What’s the ad agency of the future? It’s the Beatles.
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
Before Covid hit, the main topic of advertising discussion was: What does the ad agency of the future look like? What’s the model going to be? How’s it going to work?
I don’t think we need to ask that question anymore. I believe we’ve been living the ad agency of the future for the last 16 months. This is it. It’s Palmolive. You’re soaking in it.
First of all there are no stupid buildings. Those things were expensive. And they were a pain to get to. And you had to stay inside of them all day and all night. It was really a bummer. The furniture was nice. And sometimes they had bagels. But rarely the good ones. Mostly just Einstein’s which are garbage in my opinion.
Also, there’s no more Linda.
While you wait outside the SVP’s office for 45 minutes because her 2:00 went long and then she had to hop on the phone with a client, Linda would always be there with a good story to help kill the time. Usually it was about her Shih Tzu, Abraham. Oh, the adventures those two had together! Abraham was always getting into some kind of a mess.
Yeah. That’s gone. Fuck Linda and fuck Abraham. I have no idea what they’re doing now and I don’t care.
Additionally, the agency of the future has no foosball table, inspirational artwork, collaboration stations, contemplation cubbies, non-dairy creamer or designated smoking areas.
Those are all gone too. It’s a little bit of a drag because some of that stuff was fun. But on the bright side, what’s also gone are the rent, the utilities, and the maintenance costs that ate away at those razor thin profit margins.
Those darned razor thin profit margins. So very, very thin. What a scourge. They made the poor CFOs so nervous. At the slightest loss of revenue they’d have no choice but to do a round of lay-offs. Difficult decisions had to made. So very, very difficult.
Well don’t worry because that shit’s all gone now. The agency of the future isn’t burdened with the big, horrible buildings. They don’t even need to pop for the non-dairy creamer anymore. You’ve got your own non-dairy creamer and it’s even tax deductible if you have a clever accountant.
But the work?! The work! It’s all about the work! We need those buildings. That’s where we collaborate. It’s where our corporate culture comes to life in a living, breathing physical space. That’s where we do our team building exercises for God’s sake!
Bullshit. All of it. Total bullshit. Completely unnecessary, lazy corporate thinking bullshit. Not only bullshit. But even worse, it was bullshit that got in the way of the creative process. Looking back, I think it’s a complete miracle that under this model anything of any creative significance ever came to life.
Which brings me to the Beatles.
The purpose of this is not to debate music, so for the sake of today’s discussion let’s all just agree that the Beatles were a really good band and they wrote a lot of really good songs. Some of them have even been said to be the greatest songs of all time. But the point is not to go all Lester Bangs on this shit. The point is to say that they were very successful creatively. Their messaging was disruptive and resonated with multiple audiences. Their brand was consistent but always evolving. And their output was substantial to say the very least.
But here’s the deal. The Beatles didn’t wake up every morning and go to the Beatle office to make Beatle music. They lived their lives as creatively inquisitive individuals pursuing their own various interests. And then they always funneled their discoveries back into their work as The Beatles.
Mostly from a far, they were constantly communicating with each other. Sharing ideas. Writing letters with lyrics for new songs. Sending demo tapes back and forth of things they were working on. Gathering concepts. Discovering insights. Absorbing new influences.
And then, when it was time to make an album—that’s when they got together and went into a building. That’s when they left the world behind. Hunkered down. Collaborated. And did whatever it took to piece all of the ideas together. In other words, that’s where they executed. It isn’t where they concepted. Recording studios, like fancy offices, are expensive. It’s simply more cost effective to be in them for as little time as necessary. So the strategy becomes an exercise in having your ideas fairly fleshed out before you go in.
From a creative department standpoint, I see no reason why the agency of the future shouldn’t behave the same way. In fact, I want to know whose bright idea it was in the first place to put creative people inside of buildings all day and all night and then expect them to do work of any significance at all. Bonus points to whoever came up with the idea to constantly interrupt them with senseless soul sucking meetings through-out the day. There’s no example outside the world of advertising for successful creative output being produced using this model.
Picasso painted in a studio not a cubicle. Hemingway wrote in cafes and at bullfights. Rap comes from the streets. Creativity comes from absorbing the world around you, processing it in your own unique way and then spitting it back out as something new and interesting.
No one ever told Kurt Cobain to get to the office by 9 am and if you work past 7 be sure and get a dinner voucher from accounting.
And yet, we expect advertising agency creatives to do work that can change the world. That can move people to think in new ways. Disrupt behavior. And become part of the culture. All from a crappy cubicle that they’re expected to stay in for the better part of 12 hours a day.
They’ve set this whole thing up so that we work the exact opposite of how the Beatles did. Or any artist for that matter. They want you to forget about your life while you’re at work. Don’t think about your family. Forget about all of those people out there doing interesting things. Stay right here. Let’s have a meeting. Let's sit through a PowerPoint presentation. Let's hang out with the same people every single day. All day long. Day after day after day. We’re a team. Go team. Are you inspired yet?
That’s the model we work under. And that’s why for the most part our work sucks and no one likes us.
And then Covid hit. And we couldn’t be in those buildings anymore. We had to go home. Where all of our stuff is. Where we (gasp) feel comfortable. And since everything was so messed up with schools and kids and stuff, we had to work (another gasp) when it fit into our schedules. Good heavens. Can you imagine that? A creative person working at odd hours? This is madness. This is crazy.
Hey, wait a minute. This is actually good.
I don’t know about you guys but my creative output has changed dramatically over the last 16 months. Ideas come easier. Concepts come with more clarity. My writing has become prolific. What the fuck is going on here?
Well, it just might be, that for the first time in my career, I’m working more like every other creative person does and less like the highly structured, process laden corporate drone that the advertising world forces me to.
I wake up at 4:30 most mornings. I don’t set an alarm clock. My body wants to get up. I drink coffee. Read a few websites and by 5 I’m writing. It’s magical. No meetings. No interruptions. No distractions. The entire world is still asleep. And I’m cranking out page after page.
By the time everyone else is turning on their computers to check their emails, I have 4 hours of writing done. I have tons of ideas ready to send off to the other Beatles. I have lyrics. I have new riffs. I’ve got an idea for something we should do three albums from now.
"Why don’t you lads fiddle about with these for a bit while I go work in the garden?"
And that’s exactly what I do. Around 9:30 I walk away from work. I go do my own thing. I get some housework stuff done. I work in the garden. I go to my workshop and make insanely cool homemade Minecraft weapons that my two boys, 7 and 9, think are totally badass. I read. I might even take a nap. And then around lunchtime, I get back to work.
I’ve got more ideas all of the sudden. I’ve got a great opening line for the manifesto I’ve been needing to write. I have the perfect song to go with it. It all just popped into my head like the opening chord progression to Let it Be.
This is the agency of the future. Or at least the creative department of the future.
I love advertising. I not only want it to be great. I want it to be better than before. And I want it to be an industry that you can actually work in and have a life. Better yet, an artistic and creative life. A non-stop discovery of new ideas that produces work of greater authenticity that doesn’t feel like it was created in a conference room by a committee of highly trained marketing professionals.
I don’t want to be an ad guy anymore. I want to be a creative guy who makes ads. Ones that truly speak to people, produce actual results and create genuine connections.
I tried doing it the old-fashioned way. I really did. I lived in those buildings day and night. 90% of what I did was mediocre at best. So why go back?
I don’t want to be mediocre anymore. I want to be great.
I want to be a Beatle.