The Art of Ugly in 2021

Planner Parley

Truth Collective Truth CollectiveSeason 3Episode 2Oct 5, 2021

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Intro:  Welcome to Planner Parley. A show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. In today’s episode, we’re getting ugly. And it’s a thing of beauty. With social channels driving audience engagement, and client budgets. How do brands learn to let go of perfection without losing creative authenticity? Find out as Tim Leake, chief marketing and innovation officer at RPA joins Jeremy Schwartz, chief creative officer at Truth Collective. And John Roberts, chief strategy officer at Truth Collective to get into the wise and hows of selling ugly in 2021. And how being less precious can be the answer for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.

John Roberts: Welcome to another episode of Planner Parley, I’m thrilled today to actually go back in, uh, a little bit in time to those pre COVID days. Back in 2019, there were a lot of creative discussions going on about both [inaudible 00:00:57] that can, and in our, our media and industry about something called ugly sales. It’s a point of view that actually was shared in border life by Tim Leake, and I’m thrilled today that, uh, Tim’s joining us chief marketing and innovation officer of RPA. So say hello, Tim.

Tim Leake: Hello, wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me, John and Jeremy.

John Roberts: Thank you. And Jeremy, my, uh, co-partner at Truth Collective and chief creative officer. So it gives us the opportunity to really dig into this notion of back in distant days of 2019. We talked about ugly sales and we still think it’s relevant today. We’re gonna start by that by thinking about the role of all ugly. Is ugly still hot in 2021, Tim?

Tim Leake: (laughs)

John Roberts: Before you answer that question, how about you give us like, um, a minutes overview about what was ugly sales?

Tim Leake: Exactly. That’s probably a good idea. Um, yeah, so I’m gonna say yes, it’s relevant and more relevant than ever, I think, but, uh, to rewind just a little bit, the whole concept was really, it started for me by observing my children and, and observing what are they into and what do they connect with and what resonates? And so much of it does not look like what we typically make in the advertising industry, where we usually want it to be very polished and very slick. And you put all that effort into craftsmanship. And now, what they like looks a lot more like TikTok or Snapchat or YouTube or any number of things that probably got their start in internet culture, but it seeps out into everything. And the entire definition of craftsmanship has evolved. And it’s not the same thing we’ve always associated with it, which had to do with production value.

And instead, it’s still focused on the idea, it’s focused on casting, it’s focused on timing, whether it makes you laugh or whether it creates an emotional connection, but how you get there doesn’t matter. And the ability to simply create that on your iPhone and weird plugins and, and gifts that are, are kind of wonky and all that sort of stuff. It’s actually a new creative opportunity I think for us in the advertising world, to be able to adjust our mindsets and, and accept that as okay as, as maybe even better than okay, because it, it is arguably fits the, the nexus of three different forces that are important to us.

The first of which is connecting with our audience. But second with which come from the clients themselves, and that they want things to be able to be turned around faster. And then the third is they want things to be turned around cheaper. And so if you could be both faster and cheaper and more relevant to your audience, that strikes me as a win-win and yet it involves us unlearning a lot of what has always been important to us in terms of what production value means. So that’s-

John Roberts: Fantastic.

Tim Leake: … the background of it.

John Roberts: So much to picking that, Jeremy let’s bring you in. So as a chief creative officer, having lived many years of driving that craftmanship, just before we start to unpick it, what excited you most about the idea of chatting with Tim about ugly sales?

Jeremy Schwartz: What I got excited about when I first, you know, heard Tim’s point of view with ugly sales was, you know, we had already been kind of unpacking what content marketing means and what it means for our business. And I think we we’re all trying to figure out how we could be less precious with our production, because we were making a lot more and we were making a lot more across multiple channels. When I first experienced ugly sales back in 2019, we were trying to figure out how we could really satisfy our client’s needs from a content marketing standpoint, because we were making more across more channels and trying to figure out how an idea can, can kind of create narratives in the, in this new multi-channel environment and do so in a way that we could afford.

I mean, content marketing was a beast that we all had, had to feed. And I got really interested in ugly sales, not because as of it’s efficiency, but because of it’s authenticity. Uh, just as you were saying Tim, being relevant to the audience, I think that’s what we’re all ultimately after. And if cheaper and faster methodologies can, can actually get you there and still, and be more authentic and more relevant than ever before. I mean, we’re in, we’re interested in it.

Tim Leake: Yeah. I think that’s, what’s so kind of fascinating about it, that it could be both the answer we need and solve these very real problems that, that the clients have, and that therefore become the agency’s issues as well about needing to make more content and make it faster and, and all that. It doesn’t make sense to approach content that goes onto social media platforms, the same way we did TV and yet audience’s expectations, you know, or that the content’s still gonna be interesting and relevant and, and all that. So that’s what I think is really interesting. And then maybe to go back to the original question of, is it still relevant today? Because, you know, this first, this topic is something that I spoke about at, at the Cannes Lions back in 2019.

