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Like all industries, advertising is filled with good eggs and bad ones. For every mentor who selflessly helped you get up the ladder is an asshole ECD who did everything in their power to make you stay in your lane. For every creative who comes up with a big idea and invited as many people as possible to contribute to it, there's someone who wasn't anywhere near the conception or implementation on production of said idea who is all too happy to put the campaign in their book with a humblebrag write up about how they alone managed to sell through said idea and save the brand. That yin and yang is hardly limited to within agency walls. Clients are quite adept at being bad eggs. Perhaps the worst offender isn't a client, but a potential one. Such is the alleged case with client BrewDog and the agency once hopeful of winning their business, Manifest. In an Medium post entitled Punk AF and the importance of protecting our ideas, Chief Design Officer Martin Farrar-Smith elaborated on CEO Alex Myers' tweet calling BrewDog out for the brand's decision to run with their ideas after choosing to not to pay them for their work.
I’d like to say right now that flagging this on Twitter has probably spoiled a relationship with BrewDog spanning nearly ten years — but the scale of response to my tweet proves why it is so important to flag these things. It has clearly a struck a chord with creative professionals fed up with their work being pilfered by brands following a pitch process. It’s time we made a stand.
I also want to point out that BrewDog haven’t taken our design route — their cans don’t look anything like the designs we proposed. It’s the central idea and approach that is obviously inspired by the strategy and naming convention we developed for their ‘soft beers’ branding brief in 2018. If you’d like to see what we pitched — You can see the full deck here. I’m aware this level of transparency might result in people pointing out what they haven’t lifted, but I think it’s pretty obvious what they have.
The post, goes on to explain their decision to make this a public argument, had nothing to do with revenge or money, but simply credit. We've all had ideas stolen, either from clients who declared the work "their own," or during pitches, or from other colleagues. Manifest is no different. But when they saw their sweat equity out there, they simply wanted credit. Acknowledgment where it was due. And since BrewDog weren't about to give it, Myers (and by extension, his brand, Manifest) had to step up. The Medium post is a fascinating peek behind the brainstorm curtain: How initial research led to the notion that the category of low or no-alcohol beverages was badly in need of some great creative. At first they thought Pop Punk might be a great name. Until an image search i led to something much, much better. Someone holding the category tab in a record store, reading Punk A-F.
Like any great creative, they kept the concepts they couldn't sell through in previous years in a pile, and unearthed some, thinking the time was right. The post really is a great response as much as it is a great ad for Manifest; their strategic and creative thinking shines through. Not to take anything away from the creative, but If I were a client, especially a maverick one, I'd hire them based on their integrity alone as that virtue is sorely lacking in today's world. If they burned a bridge in their years working with BrewDog, it sounds like the bridge have very little structural support, anyway. Onward and upward. Hopefully other agencies (and by extension potential client-side marketing folks) will avoid BrewDog like the plague.
While these stories are unfortunately a dime a dozen, this issue goes beyond just shitty people. It's a weird mutation (and in my cynical appraisal) the logical conclusion to the "everyone can be a creative," mantra that was force-fed down our gullets by creative leadership who did not know how to lead. It's easier to play make believe with the clients in the hopes they think the idea was theirs to begin with because selling work through is hard and might risk upsetting someone who holds the purse strings.
If every one is a creative, then no one is a creative. If everyone thinks they came up with the idea, then no one came up with the idea. Not that hard to see how this would end up being the case. You leave a client presentation not having really sold anything through. The clients ask account to email them the deck. Next thing you know, it's the client's idea, and they can change it how they wish.
Here's a story that perfectly illustrates why this is a bad idea. Recently a friend spent six months selling through a campaign, having to use the same "collaboration," process. During the pre-pro, the clients insisted on briefing the director on their brand, taking up valuable time in an already crunched schedule. They chose the wardrobe and casting, ignoring agency and director recommends. On set, they told the actors how to act. In post-production, the clients not only ignored the agency’s recommends, they changed the edit (sitting in the bay to 'fix it.') chose the song (a horrible one) sat with the VFX company to 'fix it,' and did the same with color. When the spot tested horribly (as they all knew it would), who did the clients blame? The agency.
It's tempting to say in this precarious time when budgets are getting smaller and the agency model is increasingly broken (especially at the mega-holding company level) agencies have little choice but to acquiesce. In the short term, perhaps that's true. But for the good of the industry, it might help to start thinking longer than the attention span of someone scrolling through their Insta feed.
The main reason for this is because unlike Manifest, this particular client has no integrity whatsoever. But the larger issue is with the notion of collaboration itself. If the clients can throw the agency under the bus (or vice versa) it's never going to be a true collaboration.
By the way-- this horrible client my friend has had the displeasure of enduring? They are giving more and more parts of the business to other agencies who will do the same crappy work at a cheaper price. Collaboration has upset the delicate balance between agency and client to the point where all we have now is a race to the bottom.
In order to fix these issues (and make no mistake, they continue to be issues) agencies are going to have to develop their integrity department.
Good for Manifest. May they turn their lemons into lemonade, to quote Gossage. I would like to point out though that, if you have an issue with giving your work away without compensation, perhaps it might be a good idea to stop putting your content on Medium. Partner Programs aside, you're still giving away a bunch of content that should be housed on your own blog. Wouldn't you want potential clients and employees to visit your own website?