John Mescall: For heaven’s sake, don’t fit in

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Gijs de Swarte

The all-win­ning cam­paign ‘Dumb ways to die’ can not be left un­men­tioned, but the list of prizes and ad­ver­tis­ing achieve­ments is far to long to in­clude here. John Mescall, cre­ative boss of Mc­cann, the ad­ver­tis­ing gi­ant with agen­cies in 120 coun­tries, achieved it all by ‘be­ing dif­fer­ent’.

John Mescall: ‘I de­fine cre­ativ­ity rather broadly. For me, it is the ca­pac­ity to see pos­si­bil­i­ties that oth­ers do not see or do not yet see and thus solve prob­lems. The lat­ter is im­por­tant to me. For me, cre­ativ­ity only counts when it gen­er­ates ef­fect.’

‘The cre­ative route was the only way I could take. My par­ents both worked at the tram com­pany in Aus­tralia and I was the first in the fam­ily to get the op­por­tu­nity to study. But from the be­gin­ning it was not a road with­out ob­sta­cles. I can re­mem­ber that the nuns told the story of Noah’s Ark - and that was that for the rest of the class. But I thought, this is a beau­ti­ful story but it is a lit­tle il­log­i­cal. So I said, that must have been a very big boat - and then I no­ticed that they were se­ri­ous about it. Slapped round the head and kicked out of class. That’s sort of my life story. I never fully fit in.

At univer­sity it was the same. I stud­ied eco­nomics and when it came to hu­man be­hav­ior, so­ci­ol­ogy, I scored ex­cep­tion­ally high. But if it was math­re­lated I was ter­ri­ble. At one point, af­ter a score of eight per­cent on a mul­ti­ple choice test with four op­tions for ev­ery ques­tion - a pro­fes­sor came to me ask­ing, what are you do­ing? Are you do­ing your best to get kicked out of school? They had never ex­pe­ri­enced that, that com­bi­na­tion of good and bad. So, I have to ad­mit I was not suit­able for ev­ery­thing.’

Think dif­fer­ently

‘And then there was the ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness, in which it is all about cre­ativ­ity. I started at some lo­cal agen­cies and thought it was all very in­ter­est­ing but had no idea what it was I was do­ing. Peo­ple have lim­ited time to ex­plain things to you in the pro­fes­sional world but I was al­ready used to fig­ur­ing things out for my­self, so that helped. And I no­ticed that ev­ery­where you work, the em­pha­sis is on how you fit in. But also - and that cer­tainly ap­plies to ad­ver­tis­ing - that if you do the best your can, a cer­tain de­gree of in­di­vid­u­al­ity ul­ti­mately yields ap­pre­ci­a­tion as well.

In ad­ver­tis­ing there al­ways is a pres­sure to­wards the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor, sim­ply be­cause the goal is to reach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. But that low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor is by def­i­ni­tion not spe­cial. If you nat­u­rally stay away from it be­cause you think dif­fer­ently, or have taught your­self to think dif­fer­ently, that will cer­tainly work for you. It did for me.

Do not fit in

‘And then there is some­thing else that helped. Be­cause the men­tal con­cep­tion of the ad­ver­tis­ing ‘prod­uct’ and all the work that goes into ac­tu­ally pro­duc­ing it are such im­por­tant parts of the agency dy­namic, it of­ten is em­pha­sized in con­ver­sa­tions with the client. This is the big plan. We will make this and that, and it is fan­tas­tic. But it is not about that. I hardly talk about this with clients. What mat­ters is the ef­fect of what you cre­ate and you have to talk about that. And that means you al­ways talk about peo­ple - how it af­fects them. Good cre­ativ­ity is prag­ma­tism in ac­tion and the de­ci­sive in­gre­di­ent in this is em­pa­thy. And with that we more or less have my phi­los­o­phy of life; be your­self but do all you can to un­der­stand oth­ers.

‘In my work now, I reg­u­larly sit around the table with the CEOS of the largest com­pa­nies and global brands. And that is also what they ex­pect from me; deep un­der­stand­ing of their prob­lem and an au­then­tic per­sonal ap­proach to it. Be­cause of the so­cial me­dia it is more dif­fi­cult to stay your­self nowa­days then when I started but if you want to stand out, es­pe­cially in ad­ver­tis­ing it is the only way. For heaven’s sake, do not fit in.’

Good cre­ativ­ity is prag­ma­tism in ac­tion and the de­ci­sive in­gre­di­ent in this is em­pa­thy


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