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Fuck that's good, but did it win at Cannes? Simon White on creating work that truly surprises

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Always' #LikeAGirl campaign

Simon White, founder of Formation London, was a speaker at the recent Creative Social ‘Fuck That’s Good’ gathering, which explored the question of whether it is harder now to produce work that truly surprises. Here he tells us why it is…

It’s that time of the year when agency people around the world get back from Cannes and talk about which work from the past year walked off with a clutch of awards. Or, as is often the case, which case study had been crafted to help an average piece of work walk off with a clutch of awards.

When sitting and reviewing all this year’s entries and winners, hopefully some of them make you say, ‘Fuck me, that’s good!’ The question is however, are the stupefying pieces of work that genuinely make your jaw drop and your jealousy meter go berserk getting fewer each year?

At Creative Social’s event in early June I was able to add my thoughts to this debate, and the question was met with a fairly unanimous ‘yes, it fucking is’. And I think there are two reasons as to why.

Firstly, the amount of work created each year and spewed out via the internet is mind-boggling. Yet only a few have their message magnified via the Twitter echo chamber. And secondly, tactical executions are starting to outweigh campaign ideas.

It means that work such as #likeagirl [pictured] gets bazillions of views (because it’s a great message) but very few people notice that people of colour get less than 10 seconds of screen time in a three-and-a-half minute case study video. Anyone care to suggest the demographics of the Always audience in the US?

And yes, it means that the examples of work the Creative Social audience thought would win at Cannes, and which they scrawled on Post-It notes during the event, were almost entirely comprised of one-off tactical pieces of work. Or focused on a specific medium such as TV, even though the best work around Monty the penguin was done in-store.

The second point is an interesting one. And it comes back to case studies. That’s what we see. We watch them on YouTube, we pass them around on Twitter. They feature some ‘trend’ that everyone is going mad for yet often bears no relationship to the brand or, tellingly, its purpose. And then we read about how to achieve similar success in the endless articles written on the numerous advertising-related websites.

There are departments within agencies whose sole reason for being is to create these three minute videos for awards. Do some research: match faces in those videos to the ‘About Us’ section photographs of the agency responsible, you’re often in for a surprise: the people who work there feature in those same awards entry case studies.

It never used to be like that. Before, the work itself was enough. Of course, only those who lived in the country for which the advertising was made saw mass-media advertising. And via one channel – television.

The case study video is the new director’s cut of the 30-second ad. It’s just a shame that the effect it has is to reward those who can tell the best story of how something was made, rather than letting the work speak for itself.

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