan who mentored Anakin and Luke.

To become an Advertising Jedi you need a mentor, too. Even if you already hold a high title, seek an opinion you can absolutely trust. Not to give you answers, but to help you find them.

Arrogance is of the Dark Side and will fight to keep you from following this tenet. Remember that Anakin had loads of talent but believed he could do no wrong. He fell to the Dark Side. This is why Master Bernbach always carried a piece of paper in his pocket that read: "They might be right." He remained a Padawan.

TENET TWO: Concept the Jedi Way.

Jedi almost always collaborate to solve a problem. When a Jedi does strike out alone, as Anakin did in Episode II when he attacked the Sand People, it generally turns into something of the Dark Side.

Our agency has set up a collaborative structure where people from every discipline have a common goal. Turf battles have given way to honest-to-God teamwork. I saw some creatives in a room concepting with an account supe the other day. Really. And, their ideas were killer. Go find someone to collaborate with. Even if they're outside your own discipline.

TENET THREE: Concentrate on the Here and Now.

Master Yoda said this about Luke: "This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away—to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was—what he was doing."

The same can be said for many advertising folks. Always thinking of the day when they will move to the next agency, the next client, the next project instead of making the absolute most of the opportunities that are right there on their desk.

I don't care what any Sith Lord tells you, every project is worthy of your attention and every project offers an opportunity to do something well. Do one thing well and you'll get opportunities to do more things well. If you don't believe that, you can never be an Advertising Jedi. Master Butler, Master Shine and Master Stern have built a fine agency on the idea that there is no small project.

TENET FOUR: Beware the Dark Side.

Again Master Yoda's words ring clear and true in our ears: "Anger, fear, aggression. The Dark Side of The Force are they. Easily they flow. Quick to join you in a fight." The Advertising Jedi adds pettiness, envy and insecurity to Yoda's list. There is plenty of room in advertising for all of us to succeed in our own way and in our own time. So, don't allow yourself to indulge in useless negativity. Instead focus your energies on living tenets one through three. You'll soon find yourself impervious to such Dark Side emotions. Along the way, work to keep your motivations pure. The phrase "We slipped one under their radar" is Sith Lord lingo. Do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. You will be amazed at how much easier your ideas are to sell when you believe without one ounce of doubt that they are the absolute best thing for your client.

TENET FIVE: Celebrate Seriously.

Most Star Wars movies end with a big celebration scene. There's a lesson there for us, too. It's critical to celebrate victories both big and small. Critical because somewhere out there, someone is building another Death Star. And, it's coming for you.

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John January lives in Missouri, and he hates sheep. VP and creative director of Kansas City hot shop Sullivan Higdon & Sink, John's work has been featured in The One Show, Archive, Creativity, CA Online, and US Ad Review. After you read John's out-of-this-world column, view SHS work

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