Copyranter: Ban brainstorming

Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 10 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 20-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours.

As digital and “tech” ad agencies have become more prevalent, the copywriter/art director two-person team dynamic responsible for basically every great ad campaign of the last 65 years is gradually being phased out — even at traditional agencies. In its place, creative work is increasingly being gang-banged.

This is the worst thing to happen to the industry since Donny Deutsch showed up at Cannes in a Speedo. The word itself tells you it’s a bad idea. Does a “storm” create, or does it damage, destroy and kill?

Hey, if you want to brainstorm “strategy” or “platforms” or “lunch,” go ahead, I guess. But creative? The only time this should be allowed is after 6 p.m. the night before a presentation and only if your team has whiffed on the assignment. This will not produce good work, but it will produce something safe and expected, something good enough for you to temporarily keep the client.

What follows is an accurate, truncated scenario of what plays out in today’s “ideation” (your word, not mine) rooms during a creative brainstorming session. I’ve been in those rooms, at both traditional and digital shops, and with a “creative” department at a big popular social media website.

It’s high noon. The “Creative” is there (a combo copy writer/art director) as is a digital creative director, a douchey vp of strategy, and a client’s advocate account supervisor. And, oh joy: the new Brit vp of content has stuck his head in the door, too. “Save me a seat.”

The creative has three rough video ideas comped up: A brilliant one that’s the clear winner and two safe, nothing-special ones.

Strategy and Supervisor immediately want the better spot killed.

Supervisor: “They’ll hate it, they’ll hate us. Are you crazy?”
Strategy: “It’s off-strategy, dude. Where are the other four essential copy points I put in the brief?” [It’s a 45-second video, you talentless epic moron.]
VP of content: “I love what you’re saying in the last two spots. Can you turn them into a cracking inline sponsored video post for HuffPo? Maybe a celeb V/O—Damon or Donald Sutherland.”
Digital CD, an always caving, political weasel: “Absolutely.”
Creative, with stunned face: “I think the first idea will clearly separate them from the competition and sell the shit out of them. It will be cheered. It must be presented!”
Strategy: “And we think you’re wrong. So: combine the two other videos into one, hitting all the copy points. Plus do a sponsored version. Check Damon’s pricing. Revise by end of day?”

To be clear, post only addresses advertising creative brainstorming. But really, it’s applicable to most any company in any industry — with maybe one exception: NASA engineers trying to bring a damaged spaceship safely back to earth from a failed moon landing mission.

But otherwise brainstorming is for people who don’t know a good idea when they see it. It’s for people who don’t understand why shitty, safe ideas are shitty. It’s for people in love with the sound of their own voice. It’s for revisers, not creators. It’s for uncreative people who take sadistic pleasure in killing or drastically altering talented creatives’ creative.

It turns magic to mush.

Please, stop it. Please leave creative in the hands of proven creative professionals.

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