If you work in advertising, but all you make is 'advertising' - you're doing it wrong.

4th Amendment Wear Metallic Ink developed to show up on TSA scanners.
Tim Geoghegan Matthew Ryan TSA X-Ray

The ad industry is quickly evolving into a new industry - one that won't offer only the limited menu of services that's attributed to it today. I'm not sure if this new industry should even be called advertising anymore, as the term itself can be an albatross to innovation. But whatever the name is, it'll be even more exciting and productive than in its current incarnation.

When I invented the 4th Amendment Wear brand for my consultancy, I didn't realize at the time that it would teach me such an important lesson about where we're headed. It helped me crystallize my thoughts on how our industry needs to fundamentally shift the way it operates in order for it to survive. I originally created the concept as a political art statement to challenge what many saw as an invasion of US citizen's constitutionally-protected rights to privacy. Then, working together with art director and designer Matt Ryan, we developed products that launched a brand within weeks, reaching millions of people and quickly selling thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. Recently, it was honored with a Tomorrow Award, as well as ADC Global's Inaugural Designism award.

(Courtesy, Tomorrow Awards)

It's one thing to create an ad. It's a whole other beast to invent new technology, create products using that technology, tap into social media, and orchestrate a marketing campaign to reach millions. Then, to sell tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, in a less than a month, with a small initial investment, with a small team of just two people to make everything happen - opens your eyes to what's wrong with the current setup at many agencies. Because the big lesson of 4th Amendment Wear wasn’t how to launch a clothing brand. It was how it can inspire our industry to reshape its own internal organizations to react to events just as fast and be just as nimble.

'Advertising' has become pigeonholed. Even among those of us working in advertising, what we do is often defined by 30-second TV spots and double-page spreads with some sort of digital thingamajig thrown in for good measure. But anything we're already making is then automatically 'traditional.'

So creating ideas that live beyond those traditional routes is quickly becoming a mandatory skill that we all need to develop. Fast. 'Fast' is the future of how this industry needs to work.

The typical ad agency/client relationship model is an antique. We need to reinvent it.

While much of 4th Amendment Wear's success can be attributed to the brand being in the right place at the right time, the truth is, all brands need to be. It also shows how we, the creative talent, can evolve - from making the ads that sell the products, to making the products that become the ads. So I hope it inspires more creatives (and agencies) to take advantage of the quickly democratizing production systems around us and the unprecedented access to media channels.

You do not always need millions of dollars worth of production and media spend for a brand's message to spread. While I'm not discounting the importance of strategic branding, which I am very familiar with, it's the system of executing the campaigns that communicates those messages that needs to be rebuilt from the ground-up.

Today, all you need are great ideas. Yes, it's a cliche. But can you think of a time when it's ever been more true? The future belongs to those with the best ideas. Not to the agencies, not to the media platforms or technologies, nor (which is the most popular saying now) even to the audience. Because those with the best ideas will always out-think and outmaneuver them.

That's what we do. It’s just our business.

If a brand spends an enormous budget on campaigns that seem to fade into the background, I'd suggest giving it to more nimble teams and adaptable agencies. With the right system in place, for the cost of one 'globally integrated, high-production value, slightly-positive-focus group-approved' campaign, those teams will create ten times the number of quality initiatives for your brand that could possibly light and catch fire. Then, go ahead and raise your budget back up, and you'll make even more. That's how you can destroy competition that still works within an antique model.

If you take your brand to one of the world's best agencies, think about what you'd rather have them create...

-One, carefully-honed, thoroughly-researched piece of wallpaper, approved by every layer of your organization, over the course of a year, that the world then may or may not ignore?

-Or, ten 'at-bats' that start little fires that can be closely monitored and fanned into flames? The world might ignore one or two, but you still have a tenfold chance they'll actually pay attention to what you want to say. To me, it's pretty clear.

There's value, efficiency - and an entire future - in being nimble.

With access to technology, you can now leverage nimble talent against massive organizations in a way challenger brands never could. A great idea could earn its own media. And great ideas that do exactly that should be what you’re paying for.

Don't outspend - out-think. The only way you'll do that is by allowing the talent in your agencies to respond much quicker than they are able to, or allowed to, right now. Those agencies also need to learn how to be nimble by creating and perfecting the systems that allow their clients to react as fast. Because in today's media, responding to a socially relevant conversation 2-4 weeks after the fact is almost always too late. Sometimes, a day is just too late.

If you're a client briefing your agency on a campaign a year (or, typically, years) in advance, you're just working in another world. How many opportunities to react to the social conversation will happen in that one year? Your brand is missing chances of free, earned media. And your competition can change drastically in that year. The entire landscape can change in a month. The category could be challenged by the end of the week.