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … uh, and then in, in some presentations that were sponsored by the 4A’s, which when I first met you all and, and at that point it was noticing this emerging thing, then the pandemic happened. And the interesting thing is the pandemic pulled forward, a lot of tech and, and sociological trends. And, and we’ve talked, you know, the mainstream media has talked about all this stuff, right? Work from home, video conferencing, grocery delivery, like there’s been all sorts of interesting trends streaming video is another, you know, key one, you know, Disney+ too have launched during that time when nobody could go to movie theaters has been fascinating to watch. 

Well, one of the other trends that it pulled forward was ugly content. And the fact that all of a sudden, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, we, we couldn’t shoot in studios any, anymore. And so shows like the tonight’s show and the daily show. And they, they all immediately reverted to basically being the hosts in, in their living room, doing the show. And we had this really, you know, fascinating as we started to see programs that came to life during the pandemic, like John Kazinski’s some good news where it felt very much like the aesthetic I’d been talking about it.

It was just him and his home office I guess, the logo had been drawn by his kids and the lighting was poor, and it was just had jump cuts all around. And then they would cut to friends of his, that shot themselves on an iPhone. And yet it was wonderful content. And, and, and I think it was even nominated for an Emmy, which is (laughs) unusual, right? That, that sort of programming would be, and then we had people like Sarah Cooper who just lip synced to Donald, to random stuff Donald Trump said, and she became a breakout star-

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Tim Leake: … simply through content that was done on her phone. And so it started to become mainstream. And literally our entire day to day life was ugly content. It looks like Zoom and, and we’re all just seeing bad lighting and, and tech issues and stuff in the it’s okay. And, you know, going to what you were talking about Jeremy, about that authenticity, I think it just became even more important because this just is life now. TikTok continues to be a more and more important platform out there. And everything on that channel looks like the stuff is not polished on TikTok as a channel. And, and if it was polished, it wouldn’t feel right.

John Roberts: So true. We just had that conversation with one of our clients two, three weeks ago. I wanna talk about the client in a minute, but before we do, if we think about the audience said until the people that are involved in this discussion, real people, we talked about the, okay, the audience was reaching and their, their contribution. Talk about, Jeremy from a creative perspective. What do you think the biggest impact has been for creative directors or creative leaders in agencies?

Jeremy Schwartz: I do believe there is a bit of an unlearning process because the types of stories that we’re telling, maybe aren’t happening over cinematically produced 62nd TV spots and 30s or longer formats. You know, we have to think about what is gonna get the, the attention and be relevant within these channels where the ugly content lives. And often times that’s happening in shorter timeframes. You know, we have to get immediate attention fast. We can’t wait 30 seconds for like a twist to happen. I think that we have to get the attention, or, you know, the thumb is gonna swipe right past you if you don’t get that attention faster. So I think the types of stories are changing as well as figuring out what is gonna break through in these pretty noisy environments. ‘Cause-

John Roberts: Right.

Jeremy Schwartz: … you know, this it’s, it’s no longer, you’re not just a, uh, up against, you know, the few spots, you know, in your commercial break, you’re up against literally the internet.

John Roberts: Tough challenge. And-

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah.

John Roberts: … and listen, as you’ve said, this made me think, does it put pressure on the creatives to actually have more confidence in an idea? ‘Cause you can hide a lack of idea with production values, having a beautiful looking piece of film. What do you think?

Jeremy Schwartz: I think you’re right. I mean, first of all, we have to spend the time to make sure that there’s a core idea- 

John Roberts: Jeremy.

Jeremy Schwartz: That can kind of-

John Roberts: Jeremy I’m a planner, I’m always right. (laughing)

Jeremy Schwartz: Um, but yeah, I mean we have to first make sure that an idea, um, is gonna be versatile enough to kind of play within all the spaces that ideas need to build today. And, um, and that there are appropriate in these, these new channels that are, by the way, you’re in pretty personal spaces. And I think that there’s something interesting about-

John Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeremy Schwartz: … the types of ideas that are gonna re-, resonate with audiences in these very personal spaces. I mean, we’re on the, these devices that are increasingly more important to people’s lives. And in order for you to take up volume, space, time on these devices, I think that your ideas have to really, you know, offer a value exchange to those audiences. So first of all, it’s determining, is there an idea that’s worthy of, of that time and that space on that device? And then how do you bring it to life in a way that people are gonna wanna watch? You know, and watch it for either entertainment value or for some sort of functional reason. So I don’t know. What do you think Tim? 

John Roberts: Yeah,

Tim Leake: So it definitely is a mindset shift, you know, from, from the creatives in the first place. And it’s actually one of the reasons that I call this ugly. To like, I don’t think a lot of other people, some people might look at it and not call it ugly, but I think art directors, creative directors, those of us that, that are used to polished content do consider it ugly. So I’ve, I’ve named it that through our own lens because I think it requires embracing that. And so we think about the, the different, you know, realistic needs in terms of grabbing their attention and standing out. 

One of the other things is certainly people hid behind polish. I’ve seen so many ideas that I’m like that wasn’t really an idea that was just more executed and you can’t do that. Well, actually, as I think about it, you kind of can except you can get there fast (laughing) so I’ve actually seen lots of interesting TikTok things that maybe aren’t a great idea, but the way they executed it on TikTok was kind of fun and fascinating and that’s all it needed to be because where-

John Roberts: And, and the fact that-

Tim Leake: … where things are, it’s very disposable. What’s that.

