Boot camp lessons for advertising warriors
IAM in East Lansing, Michigan, home town of Michigan State University. I’m here for the One Show Creative Boot Camp called Minds (Wide) Open II. It’s a week-long project in which we mentor students from Germany, America and China. They are given an advertising brief, we guide them through the job and at the end of the week, campaigns are presented and a winner is chosen.
East Lansing is a pristine little town, with beautiful green lawns, oak trees, exquisite gardens, big shiny SUVs, driveable lawnmowers and thousands of students. The town is green, not just with arbour abundance, but with the university’s branding. All athletes of Michigan State University are called Michigan State Spartans and everybody wears team colours and the striking logo — a Spartan warrior’s helmet. The level to which the brand pervades East Lansing is astounding. There are at least a dozen shops selling Spartan merchandising, the street poles are covered, licence plates show off the logo, banners hang across bridges, every student wears the university “uniform” and even the McDonald’s bears a sign saying, “We love MSU”. It’s remarkable to see such an exuberant display of brand love in one little town.
It’s only day three of The One Show Creative Boot Camp and my mind has already been pried open. I am reminded of how feverish the start of any creative job is. Searching for and grappling with an idea is the same in any language, across any culture.
I’m beginning to love this little UN of advertising tucked away in a small room up in the Communication Arts building. We work with a translator for the Chinese students and we make do, despite the language barriers.
In a process like this, there are numerous hoops to jump through, while seeking out a big idea. For one, the mentors themselves are faced with their own insecurities and ego checks because we’re all representing our countries and want to do them proud. Each mentor is paired with a mentor from another country and we quickly have to ascertain each other’s mentoring style. Then we realise it’s not really about us, but about the young people we’re guiding. We’re all new to each other, we’re all feeling challenged and we’re all in the mood for winning.
I was curious about the abilities and attitudes of the students I would meet, somewhat biased by the natural flair, attitude and rich cultural nuances of our own South African youth, but so far I’m impressed and intrigued. Each student has a passion point that coincides with their creative skill — be it photography, film editing or writing. I’m also relieved to know that creatives are, invariably, creatives anywhere you find them in the world. They possess similar measures of enthusiasm and despondence at precise moments in the brainstorming process.
But above all, I’m strangely comforted by the discomfort that comes with trying to crack a big brief. I’ve learnt that the arduous journey to a brilliant idea is exactly the same in another corner of the world.
I’ve also seen that the role of mentor is a tricky one — knowing just when to roll up your sleeves and pitch in, and when to step back and let things happen. Being a mentor seems a lot like playing cheerleader, psychologist, navigator and drill sergeant all in one day — much like the role of a creative director.
The next few days will be intense. But this is an amazing journey, where teaching shakes hands with learning, where confidence and humility are tested, and where incredible memories are made.
It’s apt that we’re in the town of the Michigan State Spartans because it’s always true that when fighting with an idea, when trying to hammer out a campaign that is simple, brave and surprising, you need the steely wits and undying endurance of a Spartan warrior.
Gordhan is a creative director in advertising.