Wonderful ideas happen when you give great creative people a “frighteningly” open brief. Great creative minds move in amoeba-fashion; where they go to is fascinating. This is the first in a series of discussions with the frighteningly open brief, What Made it Great?
Here is where the creative mind of Paul Nagy, chief creative officer, VMLY&R Australia and New Zealand, went:
Last year, our New Zealand team murdered Simon the Sloth, the well-known face of Life Direct, on National Television.
The client wanted to refresh the brand and Simon was a bit tired, so he naturally fell right into the crosshairs and the rest is history. It was a bold move, and afterwards I was often asked the question: How do they do it? How is that wee little country on the “down under” side of Down Under so consistently great? How do they keep making work so exceptional, you only need to say a couple of words – like Bugger ad, Yellow Treehouse, Ghost Chips, McWhopper – and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about?
And having worked there for many years myself, you’d think I’d have the answer. But the truth is – there isn’t one answer. That’s the best bit. There’s no magic ingredient you can steal and try to use at home. If you want to know what makes New Zealand great, it’s everything – which I understand is quite a frustrating answer.
So, to at least be able to say I tried, here are some thoughts on what makes NZ great, and a starting point for anyone trying to recreate the success. Just follow these five simple rules:
- Resist the world telling you that expanding your team somehow equates to better results. New Zealand has always embraced its size and disregarded it. I give you the All Blacks as Exhibit A. New Zealand agencies thrive in small teams and detest layers on both agency- and client-side, understanding inherently that every layer an idea passes through on its way into the world, generally makes it a little less interesting.
- Use No.8 Wire in place of multi-million dollar budgets. Throughout history, Kiwis have used No.8 fencing wire in countless creative ways to fix things, make things and generally keep things moving forward. In Kiwi creativity, this phrase manifests itself in the ability to make extraordinary things with tiny budgets and limited resources. Where some are incapacitated by a lack of cash, Kiwis just “No.8 wire it” and find a way to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Want a full-size iceberg floating in the harbour? Want to ship a whole pub to London? Want to bring Lord of the Rings to life? Want to legalise gay marriage? Sweet as.
- In a professional environment, nurture a rare and beautiful thing – fun. This is, sadly, one of the hardest things to replicate elsewhere, but there is a joy to everything Kiwis do that is reflected in everything they make. You only need to hear Taika Waititi talk about filmmaking or Richard Taylor talk about special effects – and see the resulting work – to know what I mean. As a culture, they just don’t take themselves too seriously, and wonderful things happen as a result.
- There are amazing, modern ways to analyse stuff with technology and data, but there is still no substitute for your gut. Modern technology will tell you it can research, quantify and predict what people will find interesting, but of course this is not true. It can be a wonderful guide, but the uncomfortable truth is we still don’t have any better tool to create interesting things than instinct and imagination – two things that make most people very nervous. Kiwis don’t disregard guides, but they trust their gut with courage most of us can only dream of.
- Have a long-standing (and I mean, historically long) national creative culture that everyone (and I mean everyone) genuinely lives and fiercely defends. Creativity is woven into Kiwi culture – from tradies to politicians. That’s how they grow and attract some of the most talented creative individuals on earth (and me).
So by now, the more astute of you may have divined that I am quite a fan or our friends across the ditch. And I am. In fact, I love them. For years they have shown the world the way to greatness…
We only need follow.