John Roberts: And the fact they’re on TikTok as well.

Tim Leake: Yes, it, it, so, you know, I, I there’s TikTok will roll out a filter and there’ll be entire, you know, hours content that you could, you could experience that are really just based on that filter. And once the people that are utilizing that tool get a hold of it as a creative device, it’s fascinating to see what people go off and do with it. And so to a degree, that’s what it is. They, they take this interesting technology and then they come up with something fun. There may or may not be a, an idea in the traditional sense there. And yet oftentimes it’s really relevant. And, and it’s fascinated. I was watching something just yesterday that was hilarious that somebody like, like a piece of technology that TikTok has put out there is your ability to react to something else that somebody has done.

And so, you know, a lot of people are out there present this really perfect world and there’s this, this woman who’s designing like a, a bento box type lunch for her, her children. And it was just this such perfection. And the reaction was a guy, the staring, you know, mouth agape at what she was doing. And they’re just sliding a lunchables into his kids’ lunchbox. I love that. And, and yet there, there was an idea there there’s a core idea of, hey, this, this perfection is too much.

John Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: What does real life look like? And it was just executed in such a simple underhanded way. But I think that’s what’s kind of fun is, is, you know, we used to just have to sweat ideas so much. And is this good enough? Is it good enough? Is it good enough? And we did that sweating because the, the amount of work and money involved in bringing the idea to life was substantial and you had to. But now everything’s more disposable and fast. So if you have an, an idea, you could just put it out there. And I think that’s a, a really intriguing aspect of let’s be less precious. And that’s my, my guiding light behind this in general is let’s be less precious even about the ideas. ‘Cause I think you just put it out there more.

And that is a huge mindset shift to creatives and creative directors and, and, the, and clients and the whole process. We are precious about what we do. We think about it a lot and how do we unlearn that aspect and yet still make sure it’s appropriate enough for the, the brand to have put it out there like that right balance is, is the challenge there.

Jeremy Schwartz: Hey, Tim, I just have a question. Do you, you feel like your clients are open to more risk taking because they, it is less precious? I mean, not that they would treat this content as disposable, but that you have the ability to try things with a little bit more velocity?

Tim Leake: Yeah, it’s a great question. Um, I, I would say probably not as open to risk taking is we all need to get to. Clients are never incentivized towards taking risk for the most part it’s so, so therefore agencies aren’t incentivized that anyway. And ca-, I, I can respect that. That said, I think in the right places, you know, and certainly social platforms and stuff are the right place. Yeah. I’ve definitely seen people get a little bit more comfortable with that. I definitely think we are, if, if I’m looking at a race to get to the finish line, which is to be really good at that, we’re maybe only a quarter of the way there. 

I think there’s a lot of, of room to grow, to get more comfortable with that, but it goes back to trust and trusting that if we’re gonna be that loose in that nimble, do we trust that we are still on brand on message safe, that we aren’t gonna screw anything up? The social media landscape is not forgiving to accidentally saying the wrong thing or being even slightly tone deaf and can happen when you move fast and, and don’t expose it to a lot of people. So-

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah, it’s [inaudible 00:17:18].

Tim Leake: … that part’s not easy. What about your clients?

Jeremy Schwartz: I think similar, you know, everyone wants to make sure that their brand is being portrayed in the best possible light across all channels. But I do feel like sometimes when there is not six or seven figure budget that, you know, there is the ability to sort of like look at a scenario and let it play out and, and maybe not sweat every single detail, um, which can, uh, maybe translate to a little bit more leeway for the creative team and for the, the strategy team. 

Tim Leake: Yeah. 

Jeremy Schwartz: To be able to experiment.

Tim Leake: I’ve also noticed that the, the degree of, of interest in taking risks is usually inversely proportional to how much it’s gonna cost. So if, if you’ve got an idea that is maybe a little different and out there and, and everything, and I literally already produced it on my phone and we’re gonna run it someplace that doesn’t require a huge media investment yet, then, then it’s easier for people to approve that. 

Jeremy Schwartz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: If what we’re asking them to do is, “Hey, I just shot this thing on my phone and cut it together. And I think it’s gonna be really, can we spend $2 million to promote this to people?” No, they’re not going to do that. Right. So that, that’s a big part of the calculation as well. 

Jeremy Schwartz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Roberts: And I think that risk factor that you speaks so well of also there’s an element of client experience within that. So the more experienced clients we find are actually more confident in allowing risk or actually wanting some elements of risk.

Tim Leake: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I, I found that to be true, but I’ve also found the opposite to be true a lot of times to-

John Roberts: To entrenched.

Tim Leake: Yeah. 

John Roberts: Right.

Tim Leake: They, they, they have achieved their level of success based on the world of yesterday. And so they’re inclined to perpetuate that system and that was based on doing certain things and then you’ll have other people that by the time they get to the top and they’re the decision makers, they finally, the, the, it’s like the handcuffs are off. They can, they can go break the rules now, but I’ve seen both sides. And-

John Roberts: Right.

Tim Leake: … and it really does depend that way.

