Saying no to crap: A resolution

Not Funny

It’s a New Year. So as we return to the working life, it’s time to revisit an old resolution.

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, and unremarkable. Or worse, 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 it 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, all those lovers never loved, all those bedtime stories never told, all those plans postponed, all those promises broken, all those passions never pursued… To produce crap?

I know from firsthand experience that producing crap takes just 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.

11 comments

    • Martin Weigel

      Hi Simon,

      I can always rely on you to get to the real heart of the matter!

      It’s a great question… though I can of course only offer a personal opinion.

      I think that three things lie behind the crap we see.

      Clients without ambition.
      There is no substitute for this.
      And I think they either have it, or do not.
      I suspect that no agency in the world can turn a pusillanimous client into one with ambition.
      And that probably demands that we are careful as to the clients we choose to business with.

      Poor quality relationships.
      I’ve come to learn that however fearsome the talent that is assembled, it is impotent in the face of a bad relationship.
      I think I’d go further.
      Great work can only happen if there’s a client-agency relationship.
      And that means genuine trust, genuine transparency, genuine respect, and genuine collaboration.
      (Along with fair and proportionate financial compensation).
      Great work comes from a bunch of like-minded people rolling up their shirt sleeves to address a problem.
      It doesn’t come from relationships characterised by ‘Them and Us’.

      Mission drift.
      “Hell is paved with good intentions” as Samuel Johnson put it.
      And I am sure we’ve all been there.
      We’ve all seen a great, simple, compelling idea diluted by endless rounds of navel-gazing discussion and ‘feedback’ that achieve nothing but distract us from what the task at hand really is.
      And I am sure we’ve all looked back on the crap that was produced as a result and wished that we’d spoken up, stopped the clock, and called time on the bullshit.
      I know I have.
      When the pressure to get the work out is unrelenting, it can be easy to forget to ask if it’s actually right.
      It’s a collective responsibility of course, but I do believe that planners have a key role to play in keeping everybody’s eyes on the prize.

      Anyway, I think this is what I think.

      I am sure there are a thousand different answers…. what’s yours?

      Happy New Year, by the way!

  1. John

    You might file this under unambitious clients, but I think crappy goals are key to the problem throughout business.

    • Martin Weigel

      That’s a brilliant point, and I am kicking myself for overlooking it.
      If we don’t have clear (business) goals it’s generally a shitshow from start to finish.
      Thanks for the reminder, John.

  2. Paul White

    Hi Martin, I pinned on my wal when you posted it last year (January 2013). It helped us keep the crap from creeping in most of the time. You’re right, we need to make this resolution every year.

  3. Scamp

    Maybe Sturgeon’s Law needs to be adjusted for context. Probably it works for SF – 90% of SF being crap sounds about right. But what about ice cream? Is 90% of ice cream, crap? Probably not. Even the bottom 10% of ice cream is probably pretty good, since people inherently like ice cream so much. So what about advertising… well, even the top 10% of advertising, is still a sales message, i.e. something that people inherently don’t want. Maybe that frames it.

    But to answer the question, a lot of advertising is crap because it looks like crap. So maybe it’s the art directors’ fault. Then again, a hell of a lot of clients (especially nowadays) are wanting to say that their product or service is cheap, so perhaps they want their advertising to look crappy… and dare I say perhaps it ought to…

  4. itsnottheword

    Martin I admire your zeal despite many signs pointing to a sticky end for the creative agency process of the last 50 years.

    I’m not sure ‘do better’ will help us in 2014.

    By extension, 90% of agencies are generally pretty crap.

    You would give up for gardening if you had to work in the shallow end of the talent pool today (kudos, that you don’t).

    A bottom up (what are you searching for?) approach to ‘creative production’ is here. Now. Do you imagine ‘future media’ will accommodate out-moded supplier process?

    I imagine not.

    Still, happy 2014 mate! I really hope we all learn, progress and inspire each other this year. It’s before 5am here on the last weekend of my Summer holidays and I haven’t slept well. Hopefully a coffee will perk me up 😉

    Warren.

  5. Pingback: Resolutions, resolutions, resolutions | krisinamsterdam

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