So much creative thinking is beaten to death by “the rules” or the current ad fad on its way to becoming an execution. Every now and then, a creative takes a stand. Rebel creatives tend to be pilloried for this and learn to “fit in”. That’s such a shame.
Thomas McMullen, associate creative director at Digitas has taken a stand against TVC manifestos. Let’s hope that he is applauded.
Here is what he says:
Most TVCs make no sense in 2020. But the worst offenders are TVCs that are nothing more than a manifesto set to production music.
You know exactly the ones I’m talking about; a series of stock-footage, slice-of-life vignettes accompanied by a gravelly, Australian (but not too Australian) voice-over telling you how, no matter how 2020 is affecting you, their brand can help you achieve your goals.
The internet has been roasting this genre since lockdown began. And yet they keep coming, albeit with light edits to remove the word “unprecedented”.
Manifestos are the problem. They have a stranglehold on the way we ideate and limit our ability to make work that truly connects with people who don’t work in the industry.
Of course, we use manifestos because they are extremely potent sales weapons. Manifestos work! I’ve sold in a lot of good (and not so good) work on the back of a stirring manifesto. Hell, one Melbourne Cup I even managed to move a client to tears (although they had been day-drinking).
But there’s a reason the only people who write manifestos in 2020 are creatives and domestic terrorists. They project an idealised vision of reality that may or may not be based in fact or reason, which is why they work. Manifestos are the best-case scenario for work that hasn’t been finished yet.
This has two major side effects. First, they limit the creativity of creatives. But more so, they amplify the risks to clients, eroding your hard-won trust.
Let me explain.
The traditional creative team of art director and copywriter is irrelevant for what brands need in 2020. We train young creatives to write copy over key visuals, but then tell them to come up with “innovative”, “disruptive”, “measurable” ideas and expect something else.
We brief them on a project and give them 2+ weeks to come back with dozens of ideas scraped from all over the internet, often very stunty and easily watered down.
They clean up the three that give you award-eyes the most and put them in a deck with the exact same structure every creative presentation has followed since the dawn of time – quirky intro, personal insight, customer insight, brand insight, solution, idea, manifesto. And the thinking always stops at the manifesto. Here’s why:
A manifesto is used as the emotional crescendo in a presentation to sell an idea before it’s finished. It’s a crutch to fall back on when the thought of actually finishing an idea feels too hard. In the end, a manifesto is the final form of the key visual/headline paradigm.
Nevertheless, the client buys the idea because everyone makes decisions based on emotion as well as reason, and manifestos seemingly provide both. Then, because the manifesto got a great reception, it’s used as the starting point for executions. And because the idea was unfinished and reality can never live up to a manifesto, the thinking stalls.
I know this because I’ve been there. I’ve written them. I’ve turned them into scripts and watched them get 250 views on YouTube. So, in 2020, I’ve set a simple mission for myself.
No more manifestos.
You’d be amazed at the pushback an idea as innocuous as this gets from all areas of the agency. But ideas should be considered enough to sell themselves instead of requiring a one-page monologue that deftly weaves personal anecdotes, rhetorical questions and the strategy written as answers to those questions, finished with the name of the idea in the final line in bold.
To push beyond a slogan and actually fulfil this mission, our team works differently.
For starters, we collaborate beyond the creative team from the beginning to ensure what we come up with moves beyond a key visual and headline to actually connect with customers at touchpoints that are relevant to them.
As we progress, we regularly check in with all stakeholders (including clients) to get pragmatic feedback and ensure what we’re making will actually work.
And when it’s time to present, we use the manifesto test. Does it need one to sell it in? If so, either the setup needs work, or the idea isn’t good enough.
I’ve noticed a change in our clients this year. There’s more pressure on them than ever before, which means they’re caring less about the theatre of the setup, and more about the potential results. Even they want to skip the manifesto to hear how the idea actually works, and how it can demonstrably help them connect with their audiences in the toughest year in recent history.
So change to meet their need, and leave manifestos to burn among the rest of the outdated practices atop the smouldering 2020 garbage heap.