John Roberts: Which actually is very similar to the, you know, the, the human challenge, Jay, you talked earlier of, of creative directors. Okay. You got to be a creative director or creative leader in a company because of your experience in actually establishing set ways of doing things.

Jeremy Schwartz: I mean, let’s face it. I really missed the craft services table. (laugh) 

John Roberts: Yeah. Don’t we all. Well, that’s true of planners as well. You know, Parlay is interesting from the conversation we had actually la-, last week when we were talking about doing this of there’s an element within this of, we talked about the audience that we’re serving. We talked about the creativity and the creative direct perspective, touched on client. What about planners, strategists? How, how does this notion of ugly sales and the appreciation of what you’re talking about? How does that change planners?

Tim Leake: It’s a great question. I, I think it comes from to begin with, it’s the mindset. So when we’re talking about it in the context of creativity has a lot to do with execution. But the mindset is what you have to be able to open your mind. And, and, and the, as words I said earlier, which was a bit of an aha that I had when we were having this conversation last week is being less precious. And one of the interesting things that comes up from a planning standpoint versus a creative standpoint is creatives are used to having to come up with like hundreds of ideas just to get the one idea through. 

But usually there’s just one brief at the beginning. It’s like, and, and so there’s a lot of work that goes into that brief, but there becomes one. And I think an aspect of that, and certainly something we’ve been experimenting at RPA with is how do we, rather than taking that time, that week or two or however long it takes to get that brief right, what if we come up with some earlier hypotheses and we’re a little less precious about it?

And this feels like a strong insight, this feels like a good insight. This feels a good insight. And then we really quickly start to work with it, uh, across disciplines. So not just in creative, but thinking, you know, from a social stand point, a digital standpoint, uh, a, a account management standpoint, media even like, how do we start working with, with these ideas and really generating ideas and, and like, like concepts that come off of, off of that, that strategy. Well, then that the feedback of that, it becomes a feedback loop that then allows the planner to see what was resonating with, with the group as we went or, or have extra ahas, like you might have started in one spot, but then you, you realize based on this build, “Oh, that’s fascinating.” And it comes back in and then helps shape that brief. 

And so I think a one way of thinking about the, the ugly mindset in it is being less precious about that and putting ideas out there that are maybe just a little rough. Like, I don’t even know if this is good yet, but what if we tried this and what if we tried this? And then the creatives have to be forgiving of that too, because creatives are like, “Well, what’s the brief?” I think they wanna know what the brief is so they can ignore it, but, but if they don’t have a brief, (laughs) then they’re upset. So, uh, it’s, it is both is about being less precious all around because that actually provides the ability to be more agile, more nimble and have that sort of faster feedback loop on things. That, again, is how we all wanna work today. And I think it’s necessary to be able to achieve everything we want on behalf of our clients.

John Roberts: It seems that fluidity, Jay, we be in talking about it in terms of how to impact a, a truth in our own way of working of the briefing and the brief.

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative). 

John Roberts: How does that feel to you, Jeremy?

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, I love the notion of a more iterative even briefing process where you can kind of pressure chest some insights and maybe multiple insights. And, and I know that we have played around with that our own version of it ourselves, with certain projects, we get in a room and we start kicking around, um, ideas based on a loose brief and see where it goes. And then, and then that can influence, you know, the master brief that might end up being developed. And I love that. And, and maybe we could make that more the norm than the exception because we’re getting to sort of like play around. And by the way, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using that word play. I think play can be, uh, you know, in, in, in the, in the name of serious business play can get squashed a little bit, but play, I think, you know, maybe this notion of ugly, maybe this notion of social and the world of content marketing, where there’s more opportunities to create things, we can allow play to play a more significant role in our creation. 

And, and I really, um, I really want to embrace that, um, as we move forward. So let’s yes, maybe our six and seven figure production budgets aren’t here anymore, but maybe there’s a new dawn of play that we can bring into the work.

Tim Leake: I, I, I latched on the same words when as soon as you said-

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … to play around, I was like, yeah-

Jeremy Schwartz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: that’s a great-

John Roberts: Yeah.

Tim Leake: … little aha moment because I think that’s key to all of this. You know, if you’re gonna be less precious, it’s about having more fun. And, and how do you, how can you take that? Especially working across disciplines, ’cause there’s God, there’s just nothing more soul crushing than the like sitting in an hour long briefing. And then nobody talks back and then everybody goes off their separate directions and thinks of stuff. And then everybody has to present it in a cautious way, you know, to the creative director who then gives feedback and then it comes back and then you have to present it to the back to the planning team and the strategy team. And then, and it’s all just crushing.

And, and I’m a huge believer in, in the power of facilitation. Like we could do an entire different podcast off of facilitation someday. But one of my favorite ways to accelerate things is to, to facilitate groups working across disciplines. And, and a key part of facilitation is making it fun is playing like, how do you take this idea and turn it into a game? So one, one, one of the fun things I do is when we come up with these early ideas, I sometimes ask people, “When you pitch it, you have to pitch it like a bad infomercial.” (laughing) Like one of the client is you pitch it like a bad infomercial, ’cause there’s such a formula there. It’s like, “Do you have a problem with this? Yes, try this. Here’s my idea. It’s a great idea because of this, buy now.” It just, it knocks you out of your right typical way of working. And it’s fun. I, I’ve done improv for a very long time and, and improv is based on games. It’s based-

John Roberts: Right.

