Winter 2020 | Volume 01


An Ode to The Most Important Part of Advertising

Written by Max Slonim,
Strategy Director, Initiative

My dad loves cycling. He’s one of those guys. A lycra-wearing, coffee-drinking, road-hogging cyclist. It’s a passion that verges on obsession, likely wandering into the field of addiction. To be fair, I get why he loves it. The fresh morning air gliding over your skin, the slowly rising sun warming up your back and a bunch of your best mates riding alongside you. What could be better? For some people, it’s better gear.

But he’d bristle at those guys. Crease-lined vests, bodyline bib shorts and, of course, the $12,995 Colnago bike to match. Somewhere along the way it all started to get a bit too much, he’d say. Somewhere along the way those blokes had forgotten why they were out there. The road had taken on new context: it wasn’t just tarmac for a fleet of friends to ride on, but a catwalk to roll out the season’s newest look. “All the gear but no idea” he’d say. He might be on to something.

We live in a golden age of data. It’s not to say that the age itself is golden, nor that we couldn’t ‘upgrade’ to premium next year or decade, but rather there has never been more available to us. There have never been more ways to measure, analyze and optimize data to deliver faster, more-targeted advertising. Industry leaders openly pine for the zenith of one-to-one marketing, overlooking empirical evidence which suggests one-to-many can be very effective.

Two campaigns from Tide and Nike, recent big winners at Cannes Lions, are examples of creatively centered ideas that rely on one-to-many communications. But my visit to Cannes this year called into question how much we value ideas versus the tools that distribute them.

This isn’t to say that tools and technology are worthless, far from it. They’re useful weapons in an advertiser’s arsenal. The danger is when we begin to rely upon them to win all of our battles. To not just retarget a customer that clicked off our website, but to win one that had never considered us, or upsell another that bought a product six months ago.

Brilliant and irrational creativity, paired with modern tools and refined technology, is a symbiotic combination.

When I think about my time in advertising, it’s not just that I enjoy thinking of ideas more than I do distributing them, it’s that I feel they’re criminally neglected and undervalued by brands. It’s not just ‘why we do what we do’, but ‘why what we do even matters in the first place’. The same holds true for cyclists like my dad.

It’s the promise of hurtling across a long and open road with your closest friends around you and a simple piece of machinery under you. It’s the work you do in the moment, the straining up a hill or pushing into a headwind, that leads to the feeling you get when it’s done. A bit like cracking a brief, really. As my dad would probably remind me, all the gear means nothing if you don’t have an idea to start with.