Setting Up A Premise

In this video, at about the 13:40 mark, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, and Louis CK are discussing how Chris Rock sets up a premise.

Chris Rock sums it up like this: "A lot of comedians have great jokes, and they don't - like - 'Why isn't this working?' Because the audience does not understand the premise...If I set this premise up right, this joke will always work."

I see the same thing in advertising. In an agency, before work goes to the client, a team will present a random collection of ads. Some of them may even be really good. But if there's no premise to any of them, even the really good ones will eventually fall to the wayside. But if a team comes in with a premise, and all of their ideas are tied to that premise, people start nodding their heads. Because we get it.

A premise could be "Saving money with Geico makes people happy." A series of ads could be ridiculous scenarios of happy people (a camel on hump day, a witch in a broom factory).

A premise could be "Interesting people drink Dos Equis." A series of ads could be biographical snapshots of the World's Most Interesting Man.

A premise could be "Bad things happen randomly." A series of ads could be Mayhem personified.

In other words, ads are like jokes. Concepts are like Chris Rock's premise.

Don't jump into your executions. If you have specific ideas for a spot, fine. Write them down. Share them with your partner even. But go into every meeting with your premise first. And make sure everyone in the room understands how each execution you present ties back to it.

Pre-Write the Case Study

I'm taking a fiction-writing class, and last night my teacher gave us this tip: "If you're writing a novel, one exercise to help determine what the novel wants to be is to write a review for it."

Even before you're done, jump ahead and write what you'd like to see in the press once your novel is published. How would they describe it? Not just that it's awesome, but why and what it's about. It's basically a roadmap built on aspiration.

You can do the same thing when thinking about your ad campaign. Write a case study for it. Even before you have it figured out, see if you can write what you'd like the case study to be. What was the problem? Your insight? Your solution?

You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if you're idea's simple and if you actually know what you're trying to achieve. You'll also be able to see if, once all is said and done, you'll actually have a compelling story to tell.

Clever. But wrong. Or at least wrong-ish.

Adweek recently published this US map of agencies:

No doubt, this was inspired by this US map of brands which started its viral romp a few weeks ago.

I like it. Here's why: There are good agencies all over the country doing really good work that never get recognition. And maybe you should be working for them, helping them earn their spot on this map. This map kind of celebrates the little guys as much as the famous ones.

Here's why this map is silly: Choosing BBDO for New York discounts Mother, Droga 5, Barton F. Graf 9000, and even the other behemoths like Saatchi and Y&R who are doing great work. And even though it's hard to argue with Chiat/Day for California, that choice leaves out Goodby and 72andSunny.

But whatever. It's just a map.

They did get GY&K right for New Hampshire. Those guys are tearing it up.

"Better Than His Book"

I've been looking at a lot of portfolios lately,* and I've heard the same phrase about five times this week. Someone has sent me a book on behalf of someone else and commented, "They're better than their book."

I don't know what to do with that. I totally trust the people passing these books on to me, but I can't help but ask why the person's book isn't as good as they supposedly are. "They're better than their book" is like saying "Our product is better than our ads make it seem."

Your book represents you. It represents the way you think. So if your book isn't as good as you are, you'd better get to work on making it better. If you're not getting the opportunities, do something on the side. Give yourself some fake assignments. You're competing with people whose books are probably better than they are. That's the reality of the situation.

If your book isn't as good as you are, then your book could be better. So why isn't it?

*We're hiring all creative levels. Drop me a line or send me your stuff if you're interested.