Tim Leake: … on having fun and playing, you literally call themselves to players. We’re not actors, we’re players.

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: And, and I think there’s so much truth to what you said there, Jeremy, about playing. And even when it comes to, you know, pulling it back to ugly and doing that, it’s about playing like take these tools that we used to say, you had to bid this out to production companies in order to get this level of stuff, everything, all that stuff, exist on your phone today.

John Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: Just go play with it. What can you come up with and, and go do, rather than the, the, the old mindset of assuming that in order to express this idea, I have to write it out as a script, or then I have to get storyboard artists to come do it. And, and then you have to talk to a director and that director has to shoot it and you have to sell this whole thing. But if you just shot it, what would it look like? And you might ultimately do something else. I mean, it could actually serve as a prototype for something that maybe you do produce in, in a more official way later on, but you’ll get a much better sense from that prototype, whether it made somebody laugh (laughs) in the first place.

Uh, whether it was fun to do, whether you enjoyed that, or you might have a happy accident and so much of editorial and even the jokes of stuff that you see online or in, in any place today. It, it comes from happy little accidents that you discover that were hard to predict when you first thought of the idea.

Jeremy Schwartz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: And even when you’re on shoots with the craft service, how many times did the funniest part of the spot happen because of an ad lib? or happened-

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … because of, oh, that little bit right there. What if we just did a jump cut to that at the end, after the, the product shot or whatever? 

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah.

Tim Leake: You, they tend to be those happy accidents. So can you get to them faster and, and, and embrace that? I love idea of play.

Jeremy Schwartz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

John Roberts: It’s great. ‘Cause it’s actually shifting for me this, even this, this, this discussion of, I came in thinking about ugly sales, as we were talking about earlier, in terms of, from an executional perspective and how do we achieve that. But it’s actually, we’re talking more about how we change our mindset and a little bit of our process. Okay. Process and terms of the linearity of old agency, ways of doing things. Changing that, but changing the mindset, the play aspect that you guys been talking about. What’s it gone long for you, Tim? When you’ve been playing and, and, and playing and doing this over the last couple of years, what lessons can we learn?

Tim Leake: Mhh, that’s a great question. 

John Roberts: We both learn?

Tim Leake: It hasn’t gone wrong when we do it right. Where it goes wrong is, is actually when you run up against skepticism, uh, of, of you, you, you run into the wall of experience actually, right? Like, oh, that nobody will ever, nobody will ever do that. Or, you, you know, there there’s, I, I never underestimate the ability of this industry to suck all the, all the fun and interest out of something-

John Roberts: (laughs) 

Tim Leake: … by making it a, a system of best practices. And certainly social is one of the best examples of an offender there. Where it’s like here you have this thing. And then every, everybody that uses a tool. And I apologize for constantly going back to TikTok, it’s just such a, a, it’s such a great platform. And, and, and it’s become such a big thing. And, and by the way, TikTok was a client of RPAs, right as they launched. So as they turned from musically to TikTok, so it was a big influence in my thinking around this, because-

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … we were working on it, but it fundamentally it’s all about just what can I do with this and playing around? And, and yet then, and all, all of the, the industry thought leaders and, and social, they wanna turn it into, uh, 10 ways to make your brand come to life on, on TikTok, and here’s the right way to do it. And what second, you should mention your product in, or everything becomes sort of a set of rules. And so I actually think going back to your question of where does it go wrong? It goes wrong either because people are not there, right? 

John Roberts: Yeah. 

Tim Leake: There’s almost, it’s almost worse to do half measures when you’re achieving something than to even have bothered at all. And I, I, I often find that true with humor. Like you’re trying to be funny, but you didn’t actually get to funny. You just got to, huh. You know, and, and that’s, then it just becomes awkward when you do that. It’s like, even just be funny or don’t be funny, you can be straightforward. That’s a totally fair tonality to take, or you can be emotional. But it’s like, if it’s sort of not all the way there, then it’s not as good. And I think the same thing is true, if you’re gonna try to embrace this, but you actually, you don’t really, you, you hedge your bets and you make it sort of not polished, but not really going there.

Well, then it’s not authentic, you know, to go back to that key point at the, from the beginning of the discussion. And if you’re not authentic, it doesn’t really work. That’s where I think we-

John Roberts: Right.

Tim Leake: … we hit road bumps, uh, not everybody’s going to buy into this. And, and the whole presentation that I put together for this in the beginning, I talked with a lot of friends about it. And I remember my friend Andy Nelson, who, uh, leads social at Conill, uh, which is a multicultural agency. That’s part of the Publicis network. He, he, he said, “You know, people either get it or they don’t get it. And the ones who do see the power of it,” and the, the I’m paraphrasing, but, but the ones who don’t-

John Roberts: Right.

