In the latest installment of 'Looking Back to Progress,' we chatted with M&C Saatchi London's Chief Creative Officer, Ben Golik, on the topic of the power of disruptive work, getting back to the basics, and the enduring joy of a classic jingle.
Tell us about your role and how long you’ve been working in the world of advertising.
It’s my Silver Jubilee year – though I’ve not had the parade yet. Instead, I’ve been knuckled down alongside Camilla Kemp leading M&C Saatchi London into its future.
Are there some common staples or tropes that have developed in recent years within the industry? How do these compare to the ones of 10 or even 20 years ago?
While creative work has become more human and empathetic – in it together, on your side – these modern platitudes lack punch. I'd like to see less media spend behind pitch manifestos. "Here's to the bread makers, the risk takers...". Bottom of the barrel scrapers. In a bid to be “liked”, the interesting edges have been knocked off most brands. Perhaps this a natural product of time, a sanding and softening, a gradual perfecting of mood and message. But as we rush to smooth the “end-to-end experience”, perhaps there are some bits that need to remain jagged to snare attention?
What were some aspects or qualities about ads from the past that you feel modern advertising could benefit from adopting?
Growing up, I watched TV compilation shows of great ads from round the world. “World’s funniest…”; “World’s rudest…”. There were invariably some naked Scandinavians. This was genuinely advertising as content, which seems to be today’s holy grail. It’s time to get back into the entertainment business.
Was the work approached differently or have the methods remained the same?
I think two things matter most and are largely unchanged: the quality of the brief and the collaboration that leads to the work. As often as I’ve seen agency briefs reinvented (including a few of my own attempts) the fine art of whittling a complex problem down to a brutally simple proposition remains one of the industry’s greatest struggles and strengths. We may have more data points now – but that’s just more complexity to cut away. And that honed proposition still goes to a pair of smart people to ping-pong between their very different brains. Their titles may now vary, from writer/art director to experience designer/content creator, but the alchemy of challenge and collaboration remains the secret to great work.
How have ads evolved to keep up with technological and cultural advancements such as smartphones and the internet?
Ads may have got taller or squarer or shorter, but the basic need to engage and entertain remains. Even more so if we now expect people to not only watch them, but to interact with them. It’s very much on agencies to make that happen – we have not been squeezed by the platforms, tech companies and media giants, rather they’ve given us a bigger canvas and demanded more of our brushes.
Do you feel as though ageism is a problem in the advertising industry?
A glance around any agency reveals a spritely lot. We suffer the same obsession as our clients: chasing young minds and young money at the expense of wisdom and a wodge of buying power. I hope that new shifts in flexible working help us over our various isms – allowing more ways to work in the industry should help overcome the financial, geographical, ability, age and other foolish barriers we have erected in the way of great talent.
What advertisements do you remember seeing when you were younger that left an impression on you and why do you think they stayed with you?
I’m a jingles kid. Growing up in Australia to the delights of “De-de-de Decore”, “Happy Little Vegemites” and “Snappy Tom”. 40 years on I still sing them in the shower, word perfect. What brand wouldn’t want to create that kind of enduring joy?
Looking to the future, where do you think the advertisement industry is heading?
Answering the previous seven questions makes me hope we are headed back to basics. Yes, the world has changed, the tech has changed, the media has changed – and it will all keep changing. But people remain largely unchanged. We’re still seeking comfort, happiness, sex, belonging… food, shelter, water. Let’s all be more Maslow and less Musk.