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June 23, 2004
If Ads Shouldn't Look Like Ads, Agencies Shouldn't Look Like Agencies

The Cannes Ad festival is this week. It has been an uphill struggle to get here. We're going to see a lot of great work. So what are we going to do next year to help us do even better work?

The first step is to see what we can do to eliminate the problems that caused bad work.

So what needed to be removed?

Extremely large networks. Offices in every city. Politics. Duplications. Wastage. Twenty different account people, and forty different account managers. Boredom. Sleeping in meetings. Giving everyone a chance to say something. Useless months and weeks of work that never gets sold or presented.

If the future of advertising is not to be like advertising, then the future of advertising agencies is not to be like advertising agencies.

Take the network advertising conglomerates for instance. How do these dinosaurs adapt? One word: slowly.

The best people in advertising have never looked for their ideas inside advertising. Instead, they have scoured art, music, architecture, writing and conversation, everywhere in life. To look outside established clichés meant constantly struggling against laziness, comfort factors, and fear of the unknown. In order to break through those shells, the best people needed to think of themselves as rebels and pirates and holy cow butchers. Rule breakers who had an incredible amount of fun in the process.

These days, however, observers say the business is faltering. They point to dull work, confused strategies, lack of fresh ideas, the growing apathy of the public - and consequently to a severe loss of efficiency. Ad land makes more noise than ever, but too much of it falls on deaf ears.

We can say that the current generation produces a healthy portion of talented and intelligent rebels; all generations have. So why all the predictions about advertising suffering an agonizing future? Simple. The shoe hurts on the other foot. The pain is being caused by the way agencies are structured and run. Everything gets in the way. Too many companies have made it impossible for creatives to do the jobs for which they were hired.

Agencies have grown into enormous enterprises. They’ve created huge hierarchies; encouraged multitudes of meetings; installed ironclad safeguards against surprises. (Surprise is the most important ingredient of our business, isn’t it?) Big shops have created cultures that either smother their talents like mother hens or, in the worst cases, terrorize them with internal politics, degrading rivalries and contempt for out-of-line thinking.

Neither environment can provide the most essential precondition for business creativity: Freedom. Without freedom, the best ideas are suffocated at birth.

Advertising is a craft, first and foremost. A craft that fuses art and business. The mistake the dinosaur agencies make is to think that big business ideas automatically get better when thousands of people are involved in their creation. Wrong! They get worse. And they get delayed.

Clients of advertising agencies don’t need mirror images of themselves. They don’t need more of the same people, more office buildings to hold meetings in. They need something they don’t have. They need somebody who doesn’t think and work like they do; somebody that moves at a different speed, someone with lightness and independence.

The old advertising model is broken beyond repair. The new type of agency should work like this: a small group at the center in one location, orchestrating talents from all over the country and the world beyond.

Cultural shifts in an industry, in this case advertising, are often triggered by technological innovation. The invention that has caused the greatest cultural change in recent years is the World Wide Web. You no longer need an agency with 1000 people under one roof. You can brief seven planners in half a day. They sit in New York, Portland, London, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam, and Bombay. Within 48 hours you have 7 different insights into your problem with worldwide relevance.

Then you pull the best of it together and send a creative brief to five of the best teams in the world. A week later you receive five diverse and distinct concepts. You have no meetings, hierarchy, or people involved who shouldn't be. The problems with office boredom and vested interests disappear, and there is no whining. The remaining factors are the most important ingredients for effective work: quality, spontaneity and speed.

This new agency exists. It is called strawberryfrog, and for five years it has already shown it can deliver fresher concepts smarter, faster and much more efficiently than the average company by tying together the largest collective of talents. But when it comes to new generation agencies that are challenging the domination and control of the international ad scene we are not alone. For instance, Taxi Advertising in Toronto, Modernista in Boston, and Tugboat in Tokyo all promote creativity without a stifling bureaucracy.

The old generation took 18 months to come up with an international campaign. The new generation does it in 18 weeks—about the same time it took Shakespeare and Mozart to create one of their works. Do we want to argue with them?

Viva la revolución.

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Scott Goodson co-founded strawberryfrog with the idea of creating a new advertising agency model for the new millennium. With three offices that use talent from around the globe, Scott is tearing down cultural barriers to produce the best work possible. Today, strawberryfrog's clients include Mitsubishi, IKEA, Sony Ericsson, and many other notable brands. Keep up the good work, and the good name, Scott. scott@strawberryfrog.com

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