Tim Leake: … just don’t, and there’s such a truth to that. And that was sort of a quote he gave me two years ago and I used it in my presentation because there’s, it’s like, you either get it or you don’t. And, but when you’re having to try to accomplish this stuff with people that don’t get it, it’s a wall, uh, it’s a barrier. And if we’re not all running the same direction, that becomes hard. So I don’t know if you’ve, you all have experienced anything similar to that. It’s, it’s, it’s true to more than just this concept of ugly sales. It’s true to-

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … many things. You know, we don’t always share the definition of what good creative looks like, and that can be challenging across the board and, and, or what’s the right strategic approach for this, or what’s the right tonality, or even what success looks like. I like to think if we could at least agree on success, we usually all conversations start to get better, but sometimes that’s a different thing as well.

John Roberts: So just picking up from, from that, from, from my perspective, I do feel as though the world is changing and maybe not changing as quickly as we are thinking about, and we need to be more choiceful about where, where can we be successful in taking exactly what you were saying about not doing things by half measures and finding the right world and relevancy. That half measure I think it also works the other way. And Jeremy, you and I have talked about, you know, in COVID times where we were half polished with the best intentions and all the constraints we had, we were doing the best job we could, but ultimately didn’t quite satisfy what we’re trying to achieve. 

Jeremy Schwartz: Well, it’s almost like we are trying to get the best possible production values with different constraints.

John Roberts: Right.

Jeremy Schwartz: As opposed to let’s reinvent what this could be, because we have to do it differently. You know, like let’s not try to emulate what we used to be. Let’s actually innovate to something brand new.

Tim Leake: Well, think about that in the context of what all, all the ads we saw, certainly at the beginning of the, the pandemic. Immediately, what we were trying to do, everybody’s trying to hit a certain tone, ’cause we don’t know, what’s safe to say, and what’s not safe to say everything was emotional and these uncertain times, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I mean, I remember they were making fun of-

John Roberts: That’s right? 

Tim Leake: Somebody strung 80, [crosstalk 00:33:23] because we still wanted that production value. So we turned to the same, you know, uh, we couldn’t shoot. So we, we turned to stock footage that was nice in Hauston and, and epic swelling strings and all that sort of stuff. And, and how interesting might it have been to simply throw that out and, and have, have had people shot stuff on an iPhone or something like that, which would’ve been more truthful to the situation than everybody’s experience. And I didn’t see anybody do that, not in a mainstream way. And, and that I think is one of the things we’re not quite to that opportunity. Like people still like to differentiate between, oh, that’s an internet thing. 

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: And, but TV is a TV thing. And there’s a certain, there’s a certain, yeah, I agree with that. But then I also think there’s an opportunity. A big part of what we’re trying to do in advertising is cut through the clutter again, a whole nother topic about the clutter and how to get people to pay attention to you. But le-, legitimately you, you know, I, I think you said earlier, you’re competing against the entire internet, right? 

John Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Tim Leake: Who’s for a long time, I said, we’re competing against Game of Thrones. Why do I wanna watch your 10 minute branded video as, as epic as you might think it is, it’s not gonna be as good as everything else that is out there today. And so, and the internet is you’re competing against everything out in the internet. I mean, just, just keeping that in mind, the, your, your definition of, of success has to change. And so why not go out in a way that doesn’t feel like what everybody else is doing on TV right now? But has been field tested on the internet. I’m surprised we don’t see more of that. Um, there’s so much funny stuff done in 60 seconds. Why don’t we see stuff that looks like that during the Super Bowl?

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: And we haven’t yet. And instead the Super Bowl’s so overproduced to the point where they’re barely funny. There was a couple that were okay last year. Most of them not great. And, and, and then I, I’ve seen branded work done by, by online creators. That is hilarious. That makes me laugh in 12 different spots, over 60 seconds. I, I can’t think of the last time an ad made me laugh 12 times in 60 seconds. They used to, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that. Um-

John Roberts: Yeah.

Tim Leake: … cause we don’t have that kind of time to craft them anymore. We have to do 50 other things. And that’s probably why, you know, there’s a reason that this sort of thing has changed. So I’m surprised we haven’t quite opened our minds up to that. And I think we will see it. I think we’ll start to see TV shows that look more like online content. I think we’ll see movies that look like more unlike on, on online content and, and therefore ads and the, the spoils will go, who’s willing to go there first?

John Roberts: Which interest comes back to the point you were saying earlier about we, we’re definitely in this race. We’re not even at the quarter mile pace right now. 

Tim Leake: Yeah.

John Roberts: Okay. We’re just starting to explore what we’re doing and, and yes, the, the spoils to the victors, the people are start to make moves. I was seeing this ’cause I think this is true, but you were saying, we’re now over half of TV for Millennial and younger audiences now on connected TV. 

Tim Leake: Yeah. 

John Roberts: So it’s actually not even through what our traditional channels and therefore the blowing of my device and how I’m accessing that, means there’s even less distinction between my YouTube, my TikTok, my network channels. 

Tim Leake: Yeah.

John Roberts: Um.

Tim Leake: Well, and you know, a fascinating topic that would be interesting to talk about too, is, is creators. And, and what do the world of, of creators mean for creatives? Uh, and, and the, and the advertising world. And I like creators. And I think a lot of them prefer it over influencers. Influencers sounded like celebrities who had influence over people, but creators are people who have to, to, to use it metaphorically. They basically created their own networks. Their own shows, their own audience, you know, we were used to have to buy the audience from NBC, or you had to buy the audience from CNN or whatever. You can now buy the audience for Mr. Beast.

