Space, the fi­nal fron­tier

In a crowded world, we should de­clut­ter what we do and cre­ate brands that sim­plify and stream­line

Campaign UK - - NEWS - CHARLES VAL­LANCE Founder and chair­man, VCCP @the­brand­ed­gent

I’ve been read­ing Cam­paign for 30 years now and one of the magazine’s most con­stant re­frains has been that the stan­dard of work is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. Some­times I feel like I should take per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. Since I be­gan as a trainee back in 1987, the in­dus­try has ba­si­cally been in de­cline. Is this merely co­in­ci­dence? Or is it all my fault (and Char­lotte Zam­boni’s, given that she started with me as a trainee at the same time)? All things con­sid­ered, I don’t think I have worked at quite enough agen­cies for it to be 100% my fault, and Cam­paign is ob­vi­ously never wrong. So I’m afraid it all re­flects very, very badly on Char­lotte.

In Char­lotte’s de­fence, there could be an­other ex­pla­na­tion. Back in 63 BC, Cicero lamented a gen­eral de­cline of stan­dards in his fa­mous(ish) sec­ond ora­tion against Ver­res. “O tem­pora! O mores!” he ex­claimed, which roughly trans­lates as: “Alas the times! Alas the deep-fried Ja­panese veg­eta­bles!” The cyn­ics hardly ever had a good word to say about the here and now.

It is pos­si­ble, there­fore, that Cam­paign’s ten­dency to think things were bet­ter in the past isn’t all Char­lotte’s fault. It could just be that it’s a nat­u­ral part of the hu­man con­di­tion. For some rea­son, we tend to look at the past more fondly than we do the present. Per­haps it’s a sur­vival mech­a­nism de­signed to make us try harder.

In which case, it works. Be­cause, con­trary to the Fred True­man-es­que “in my day” com­men­tary, I have some­thing con­tro­ver­sial to say. It wasn’t bet­ter then. Things are def­i­nitely bet­ter now. We are try­ing harder and it shows in our out­put.

When I look at a lot of the work we used to idolise, it’s a bit like look­ing at an episode of Terry and

June, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum or Some Moth­ers Do ’Ave ’Em. You won­der what the big deal was. And this was the good stuff. This was top of the bill on a wet Wed­nes­day. Even Ge­orge & Mil­dred went to a fifth se­ries.

Of course, there will al­ways be some things that tran­scend their era. Por­ridge, some (but not all) of Eric and Ernie, Dad’s Army… erm, I’m al­ready be­gin­ning to strug­gle. Most things date. They date quickly and they date badly. If we’re hon­est, only a few ads from ten, 20 or 30 years ago still make the grade. The likes of Smash Mar­tians, Levi’s “Laun­derette” and Car­ling “Dam­busters” are few and far be­tween. Most stuff with a “19” in its birth­day would leave a mil­len­nial cold.

How­ever, one of the things I’ve no­ticed is that, de­spite the many changes in cul­tural pace, fash­ion, con­ven­tion and id­iom, the fun­da­men­tal rules of the game re­main sur­pris­ingly un­changed. The best work still has to earn your at­ten­tion and it has to do so by hav­ing one or more of the fol­low­ing in­gre­di­ents: orig­i­nal­ity, en­ter­tain­ment, in­for­ma­tion, beauty, rel­e­vance. But all th­ese are noth­ing with­out the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent of all: a lit­tle bit of space.

This is where I think a mod­icum of nos­tal­gia may be per­mit­ted. Things used to be rather less clut­tered, rather less crowded, rather less busy. Not just in the world of ad­ver­tis­ing but in the world of ev­ery­thing. Now, su­per­mar­ket shelves are more crowded, roads are more crowded, di­aries are more crowded, phone screens are more crowded, minds are more crowded. No won­der we love brands that sim­plify and stream­line, brands that edit and cu­rate.

I have said be­fore that the amount of in­for­ma­tion we have to con­sume each day has turned us into cog­ni­tive mi­sers. We are ruth­less ed­i­tors, in­tol­er­ant of in­ter­rup­tion, com­plex­ity or waf­fle. Yet if you open a news­pa­per or wade through an online news ser­vice, it is amaz­ing how much of the ad­ver­tis­ing within ap­pears jum­bled, frag­mented and clut­tered. There are ex­cep­tions, of course, but many ad­ver­tis­ers seem to work on the ba­sis that “we won’t have their at­ten­tion for long, so let’s cram as much as pos­si­ble in while we do”.

This, of course, is a fan­tas­ti­cally self-de­feat­ing logic. The 13th rule of Al Ries and Jack Trout’s

22 Im­mutable Laws of Mar­ket­ing is the law of sac­ri­fice, which dic­tates that you have to give some­thing up to get some­thing back. We don’t ap­ply this law of­ten enough. We are not sac­ri­fi­cial enough. We are of­ten too con­sen­sual, too quick to sub­mit to the blan­di­fy­ing ef­fects of multi-stake­holder de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

The prob­lem can be ex­po­nen­tial be­cause, be­fore you know it, you don’t just have over­loaded mes­sag­ing across mul­ti­ple chan­nels for mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers, you also have dif­fer­ent mi­crosites sprout­ing up for dif­fer­ent busi­ness di­vi­sions, dif­fer­ent work­arounds for dif­fer­ent legacy sys­tems and a vig­or­ous un­der­growth of sub-brands all com­pet­ing for bud­get. Be­cause we’re in the thick of it, we some­times don’t see how this tan­gle of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is be­gin­ning to ob­scure ev­ery­thing else.

But it is never too late to chuck out the com­mu­ni­ca­tion chintz, de­clut­ter the brand cup­board and jet­ti­son the mar­ket­ing bric-a-brac. A good spring clean will not only make us feel bet­ter, it will cre­ate some space around the brands we work for. So there’s some room left over to fit the cus­tomer in.

“If you open a news­pa­per or wade through an online news ser­vice, it is amaz­ing how much of the ad­ver­tis­ing within ap­pears jum­bled, frag­mented and clut­tered”

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