It’s like a blind date; Agency and client get together over coffee to find out if they have any chemistry.
Either party can bail if they’re not ‘feeling it’, or take the relationship to the next stage if they are.
It’s a good idea, but unlike a blind date, the two parties don’t sit at the table as equals.
For one party this is just one of multiple coffees they’ll be sampling, for the other it’s their only coffee.

One arrives with a bag of cash and a bundle of opportunities, the other, a pen. (Or laptop, I hear they’re becoming all the rage.)
Inevitably, the dynamic becomes like Simon Cowell to X-Factor wannabe.
One tap dances furiously (whilst trying to look nonchalant), the other gives them marks out of ten.
Sadly, agencies just want it more.

The extra income, new business announcement or hitting targets set by their holding companies.
(Try telling John Wren, Martin Sorrell and the rest that you declined to pitch because
‘we just didn’t really click…no magic there’.)

Creatives want something else from these meetings; the opportunity to create.
Because creatives, like a lottery ticket buyers, operate on a giddy optimism makes us believe that the next one could be THE one.
That campaign that blows up big.
It sounds deluded, and probably is, but optimism is like lube for a creative brain.
It stops it grinding to a halt when a brief for a dull product lands on their desk, or a tiny budget or crazy timeline.
You have to believe good is possible.
If you don’t believe you’ll come up with a good idea you probably won’t.

It’s like that French guy who walked between the Twin Towers, if he didn’t believe he’d make it to the other side that documentary would have had a different ending.
A creative’s equivalent of staring across that abyss is staring at a stack of blank paper, knowing you’re going to have to fill in with solutions to a problem a client has already paid your agency to solve.
If you panic it’s hard, if you’re optimistic it’s fun.

Stare down enough blank pages you become more confident, you the unpredictability of it, not knowing where it’ll lead becomes exciting.
You become hungry for more.
Because the next one could be THE one.
But there are downsides.
You take on too many briefs.
Agree to ridiculous deadlines.
And create work that isn’t asked for.
That’s something
I can’t help doing, I hear a problem and before I know it I’m trying to solve it.
I seem to have no control over it, it’s like a weird off-shoot of Tourrettes.
Not always as useful as it sounds.

A few years into CDD I had a new theory; Smuggle our ads into people’s homes and our brands will be top of mind 24/7.
Create strongly branded visual ideas that look lovely, (ie, not like a piece of marketing).
Then apply this lovely looking, branded imagery to household objects; tea towels, playing cards, fridge magnets, posters, ice buckets etc.
I say new theory, it’s not new at all, Guinness, Michelin, Martini and lots of brands used to knock out ashtrays, tea towels, umbrellas and all manner of stuff, but ad agencies seemed to have stopped doing it.
It had worked well for Adnams and Merrydown, in some cases people were paying for the privilege of being advertised to.
Adnams made more a year from selling our creative work than they paid us fee to create it.
They’re still selling it today.

So when I heard that VH1 ‘had a problem’ and wanted to come in for a chemistry meeting, I they’d be perfect for creating more of this kind of stuff.
Something iconographic.

To carve out a slice of the rock world for VH1.
I mean, if we could slide beer ads under the radar, ads about Bowie, The Stones, Jay-Z and the rest would be a doddle.
What a an opportunity.
And what wealth of raw materials to work with, rock has an unrivalled history of great photography, graphics and iconography.

NEXT DAY: Excited, I wondered (against my will) what their problem might be?
Surely it’s their dull, worthy image?
Built up over the years by layer after layer of Eagles and Phil Collins documentaries.

NEXT DAY: Instead of thinking about my Mercedes C-Class brief, I was stuck on wondering how on earth you could make Eagles and Phil Collins documentaries appear cool.
If you thought the rock star was dull you’d think the documentary was dull and therefore the guys who brought it to you were dull.
Wouldn’t you?

We should talk about that in the chemistry.

NEXT DAY: Instead of reviewing work for The Macallan, I try to think of campaigns that have successfully repositioned brands.
It’d be good to show them in the chemistry.
The problem is that I can’t think of any that are relevant, it’s such a specific problem, VH1 don’t manufacture or own their products; Rock stars. 
Most brand repositions tell the public something they didn’t know about that brand, it could be a fact, opinion or insight.
Because if they don’t talk about anything new why would anyone change their opinion?
But rock music? Anyone in the market for rock documentaries almost certainly knows more about it than we could feature in a decade of advertising.

NEXT DAY: I wonder whether their habit of featuring the most popular artists in their ads is at the root of their problem.
Yes, a documentary on The Spice Girls is likely to have a wider audience than one on The Beastie Boys (Fifteen years ago remember), but maybe
featuring the Beastie Boys in their ads would make VH1 feel like a more relevant destination? (Even if it is only to watch a documentary on The Spice Girls.)
We add younger, cooler, more surprising artists to the mix, to help frame VH1 as a cooler place to get your music knowledge.
It’s a bit like running shoes, most people buy them to walk around in, but they still want buy them sports stores rather than department stores,
it makes them feel sportier.
Also, if we have to do an ad featuring the Eagles, let’s show the young, wasted, rebellious Eagles, not the fat, old millionaire Eagles.

NEXT DAY: Before I get into an M-Class brief, I can’t help wondering about VH1; So we have a view on which artists they should feature how they should be shown, but how does that link to VH1?
Isn’t it the recipe for yet more cool, rock & roll wallpaper?

What makes it ownable by VH1?
Also, how the hell do you unify such a wide range of disparate artists under one umbrella?
An umbrella that’s cooler and younger you may have previously thought.
What do Biggie Smalls and Phil Collins have in common?
People may like some artists and dislike others, how would that make them think VH1 was less dowdy than they’d imagined?
Would showing a wider range of artists make them feel less corporate?
Would they even remember they’d seen a VH1 ad?