And, and he has created this, this world of programming around the stuff that he does and, and whatever that is. And you, as a brand can go just work with Mr. Beast. He’s not gonna let you write the script. (laugh) You know, the, then he’s gonna say, “Okay, let’s, let’s come up with, what’s gonna be appropriate for our audience.” ‘Cause he knows his audience and every creator out there, they know their audience, they understand what resonates and we have to trust them with the brand. So it goes back to trust-

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … but where does it leave creatives? And where does it leave the agency? It’s something I’m kind of fascinated about because I think we can be a conduit there, maybe an advisor, but it’s about being less pressure. We have no con-, we can’t control it the way we’re used to controlling it. So I’m curious if you’ve experimented with that or what your thoughts are there too.

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right. I think us as creatives have that type of activity to happen for the brands we work on, but it was in a very deliberate way. It was part of a buy. It was our influencer buy. It was our part of our PR efforts or specifically our content efforts. But I think what you’re, you’re starting to touch on is that we as creatives, we need to not just make room for that within our mix, but we actually have to become more of the content creator.

Tim Leake: Yeah.

Jeremy Schwartz: Um, and bring those methodologies to our brand storytelling in a more consistent way because that is-

John Roberts: Yeah.

Jeremy Schwartz: … the way so many audiences want to interact with brands. 

Tim Leake: Yeah. 

Jeremy Schwartz: You know like, like you were saying, I mean you noticed, you know, this, all, your point of view around ugly sales was first developed by you watching the habits of your own children and I’m in the same boat. I’ve got teenage boys where they don’t watch conventional TV. They watch. 

Tim Leake: Yeah. 

Jeremy Schwartz: I mean maybe the only thing that they watch that’s produced is, are Marvel movies. Um, but after that, everything is on TikTok and Snapchat and, and-

Tim Leake: Yeah.

Jeremy Schwartz: … the rest of these channels where, you know, creators are using, you know, the power of what they can hold in their hands to create and tell stories. And I think that we can learn from that and we have to start speaking that language more consistently in our own brand storytelling.

John Roberts: That’s a great way of putting it.

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Roberts: So when you think about I’m gonna come back to planning, ’cause it’s all about strategists first.

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Roberts: What would be three things that you would want to tell your strategists in your company or the strategists listening to this part of three, three ways that strategy can help creators become, creatives become more creators?

Tim Leake: You know, it’s funny. I don’t think it fundamentally changes so much and it was gonna say the strategists within my own company, hear it from me all the time probably, but so three things, the first is simplicity, the simpler it gets the easier it is to riff off of it. And um, I remember, uh, uh, where was it? I think it was at a, a, a brand innovator’s conference that might have even been part of CES that I saw, uh, Fer Machado, uh, who used to be with Burger King. He was the CMO of Burger King, uh, before he went to Activision and he gave a presentation for this to come from a client I thought was brilliant. And I thought the agencies can learn from it too. But he basically said he had three briefs and I don’t remember what they all were, but they were very, they were super simple.

One was of it your way. One was flame broiled. And I cannot remember what the third one was, but it was equally simple and basically said, “Hey, if the idea hits that it works.” (laugh) And, and go be creative impossible. ‘Cause the next, ever after that, the point is to get attention. They don’t have the same budget McDonald’s has to get attention. So I’m, I’m, I’m horribly, uh, uh, paraphrasing everything you talked about in that presentation. But, but that was my takeaway. 

John Roberts: Yep. 

Tim Leake: And I love the simplicity of that. And I, I do see, you know, there’s a lot of research that goes into briefs. So getting, and, and that research might be interesting to somebody, but, but I think one of the key challenges is how do you simplify that down? Because the simpler it is, the easier it’s going to be to go do excellent stuff off of it.

And you know, we have a very simple strategy. It gets more complex in, in the weeds, but for farmers’ insurance, everything is about being smart. And so if you can just keep it around being smart, whether or not it’s helping you be smarter or you making smart decisions or whatever that is going to be, it’s very simple. And, and there’s a lot of smart reasons why that is the right strategy behind the scenes, but all that stuff isn’t as important as just simplifying it down. So that’s the, the first things certainly that I can think of in terms of, of, because if you have that, whatever that simple thing is, so I’m gonna just do hit on flame broil. 

John Roberts: Yeah. 

Tim Leake: Now we can just go run with that as a creator- 

John Roberts: Yeah.

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Leake: … like, like just go create interesting stuff that is about that. I think the second thing would be a clear, a clear tonality and, and, and maybe why. And there might be more than one by the way. Like I actually think I, I talked about this in the presentation. There Danny’s was my example where in certain channels Danny’s was frivolous on Twitter. It’s just, it’s like, you know, kind of, uh, edgy almost. And on YouTube, they kind of had like almost a Claymation show with their breakfast foods and stuff. And the TV was still sort of like families and it was warm and orchestra music and stuff like that. And, and I know a lot of brands that wouldn’t be comfortable with that they, they want a single voice everywhere. And that probably just depends on the brand. I don’t know that there’s one answer, there’s not one way-

Jeremy Schwartz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Roberts: True.