Remember the RAZR phone? If not, look it up on your smart-phone's web browser and you'll understand what I mean.

A lot of what was taught in MBA programs ten years ago is being untaught by disruptive outsiders today. In the current system of typical agency/client development and approval processes, agencies and clients will most likely miss out on more and more opportunities to respond quickly and to profit. And that's some of us, will have our own eyes open - watching when to strategically embed our own client's brands - or even our own brands - into the conversations that your system has made you miss.

As a client or agency, you need to realize the resources that you have at hand, right now, and make the process more efficient. Advertising isn't dying. As the business evolves, the talent will simply evolve with it. Your brand can either leverage those talents, or you can wait until production becomes so democratized and so easily accessed, that they go on to create their own challenger brands that may, one day, take yours down.

Of course, that's not necessarily what we do right now.

But soon enough, it may just be our business.

Tim Geoghegan is a freelance Creative Director and strategic brand consultant with over 10 years of integrated global experience. Previously, he was Associate Creative Director at CP+B in Boulder and Creative Director of the ZAG brand IP-invention subsidiary at BBH, NY. You can follow him on twitter, at @timogeo

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Jim MacKrell's picture

In my 55 plus years around the AD business and commercial production I've found the Ad crowd to be some of the most inventive folks around. Not discounting the folks in the digital age..but Ad folks have always just seemed to get it. One of my dearest friends, Sean Fitzpatrick was the brain's behind Chev's brand "The Heart Beat of America" John Rosica who turned a chocolate cookie into a multi million dollar brand. Advertising will continue to grow and morph into an organ that will serve the body commerce.

Intersting's picture

Agree! It needs to happen more. Give wonks the chocolate factory. But maybe do not hire the oompahs

trae's picture


Someone once told me that "making an ad is the least and last of what you do."

Not a ttweter's picture

"All you need are good ideas" is always true, it has never been LESS true, that's why it's a cliche. Technology comes along that opens up new platforms, and ideas come from what's possible, i.e., the metal ink for your tshirts.

The "ten at bats" thing is suspect because what you're talking about a) is ten times the work, and b) has no guarantee more than a few people will see each one and even get the chance to react.

Your Xray tshirt idea is really cool, but 'm not sure it precipitates a complete reexamination of our industry. Of course we need good ideas. But the world doesn't need ten times the advertising messages, even if they're small "chances for conversations." As always, we need to discipline ourselves to make sure as many things as possible (and it won't be every idea no matter what) are worth looking at.

tim geoghegan's picture

Ten at bats isn't 'ten times the work.' And it's not 10 times the messages. It's the same message, said differently.

That's just as much as work as going big, dumping tons of cash and then starting all over again, which is the status quo. And it's a failure.

And, there's never a guarantee people will see anything anyway- sans with endless repetition. Even then, they still may not see it because it then becomes mind-numbing wallpaper. That's why it's the quality of disruptive ideas that matter.

I'm also not saying the industry as a whole can deliver that...truth is, the talent pool is just too shallow to be consistent. A few places will always skim the top, and there's not enough. Advertising is being drained of talent by several other industries that now promise what used to be our sole domain - accessibility, earning and appealing to creative/business interests. So we need to bring more talent in from outside of the industry to augment what we do, otherwise we'll become stale and pigeonholed. What are their incentives?

I'm only pointing to the T-Shirt as one example of a nimble response-time project. Seeing how the industry has been developing over the last 10 years, handling both small and major international integrated brands, not just this project, I can tell you this - the industry needs to change fast. It's not even a question. It's going to evolve. Anyone not looking 5, 10 years ahead and seeing the radical changes coming will miss some great opportunities.

You can't argue that the model most agencies work in isn't rusting and outdated. There's huge efficiency and production wastes - not because people don't 'work 10x harder' but because they're actually working 10x harder to produce 10x less than they could.

Every year we also see more fees cut. More business moves to the peripheral. Advertising becomes more and more marginalized and commoditized. A lot of it is due to relationships and process. I think the industry does indeed precipitate a re-examination.

mark1's picture

So what you are really saying is take a wider view of branding, engagement and relationship building.

Sounds like an ad exec coming closer to .... gasp!...... marketing!

Dabitch's picture

Sounds like a truth I stumbled onto (kinda literally, my heels were killing me) as we were bouncing home from the Gutter bar the last night. An italian suit (I assume) pointed at me and another Italian and scoffed "you're engineers". I'm like YES, dude that's a compliment, prompting a fistbump between me and the Italian-Norwegian guy who was also an art director. We grok ya Tim, you're right.

Anonymous Adgrunt's picture

I happen to know that Tim was not involved in the Invention, creation or overall development of the product due to his work commitments with Crispin Porter and Bogusky. Shame on you for not mentioning Matthew Ryan.