At art school, my best mate was a bloke called Artie Kane.
After art school, he started a group called The New York Dolls.
Apparently Morrissey, of The Smiths, had been head of their fan club when he was a teenager.
Years later, just before Artie died, Morrissey managed to get the band back together to play in London.
When I met Artie again, we were obviously both a lot older than we’d been at art school.
He said to me, “Hey, it’s good to see you’re still a troublemaker, Trott.”
I thought, isn’t it funny that that’s a compliment to an American?
But it would be an insult to an Englishman.
To an American a troublemaker is someone who’s not just going to sit quietly and accept a situation they don’t like.
Someone who is constantly questioning, arguing, disrupting the status quo.
Someone who enjoys rocking the boat.
To the Americans a troublemaker is fun.
To the English a troublemaker is the opposite of fun.
To the English it means someone who wants to stand outside the crowd.
Someone with a huge ego who just wants to be different for the sake of it.
And whatever you do, don’t do that.
As John Cleese said, “The goal of every Englishman is to get to his grave unembarrassed.”
Probably this difference comes from the genesis of America.
A country made of Europe’s rebels and rejects.
The people who were too comfortable, or too frightened, or too lazy, stayed in Europe.
The ones who couldn’t or wouldn’t put up with it, went to America.
Consequently there’s much more of a climate of fear in England about standing out.
A terror about not being part of what everyone approves of.
A much greater concern about other people’s opinions.
That’s why people are ashamed of being fired in England, and proud of it in America.
In England we say, “I left by mutual agreement that the job I came to do had been accomplished.”
In America they say, “Those fuckers couldn’t handle me. They had to fire me because I shook things up too much for them.”
Now, so far, this has been a general observation about two countries.
Let’s get specific about advertising.
Is the job of advertising to stand out and be different, or not?
Is the job of advertising to rock the boat and shake things up, or not?
If your client is perfectly happy with the status quo, why is he advertising?
If he wants to keep his market share exactly the way it is, why spend money?
TBWA’s new business drive was very successful with a policy called ‘disruption’.
Whether they actually lived up to it or not you must judge for yourself.
But the success of their new business policy proves that most clients want their market disrupted.
They’re not happy to maintain the status quo.
Because the only client happy with the status quo will be the market leader.
They like things the way they are.
And there can only be one of them in any market.
So obviously most clients aren’t the market leader.
And they’re not happy with the way things are.
Consequently, most clients don’t want an agency that’s frightened, and won’t rock the boat.
Especially not in this economic climate.
They want a troublemaker.
Someone who’s going to upset things.
In the book Zorba The Greek, Zorba’s friend is worried that they’re about to do could get them into trouble.
Zorba shouts, “Trouble? Life is trouble. To be alive is to loosen your belt and go looking for trouble.”
So that’s what clients want.
But what about you?
When you’re on your deathbed, whose definition do you want to summarise your life?
John Cleese, or Zorba?