Tim Leake: … that’s right. But if you have a clear sense of tone, you can operate within that too. Right? So if you have a clear, simple message, a clear tonality, and then the last thing I would say is clear definition of success, which I alluded to earlier, which was, if, if we all know what success looks like, that’s key.

I have actually not in my current agency, in past agencies I’ve worked at, I have had, uh, strategists remove what the client cared out and translate it into something else. And the creatives only saw that and they didn’t know ultimately what business challenge they were trying to solve. 

John Roberts: Right.

Tim Leake: And I don’t think that’s to anybody’s benefit. It certainly didn’t help anybody along the way. 

John Roberts: Yeah.

Tim Leake: Uh, let’s respect the creatives and respect that they understand what they’re trying to do or the creators, right? The same way if you’re gonna give it to somebody-

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Tim Leake: … out there who’s already got a, a channel built up. If they know what success looks like. If the goal is to increase consideration, that’s different than trying to get somebody to buy now or-

Jeremy Schwartz: Right. 

Tim Leake: … whatever it is, or just simply know that your product exists, like, like there are different definitions of success. So that’s what I would boil it down to. Uh, having fun out about your question for five minutes. 

John Roberts: Perfect. I, I wanna add in, okay. I love what we were talking about and I think it’s so true when I think about the role of strategy with this notion of play of. Play and, and to play you, can’t be precious. And it’s this, this tension that, you know, we have talked about before of, I want people to really care. I want people to work really hard at getting through some really rich insights that will help us or a depth of understanding of the category we are in whatever it would be. But at the same time, balance that with knowing that you are here to play. Knowing that you’re here to, to welcome and Jeremy, you and I work best for actually, I’m not overly precious with the brief and it’s done and here I go at, my briefs get better when you and I kick them around. 

Jeremy Schwartz: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Roberts: And I think you can expand on that some more.

Jeremy Schwartz: Going back to what I said about facilitation. Many of my favorite-

John Roberts: Yeah.

Jeremy Schwartz: … founders are great facilitators, not just great facilitators when it comes to say focus groups, uh, but facilitators with, uh, both the client and the rest of the agency. And if they can make that experience fun and, and inject play into that, I see that some people just do that wonderfully well, they, they make the briefing feel like a party and, and it’s a encourages and invites people to start bouncing ideas around right away.

John Roberts: Yeah.

Jeremy Schwartz: And it’s, it just adds to that, that element of it that is different than the dry. Let me read you the slides that are my brief written out, and I’ve had that kind of briefing before, too-

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeremy Schwartz: … which is somebody reading to me, something I can read all by myself. And, uh, so, but that’s facilitation is really important and it’s an amazing if I could encourage anybody to do go learn two things, it’s, it’s going to be facilitation and improv. I think those-

John Roberts: Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeremy Schwartz: … two things in an advertising career will take you so far just with the skills that they give you up on the sides. Plus, they’re both fun.

Tim Leake: Yeah you’re tight. Even when we do prepare briefs, um, whether they’re a brand brief or more of an activation style brief, like I, I said, at Truth Collective, we are really striving of moving away from like the I’m-, impenetrable wall of words of a word document-

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah.

Tim Leake: … and actually getting to something that’s much more visual to get people to really, you know, A yes, the briefing should be fun, but if there is a document, how do we inspire people with lots of examples? How do we bring them into the world in which the audience lives-

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah.

Tim Leake: … and what they really value with visuals, uh, and speak a visual language to get people really thinking.

John Roberts: So I’ve heard bringing it around full circle. We a couple of years ago, Tim started poking at our industry about the law for ugly and ugly sales. And it’s, we’ve just agreed completely that it’s more relevant than ever today. Tim, you really shook around in all your meetings saying, “I told you so you should have been listening.”

Tim Leake: (laughs) How about work on that?

John Roberts: Yeah, but I love that where we went to was because it really helped me start to appreciate more is isn’t just about the execution and the execution mask the authenticity and the speed and, and, and budgets and exploration we talk about, but this mindset about where are you using planners to help focus on simplicity and expression and tonality? Let’s be clear about what success looks like. Not necessarily in this order, but what look at success. So we are grounded and ultimately what we do, and we’re still trying to, to drive business forward in some manner. Uh, and Jeremy, we talked a lot about the, the role of, about play. Play in terms of the experience of the briefing and also play in terms of not being sufficient as a planner of creative together. Great lessons. Thank you. 

Tim Leake: That was a great conversation-

John Roberts: I’d love that-

Tim Leake: Thank you. 

John Roberts: I’ve loved this conversation and I’m probably gonna hit you up again, Tim, when we’re gonna talk more about facilitating at some stage. 

Tim Leake: Yeah. I would love that.

John Roberts: Jeremy I look forward to being hauled over the calls off cam about what we need to do better, but that, it’s great in that context. 

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah. And same with, uh, how you’ll be judging our creative output. (laughing)

John Roberts: Tim, Jeremy, thanks you. Good day.

Jeremy Schwartz: Yeah, it was a pleasure, Tim. 

Tim Leake: Thank you.

Speaker 1: This has been a Truth Collective production.