How do we brand these images VH…oh, hang on…that might work.
Punks use it one way, hippies another.

Google, find me pictures of rock stars sticking two fingers up…
I share the idea with Caspar, our MD.
‘Cool! We’re not showing them an idea though, are we? It’s just a chat?’
Yeah, he’s probably right.
Quite like it though.

NEXT DAY: I can’t help but wonder whether the idea will work – will the ‘V’ H1 read clearly?
I’ve got the images, let’s mock a couple up.
Just to see what they look like.

NEXT DAY: I look at my pin-board; the ads look cool, but is just two letters too random?
Maybe it’s too stripped back?
Maybe we should tie the branding idea to specific programmes?
The biggies seem to be on at 9pm Wednesdays and Thursdays; Ultimate Albums and The Rise & Rise Of.
We look into which artists are coming up in future programmes, leaning towards those that would be more surprising for VH1.

NEXT DAY: Caspar pops in ‘Ooh they look good…but I thought we weren’t showing any ads?’
‘We’re not, we’ll just have them in our back pocket’.
I like the black and white images, but it makes the programmes appear like they’re about the olden days, which they are, but we don’t need to rub it in.
Unfortunately the images aren’t available in colour, so I
put colour washes over the pictures, to add a bit of energy.
Also, I don’t like the VH1 element changing size and angle, so decide to keep it a consistent size and straight.

NEXT DAY: Better. But the layout looks a bit sensible, too corporate.
Maybe it needs a bit more energy and attitude to make it less formal.
Rips and a harsh dot screen over the images might do it?

NEXT DAY: The first thing I see are rips?
Rips are less interesting than rock stars, let’s minimise them.
Also, that white ‘H1’ seems too loud, it should feel like part of the image.

THE NEXT DAY: Better still. But why have a rip at all?
The stars shouldn’t have to compete with the graphics for attention.
If we want to create iconography fans will want in their homes let’s minimise the bits they don’t want.
So bigger pictures, simpler layout.

NEXT DAY: I have an idea for year two: Rock stars giving the finger.
I Love them.
Caspar comes in, ‘Oh my god, what have you done?’

He’s looking at twenty or so A2 polyboards scattered around my office.
No need to tell him they’re now too big to put in our back pockets.

CHEMISTRY MEETING: After brief introductions to the two young, female clients, I enthusiastically launch into selling our solution.
Without knowing their problem.
Rather being held aloft and cheered, I’m told ‘We don’t need a brand campaign’.
Their problem, they explained, was time; they needed a campaign to promote a specific show very, very quickly.
That was their problem.
But, I was in too deep.
I explained that this wasn’t just a brand campaign, it could flex to any programme.
I reiterated my concerns with their dowdy brand image.
I talked about the benefits of bespoke ideas that can only be done by your brand.
I reminded them of the power of simplicity.
I told them that challenging their current brand perception could bring in a new audience.
Whatever, they weren’t interested.
They were, by now, irritated.
They’d just come in for a chat.
I wasn’t in a great mood either, I’d worked my ass off for the last week, for free, got to a solution I loved and they were refusing
to even understand it.
They didn’t even want to talk about it.
We waved goodbye, knowing we’d never meet again.
Some may say that’s a successful chemistry meeting in that both parties came to understand there was none.
But I’d say not.

MORAL: Next time you go on a blind date, don’t turn up with a wedding ring. You’ll seem weird.

13 responses to CHEMISTRY LESSON.

  1. sebastian wilhelm says:

    Great advice. Through my career I’ve found out that I won more pitches for the questions I asked than for the answers I gave.

  2. Brian Burch says:

    So great to follow you through your process. I can’t count the number of times I got so excited by a project that I exceeded any my client’s level of interest or enthusiasm. Oh well. I enjoyed the ride.

  3. Paul says:

    Once again Dave, you’ve taken me back down the rabbit hole that was my career and summed up pretty much why I’ve burnt out.
    I’ve always thought that clients never understood how much value or extra value they could get out of a creative if only they didn’t think that we (creatives) thought and worked they way most of them think and work.

  4. Allan Tay says:

    Won’t say which network, you all will know. Anyway, bonus time. We’d made profits so all counting our fattened chickens. Then MD says no bonus. We were profitable but didn’t hit the numbers, which MD told us had been set ridiculously high.
    It’s like winning Agency of Year, White Pencil and Titanium Lion but no bonus because we didn’t win 50 Gold Lions and 10 Black Pencils as stipulated.

    Next year, we worked harder, hit projections. Still no bonus. Because submissions are made in a certain currency. So at year-end closing we hit the numbers. BUT at submission, currency fluctuations = miss = no bonus. Shorty after, many resignations.

  5. Tim G says:

    Great article as always, Dave.

    PS Are you still going to do the Fink : The Jezza-less years podcast?

    Jeremy was my external tutor at the SCA all those years ago!

    • dave dye says:

      Yes Tim, but I have a bit of a back log to get through first. Dx

  6. Jeanette Cheung says:

    Dave, my goodness I’ve been looking for those Adnams mugs for years! Are there yours by any chance? Are you selling them? Lovely interesting piece by the way!

    • dave dye says:

      Hey Jeanette from Walberswick.
      They are mine. (Well, I say that, I remember when they first started selling them they had ‘Designed by…Smiths of Waldrinfgield or some such local company, which seemed to claim a lot of credit for sicking my ad on a white mug).
      They’ve sold them ever since in the Adnams shops, or did until recently.

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