A Resolution: Saying No To Crap


Not Funny


(I wrote this post a while back. But on this, the third day of our new year, it felt fitting to revisit it. It’s not exactly comforting. But perhaps a dose of cold reality is exactly what’s needed to focus and energise our efforts).


Look past all the rhetoric, the self-congratulation, the slick case studies, the creative awards, the campaigns du jour, the planning awards, the effective awards, the smartass blogs, the authoritative keynote speeches… and it’s plain that the vast majority of what we produce as an industry isn’t brilliant or even good. 

Most of what our industry puts out into the world is banal, patronizing, derivative, lazy, insulting, hectoring, clumsy, polluting, stupid, repetitive, intrusive, toxic, or just plain irrelevant.

Perhaps this is not surprising at all. Perhaps advertising simply conforms to what the American science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon termed ‘Sturgeons Revelation’ (or Sturgeon’s Law as if is often referred to). As he put it in in the March 1958 issue of Venture magazine:

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

All that effort, all that ingenuity, all that inspiration, all those years perfecting one’s craft, all those long hours, all that Powerpoint, all those brilliant rationales, all those missed school plays and cancelled dates, all those postponed vacations and pizza-fuelled nights at the agency, all those lovers never loved, all those bedtime stories never told, all those plans postponed, all those promises broken, all those interests never pursued… To produce crap?

I know from firsthand experience that producing crap takes just about as much time and effort as producing stuff that’s good or better. So we have a choice. We can choose to make those sacrifices in the name of producing crap, or in the name of producing something good.

As a new year begins, as we switch the laptops back on, as we resume the rhythms of the working week, picking up unfinished tasks and starting fresh ones… as clients, as creatives, as account people, as planners, let's say no to crap.  

Because if we aren’t going to reclaim more of our lives, then at the very least we should reclaim our standards.




  1. Chrispalengat

    That’s clear. Not new, certainly. It’s the same clarion call year after year. But it is clear. The missing word in your industry output list (although implicit) is ‘ineffective’. Lord Leverhulme’s ‘working 50%’ seems likely to be a gross exaggeration today. Really understanding what worked and why so has to be the first step. Without this, you are destined to write the same thing this time next year.

  2. Martin

    There’s no shame in restating the obvious. As George Orwell opined: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
    Good point on ‘ineffective’ though.
    Happy new year!

  3. Sean

    Nice one, Martin. But doesn’t the decision ultimately lie in the hands of the client? Because regardless of our resolve to make something good, and delivering our best work, it’s up to the client to say yes.

  4. Tess Alps

    ‘Crap’ is a bit harsh for the majority of advertising that’s just, you know, OK. And most of it works just, you know, OK. People pick up the ketchup, they go online to the price comparison site, they try the new cereal. But we know how much better it would all work with better work. How to get it?
    I’d like to know how many advertisers prevent their agencies producing wonderful work. A few do – and I’ve met a couple of the monsters – but I believe most don’t stand in the way. But I guess they do settle too easily for the average because it does sort of work adequately.
    It’s our job to help these marketers stamp their feet, become unreasonable and refuse to settle for just OK. We need them to back their intuition, but we probably also need to come up with more rational statistical proof that shows how wonderful creativity delivers more profit. The IPA/Gunn report was a start. We need more evidence like that.

  5. Martin

    That’s a fair point, Tess. I was going for a good headline. And ‘Crap’ was better than merely ‘Meh’!
    Your point on the role of the client is an interesting and provocative one. I’d love to hear what the experience of other people has been.
    The IPA’s Effectiveness Awards obviously provide a robust and significant body of evidence demonstrating the link between creativity and effectiveness.
    But while I’m a huge fan of the work the IPA does, I do wonder how thoroughly and widely the learnings have infiltrated marketingland. The IPA/Gunnn report was indeed just a start, albeit a valuable one. Yet too few clients seem to have even heard of this work.
    I’m hopeful that the new Cannes Effectiveness Lions will help. Here will be the real test. Can the work that our peers identify as truly outstanding demonstrate that it actually delivered business results?

  6. Tom E

    I really like the sentiment Martin. For me the challenge of any planner is to have an authoritative / insightful voice when faced with the different views of the agency.
    I’m sure we have all been in meeting where a concept get watered down to the point that it becomes an anodyne echo of the original idea.
    Effective training is part of the solution. Perhaps there should be greater emphasis on offering IPA training to other disciplines within agency life.

  7. david mccann

    Good to hear your words again…
    Often the difference between good and crap is a fine line, where conservative clients unsure of their own futures are unwilling to cross.

  8. paulcc

    My Agency produces work that delivers business results. We work on a guarantee that if we don’t, we pay the client back.We work on a fee to cover our overheads & we take a % of the incramental uplift in sales we create. It’s a simple model. Clients pay by results or we pay them back.Paul

  9. Phil B

    The role of the client in this is indeed in interesting one, but I find it hard to put much blame at their door – if the client is a ‘monster’ then he’s our monster – a monster we either created inadvertently ourselves or haven’t done enough (yet) to turn into a knight in shining armour.
    If we take responsibility first, it’s irrelevant what the client does – if they’re never shown any crap they can’t choose it…

    • Tim Polder (@ThePolderBaan)

      Second that Phil. And even if the Client gives us impossible deadlines/budgets; it’s up to us to convey that and convince him/her that there’s another way to work in the long term. It’s a still a do-it together thing, it’s too easy to blame it just on the clients.