Ever since AMC’s series Mad Men became the hit television sensation that it is, the world of advertising has steadily crept into our culture’s realm of public interest. In order to further cash in on this phenomenon, AMC created a documentary style show that would explore advertising agencies competing with other agencies in order to win new business. They called the show The Pitch, and they aired it in the timeslot following Mad Men. Pretty great idea, especially to those of us who like to see our occupations glorified on a television broadcast.
But there’s one problem. The Pitch, for all its good intentions, suffers from reality show syndrome, a terrible disease that turns interesting documentaries into superficial dramatic productions. For the benefit of a general audience, The Pitch simplifies advertising into this: an idea that magically pops into someone’s head. The show fails to explore the research/strategy process that spawns both the germination and evolution of an idea. While simplifying the industry makes for higher ratings, the show’s final product undermines the depth of the industry that it has set out to chronicle.
Advertising, at its heart, is the culmination of ideas, strategy, and research that create new and innovative ways for brands to connect with their customers and create a sustainable business. To us, this is interesting in itself. In the latter part of the The Pitch’s first season, the audience never even finds out the reason a company chooses one agency’s work over another. The company simply makes a choice, and then people celebrate or lament. We don’t gain any insight into the controlling company’s decision-making processes. We haven’t really learned anything.
Exploring the world of advertising is an opportunity to explore our culture at large. We hope that if The Pitch comes back for a second season, it leaves the fictive drama to Mad Men and focuses its attention on the actual complexities of the advertising industry itself.
Here are three interesting issues of advertising we’d like to see focused on:
The Evolution of an Idea
When someone comes up with a idea, it’s a pretty great feeling, but seldom does that idea remain the same as it was when first conceived. Through time, thought, and research, the idea often grows, or expands. Sometimes, it fails and then becomes the basis for a new and bigger idea. An idea is simply a seed. You need to nurture it, love it, and let it become something bigger than you might imagine. Each idea has a destiny, and it’s important not to limit it by pretending you’re always in control. That’s why ideas are called ideas and not products.
The Importance of Diversity
Classically, and as portrayed in Mad Men, advertising has been an older white man’s game. Thankfully, not anymore. We’ve noticed in The Pitch that those agencies who have the most diverse staffs come up with the best ideas. It has to do with the sparks that fly when different backgrounds, sources of information, and experiences rub together. We notice it in our own office as well. In brainstorm sessions, we find that when we have access to cultural insights beyond the norm, we can tap into a wider realm of world knowledge and come up with universal words, phrases, images, and ideas. And we get to learn a whole lot while doing it. The U.S. is a diverse place, and it needs diverse agencies.
The Defense of a Risk
In The Pitch, unfortunately, we find that often the safe bet wins. Not very interesting is it? Although this fact provides some insight into the minds of larger traditional companies, we find that it does little to push the creative envelope and inspire new ideas. The truth is that many of the best advertising and branding campaigns have spawned from ideas that might have seemed risky at the time. It took the passion, conviction, and energy of certain creatives to show the company that their innovative work would be more beneficial and far-reaching than a safe bet. Companies usually have a pretty good idea of what they need, and often, they’re right, but sometimes, through research and work, agencies find out what these companies actually need. It can take a bit of convincing to make the company realize it, and this is a process that is worth exploring, not to mention a great source of real, non-manufactured drama and suspense.