Saying No To Crap. A Resolution

not funny

(Time to dust down and revisit my annual resolution. Comforting? Probably not. But perhaps a timely dose of reality).

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 mediocre.

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 conference calls, all that feedback, all those brilliant rationales, all those missed school plays and cancelled dates, all those postponed vacations, all those lovers never loved, all those bedtime stories never told, all those plans postponed, all those dreams on hold, 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. Braithey

    But who will be the keeper of the standards and decide what is crap and what is great work?

  2. Andy

    Great idea in theory but good luck making that suggestion successful for the 99% of agency leads whose heads are lost in the glory of those awards and over-inflated, under-deserving accolades…

  3. northern

    The keeper of the standards, as always, are real people, or to be precise, how what they really and think is measured, and ultimately, what they buy. Rather than scored in brand tracking or, as stated previously, awards, including stuff like the IPA awards which are mostly just a measure of if you’ve used econometrics

  4. LoveStats

    Same page. 🙂 The problem is as oldies realize this and do it less and less, the newbies start up fresh. What’s old is new again!

  5. Jean

    We should also state on a common agenda. Wha’ts good? People’s agreement ? Sales ? Awards? Productivty?
    Everyone use the same words but nobody speaks the same.

    • Andrew braithwaite

      What is good work depends on where you sit in the agency, client or consumer merry go round. Clients want ROI, creative teams want work they can be proud to call their own and the consumers generally speaking try their level best to ignore it all.
      And whilst I except this is a highly generalised perspective I think it is reflective of the core problem our industry faces in that the three primary stakeholders all have differing objectives.

      • Martin Weigel

        My own view is that the only measure of success is the effect our work has in the world. So at the risk of sounding glib,’good’ is simply achieving your objective (assuming of course that you had a clearly defined objective) whether that was profitability, sales, distribution gains, shareholder value, staff morale, etc. The rest is merely debate about the means.

        So two points on this, via the work done by the IPA.

        First, it’s telling that in their their analysis of the IPA’s databank Les Binet and Peter Field observe that “campaigns that are set hard objectives (business or behavioural results) are generally more successful than those working only to intermediate consumer response targets (e.g. attitudes or awareness).” Indeed according to their analysis, campaigns that set hard objectives enjoyed an effectiveness success rate of 50%, while those that only set soft, intermediate objectives enjoyed a success rate of 11%. Binet and Field conclude that “marketing metrics should aim to measure changes in the real commercial world of the brand, not just the in the mindsets of the people who buy it.” It’s worth noting that a major reason submissions failed to make the grade in the Cannes Effectiveness Lions was an inability to make a connection between the stated objectives and the stated results.

        I know it’s easy to ridicule or question the value of creative awards. Especially if you’re not a creative. It makes us sound all hard-nosed and business-y. But in its report The Link Between Creativity And Effectiveness, the IPA has some fantastically valuable analysis of the relationship between creatively-awarded work and effectiveness.

        We know from work done by IPA and Nielsen, that brands which have a greater share of a category’s total advertising expenditure than they have of a category’s sales tend to grow. Examining 123 brands in 30 categories, the study (How share of voice wins market share: new findings from nielsen and the IPA databank, 2009) concluded that “The critical metric that determines the level of a brand’s market share growth is its excess share of voice (ESOV), defined as share of voice (SOV) minus share of market (SOM)”. Thus it was found that an average of 0.5% points of share growth could be expected per 10% points of ESOV. So a brand with a market share of 20.5% and ESOV of 10% points would expect to grow over a year to 21%. So to some degree, market share can be bought. However, the unfair advantage that any marketer can choose to leverage is the power of creativity.

        In its report The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness, the IPA has some done some invaluable analysis of the relationship between creatively-awarded work and effectiveness. The sample used for this study were the 257 IPA Effectiveness cases studies for which Gunn Report scores were all available. The IPA’s analysis reveals that that non-awarded campaigns, on average generate 0.5 points of share growth per 10 points of ESOV. Which is obviously very much in line with the findings from Nielsen’s analysis. In sharp contrast however, creatively-awarded campaigns generate on average 5.7 points of share growth per 10 points of ESOV. In other words creatively-awarded campaigns generate an extraordinary 11 times more share growth per 10 points of ESOV than creatively-non-awarded campaigns.

        That’s all I got.

      • Andrew braithwaite

        Agree totally with your point about “good work” being judged against clearly defined business objectives and that creativity is a key catalyst toward that goal. But how many agencies do you know who would be happy to except that their work was purely a means to a commercial end.

  6. northern

    I can’t remember where this quote came from, but in the regard of confusing advertising with entertainment or art, a creative director once said, “if you want to be in comedy, go to the BBC and find Ronnie Corbett’

  7. Adam Sweeney

    Perhaps its the January heebie-jeebies, but I’ve been thinking the same thing this week – based in no small part on wistful reminisce to the APG ‘job profile’ I read 12 months before becoming a planner:
    Is being the consumer’s champion so improbable, just because of ever-present complexity? First principle: make comms that are non-awful. Next principle: make something that really seeks to add to culture. At least one of those will look exciting to clients, creatives and consumers.

  8. down and under

    “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 mediocre.”

    Well, maybe we can find a more precise definition of what the industry does, is, and should do from Bill Hicks, not a bad copywriter himself.

  9. Matt Janes

    Ogilvy was being way too optimistic with his claim that just 50% of advertising was ‘plop’.

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