The first advertising class I ever took was in Brooklyn, two creatives from Madison Ave came to my college to teach us.
The first project they gave us was to advertise ourselves, just that, no brief.
So that’s what we worked on all week, we did what we thought was advertising.
We got our visualiser pads, we drew up ideas for posters, print ads, commercials.
Some of us even made up posters and stuck them up in the street near where they worked.
Some of us went to their agencies and handed out badges.
Then, on the evening of the presentation, we all walked in except one girl who was missing.
The two teachers sat at the front with long faces.
They said: “There isn’t going to be a class tonight, the best student here was killed in a car crash.
We got a letter from the Dean asking us to collect her work.
She was the best one here, if anyone was going to make it, it was her.
Her work was interesting, exciting, fresh, unusual. It isn’t fair that she’s gone…”
They carried on eulogising her for at least fifteen minutes, then eventually they just sat there quietly, looking at the floor.
At that moment, the girl poked her head round the door, she said: “Have you finished? Thanks very much, you just did my advertising for me.”
The two teachers were gobsmacked.
They were furious, they said: “What the fuck…..” and they couldn’t get any more words out.
They threw down the letter and stormed out of the room.
The next week they came back, they had calmed down.
They said that was the worst, cruellest, sneakiest, best, most original and creative, way they’d ever seen that project handled.
That girl knew that, in America, whenever anyone dies they receive a eulogy where everyone says nothing but nice things about them.
So, with a minimum of effort, she’d got the two teachers to spend the class just saying nice things about her, doing the project for her in fact.
And better than that, those two creatives carried that letter in their wallets and showed it to all their friends up and down Madison Avenue.
By the time she graduated, every ad agency knew her name and she could have got a job anywhere.
All because she didn’t take the word ‘advertising’ to mean the conventional solutions the way the rest of us did.
Nowadays, everyone thinks it’s a revolutionary thought to say that ‘advertising’ doesn’t just mean conventional media.
That’s what all the new media gurus mean when they say ‘advertising is dead’.
But their thinking doesn’t extend beyond new media, new technology.
Thinking beyond advertising doesn’t just mean using whatever new media is around.
New media is just a new form of the same old conventional thinking.
“Here’s the brief, we want to see lots of digital.”
What’s true is what’s always been true, real creativity doesn’t restrict itself to what everyone else is thinking.
While the whole class was thinking of conventional advertising, that girl was thinking: “What’s beyond that, what won’t anyone else even dare think of?
Given that everything is potentially media, what is there in the entire world that’s fresh and original that I could use?
What is there that no one else would even think of as media?”
That was my very first lesson in real creative thinking, many years before new media gurus even existed.