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 by Damon Stapleton, Chief Creative Officer at DDB NZ
Check out Damon's blog

Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

Many years ago I was in a terrible team. We didn’t get on and because of this we would have these long, stupid philosophical discussions about the right way to have ideas. We would talk about structure and what things should be called and how we should approach a project. We literally did everything besides have an idea. Even now, I can remember the ball tightening, paralysing fear, I felt every day as we tried to surf yet another semantic Tsunami.

We never agreed on anything and more importantly, never had any ideas worth talking about. It was a pretty dark moment in my career but it taught me one thing.Talking about having ideas, having theories about ideas, espousing a philosophy about creating ideas is not the fucking same as having one. And it taught me one other thing.

Complexity kills ideas. Simplicity gives birth to them.

The reason I mention this episode is I feel the industry is doing exactly what I did when I was in that team. There is an obsession with what things are called.What is new and what is no longer new. The new creative. The old creative. Copywriters and Art Director’s are dead. What the new model should be. How things should be structured. And of course, enough semantic fruit salad to feed every vegan in the Western world. We don’t talk about ideas half as much as what is around them or the correct way to have them.

All I can say is thank God for people like Dave Trott. For me, his common sense and simplicity is the antidote to a lot of the shit I read every day about our business.

The truth is there are many people in our industry who make a lot of money by talking about complexity. They constantly explain how it all works. That advertising has changed forever. Normally, you will find this is because they are trying to sell a methodology or perspective to make some moolah. Complexity and commerce masquerading as our future.

The strange thing about all these snake oil salesmen is their presentations normally take you right up to the point where you actually have to have the idea. And then the Venn diagrams stop. They talk about everything before the idea or after the idea. Never the idea itself.

So I thought I would talk about an idea. An idea that shows why we need simplicity.

Spoiler alert. It is one I was involved in. So I am comfortable if you scream out shameless self-promotion at this point.

Last year, I was part of a successful campaign for OPSM called Penny the Pirate. It has won over 50 international awards and it started with a very beautiful idea.

What if you could create a children’s book that parents could use to test their children’s eyes when they read them a bedtime story?

This simple idea became an award winning app, a mobile campaign, an integrated campaign, direct campaign, I could go on. It also took an army of amazing people to bring this all to life. It taught me how an integrated campaign today is complex. It taught me how many people you need to make it happen. It taught me how a simple idea becomes the structure that glues everything together. Bill Bernbach said if you can’t write your idea on the back of a business card, it’s probably not an idea. And we will always need strong, beautiful simple ideas. Here is why.

Let me take you into a creative department today. If you are doing anything in advertising these days it will be integrated. Some ideas that I have worked on have taken up to two years to see the light of day, others might have to happen within in an hour.  And, today it takes a village to do either. What this means is that creatives, technologists and a variety of other disciplines work together to make it happen.That can be very complex because of the variety of perspectives that have to be harnessed quickly or over long periods of time. So, it becomes imperative to have a simple idea, a North Star, that every one understands but can interpret in their own way.

This the secret. The idea drives the structure, not the other way round. In essence, the idea creates the structure it needs. This is when it all works. Lego can become anything. If you have a simple idea. If you don’t, you just have blocks on the carpet.

In 20 years of being a creative I have never seen complexity or process get somebody to a new place. I have seen simplicity do it over and over. It’s what creatives need today, more than ever.

In short, the world has become more complex. Therefore we need ideas to become more simple to succeed.

Many in our industry are adding to this complexity by being obsessed with talk of the correct system or new jargon and labels rather than what is actually being created. People that actually make stuff just care about the idea or solution.

And if you don’t have that, the rest doesn’t really matter does it?