A while back we pointed out to a client that in a series of e-mails he had asked us to bear in mind no fewer than 27 different points when revising a 30-second TVC.
Nearly one per second.
He was shocked. He really hadn't meant it that way. He'd just wanted help and make sure we got it 'right'. I believe him. He's a well-meaning, positive guy.
But it's a situation that is revealing about the wider state of our industry.
In our desperate search for certainty, research leads us into ever smaller, more crowded spaces.
Most attempts at differentiation these days are just shots at trying to find a sliver of room on the same pinhead everybody else is already dancing on. The buying public likely doesn't notice any of it.
Because, of course, you need the intellectual space to make a difference. To not just build ideas out of the same consumer research as everyone else, but to look for insights in other places too. The brand, the category, culture—good grief, even the product.
Without this space you are simply following the same train tracks as everyone else. The result won't be bad, or 'wrong', but it won't stand out either.
Space is getting squeezed in other places now too.
Firstly, time. It has become fashionable to praise speed in everything. Agile is the buzzword du jour. To an extent I buy this. Momentum is good. Pitches are exciting. But you also need an element of reflection to really craft ideas. To really sort the wheat from the chaff. If this is removed then you are never quite sure if better was out there. And it probably was.
Secondly, people. Recently a friend in the business asked me 'Where are all the eccentrics these days?' The ones who were largely useless until they were absolutely brilliant. The answer is they are no longer here. The cost pressures on our industry are such that no one can be carried these days. Everyone has to be consistently and constantly productive. And I think that's a shame. Because to get to real freshness you often need those human outliers.
Of course much of the above is to do with cost pressures. Because at the end of the day money dictates an awful lot.
And that is probably where we need to push back as an industry—or radically re-think how we charge—if we are going to give ourselves the space to make any real difference in the future.
Charles Wigley is chairman of BBH Asia Pacific