From copy to MAC: The birth of a new creative model

Seven years ago, a big ape played the drums and gave the world a little joy. Cadbury showed how random creative brilliance was still effective, inspiring and timeless. Today we look out upon a bleak landscape, with nary a gorilla in sight. Humor is gone. Commercials are humourless mantras. Talentless influencers preen.

Too harsh? Perhaps. But observe our creative awards. Since we no longer entertain, we settle for false nobility. In 2020, that same gorilla would have needed to drum away global warming just to win silver. As creative departments falter, media agencies shine. The new complexity has made them seers. Now the DMP helps the DSP get better CPMs. Forget the gorilla. The media director is playing the drums now.

The rise of media is everywhere. Internal creative teams such as Amazon’s D1 are briefed by media strategists. Facebook, Spotify and Twitter employ hundreds of “creative strategists” whose sole expertise is how their channels work. And don’t forget the creepy Experience cults: Accenture and the other consultancies, chanting “the funnel, the funnel”.

Holding companies have tried to adapt by forming “integrated agencies.”, where brands pay a single fee for both media and creative. Like American cable contracts, the integrated agency bundles something valuable (media plans, or HBO) with something less desired (creative ideas, or ESPN4).

However we’re bundled or billed, creative is now the second-least important department in advertising. (sorry HR, you’re still last). Only one thing can save us: amazing work. To summon forth the gorilla once again, perhaps creative departments need to evolve.

From copy or art to M.A.C. Daddy

For 100 years, copywriters and art directors created and protected their gorillas with great copy and awesome art. When they appeared, they played their drums in set places at set times.

Now there’s a third and fourth dimension to every gorilla we make: The place he appears and the way he finds consumers (targeting). These offer chances for new gorillas, for beasts we’ve never dreamed of. Yet nobody in my department understands these dimensions.

Integrated agencies try to bridge this gap, but they’re really about revenue. So the departments are kept separate, with creative and media billed as separate services. This results in retro-fitting and agonising approval processes. Not always gorilla-friendly environments.

A new solution would be for creative departments to experiment with a three-person model, a team of media strategist, art director and copywriter.

We could call this the M.A.C. model because, well, that sounds cool. With M.A.C., the creative landscape gets two more dimensions. What lives inside that jungle could be amazing.

Everyone except creatives: Skip to the next paragraph

I can hear my fellow creatives rearing back in horror. And hey family, I get it. Depending on where you work, you already have to get “sign-off” from at least three of the following: planners, account executives, media directors, “social teams”, content directors, communication strategists, public relations executives or, if you’re really unlucky, some glorified website builder calling himself a “digital director”. The above list has killed more gorillas than Congolese poachers. Isn’t a media strategist one of…them?

No, they’re not. Media strategists work at media agencies.

They aren’t currently in the, 'I wanna approve all the creative' game. That’s one reason why they’d make good partners. Another is their knowledge.

Ask yourself this: do you understand how Line ads work? Or how ABC.com can serve 15-second spots at specific times during a TV show? Or how social listening can trigger dynamic creative for segmented TikTok audiences? Then imagine brainstorming with someone who does. Not in rushed meetings with everyone looking at their phones. I mean real brainstorming - the way real teams do. Sitting together. Talking and laughing. Staring into space. Talking again. Their knowledge plus your creative, back and forth. What you’d come up with would be so different. Amiright?

Beyond the things we could make, imagine the arguments we could win. A media strategist knows things none of the other gorilla-killers know…including the client. We can’t get beaten up, second-guessed or out-foxed if we speak with her authority.

Everyone else: Start reading here

To all the other agency departments, sorry you weren’t allowed to read the above paragraph. It was totally boring anyway. As for creative agency presidents, don’t get annoyed at the idea of more hiring. Instead of eight copy teams, we could have six MAC teams. And when the lizard people over in client procurement complain about paying for media services, tell ‘em the media strategist on the creative team isn’t generating media plans, they’re generating goddamn gorillas.

Save the gorilla

How will this actually happen? Probably lots of ways. In smaller boutiques, the media strategist could be a full-time creative. In integrated agencies, she or he could alternate between media planning and idea generation. In semi-integrated agencies, the media strategist could float among teams, working only on complex briefs.

Whatever the structure, a M.A.C. team will know exactly how to pitch the next Cadbury Gorilla. The day of that meeting, along with copy and visuals, there’s going to be something new: a passionate expert, sitting on the creative team, bringing her or his insights and passion about how channels can work and consumers are found, and why this new gorilla will rock.

What’s that in the distance? Could it be…drums?

The author is Timothy Schultz, a freelance creative director currently based in Tokyo and formerly of Ogilvy & Mather Tokyo, Amazon India and Saatchi & Saatchi Tokyo.