OK, so this is the first post after last week’s commitment to making 2014 a bit more soulful. With a bit less advertising chat and a bit more thought on using creativity to make better companies.
To start then, I’m going to steal this marvellous way of looking at the world from Elon Musk.
In it Mr Musk advocates reasoning from ‘first principle’ rather than by analogy and also suggests the latter fundamentally hinders real innovation and progress. Given he is essentially a super hero he is probably right.
First principle is a theory that stems from mathematics, or philosophy, or physics (I’m not even sure Wikipedia knows);
‘It (first principle) starts directly at the level of established science and does not make assumptions such as empirical models and fitting parameters’.
Essentially it’s reasoning that starts from a pure almost untainted place- the roots of the task at hand if you will. For example, we’re in the business of getting people from A to B, not we are in the business of getting people from A to B in a car, that only uses petrol.
It’s kind of the purest of truths that you need to start reasoning from. Not the ‘truth’ that many agencies and brands construct over the years from some sort of analogy.
Now you’re cognisant of this I guarantee you will see it in every presentation. Everyone has heard some spiel like this:
“OK we have an idea and it’s a bit like ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ crossed with ‘Dove’s Real Beauty’ and the TV ad will use this obscure treatment nobody has ever heard of. This will make it so ownable and deliver an emotional connection that moves your consumers to such a euphoric state, you will be sipping Pina Coladas in the South of France before you know it”
We literally use analogies on top of analogies and quite often they’re from the same small pool.
Reasoning by analogy isn’t quite the opposite of first principle. These are solutions developed with a distraction at play that stops you seeing the real opportunity staring you in the face.
This might be the product you currently sell, quarterly sales targets, a category convention, something your competitor has done, awareness tracking, ad testing or perhaps the next trend from Cannes in 2014.
These analogies might be important but they can be unhelpful, they hold you back and certainly make you vulnerable to disruption.
It’s all so bloody obvious but hardly any of us manage to do it – mostly due to the fact it can require massive change. It would also put planners out of a job but some might say that’s a good thing.
Google is a great example of a company applying first principle to its search business (I’m post rationalising I know, they might not actually do it but humour so I can illustrate the point)
A copywriter I once worked with hated the Internet. In fact he was quite dismissive of anything that wasn’t ‘on tele’. Google was one of these companies – it was essentially the Yellow Pages of the Internet, he just couldn’t get what all the fuss was about.
This is an example of reasoning from analogy and it happens in advertising everyday.
To Google however its first principle is about freeing up information and allowing people to search it, irrespective of the interface or technology.
This leads to products like search engines but also Google Earth, Android, Google Glasses, Google Now, self driving cars and of course a lot of advertising revenue.
Where Google makes money is a byproduct of what they focus on, it’s not the first principle they focus on. If Google’s ambition were based on being a better directory that sold more targeted advertising it would not be as successful as it is. In fact you would probably have got to this page via AOL and a Nokia.
Now let’s take TV networks.
TV networks are fucked because they have forgotten their first principle and ruined the experience. It’s all reasoning from the analogies of a television set and advertising revenue generated from spots and dots. Enter Netflix et al.
FMCG brands, at least in Australia, are fucked because they reason from a narrow definition of their products and supermarkets as the primary distribution method.
Which leads me finally on to advertising agencies or how we would rather be described, creative agencies.
I know everyone says they solve business problems but only if it’s using advertising of a very narrow and quite passive nature
Even our definition of advertising has lost it real meaning thanks to reasoning from analogy. If advertising derives from the latin ‘ad vertere’ meaning ‘turn toward’ perhaps that might be a more constructive first principle to start from?
If we can just drop the analogy of advertising from creativity and just apply it to making companies better perhaps we might see some real progress.
Maybe our first principle could be to help companies deliver on their first principle or is that all a bit too much like Inception?