Standing out from the wallpaper: Dave Trott shares advice for emerging talent

Creative director, copywriter and author Dave Trott will be delivering the keynote address at the forthcoming Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) conference. Ahead of his visit, Trott gives his thoughts on social media, the significance of awards, putting together the best team and creating a standout message.

Nearly 30,000 people around the world follow you on Twitter, and yet you’re famously dismissive of social media. How do you reconcile those two things?

When social media was launched, all the gurus said it was the death of advertising.  This was obviously stupid and that’s what I was dismissive of.

Social media is another kind of media and will live alongside all other media: new and old, fast and slow, narrowcast and broadcast, cheap and expensive.

You use anything where it’s right, and nothing is always right.

You’ve enjoyed a lengthy and illustrious career, receiving Agency Of The Year and Most Creative Agency In The World accolades from Campaign magazine and Advertising Age respectively. In 2004 you were also given a D&AD President’s Award for lifetime achievement in advertising. What’s your take on awards and their significance for agencies?

Awards are a by-product, not an end-product. Sometimes the right things win awards, sometimes they don’t.

If you judge yourself by awards you let awards committees become your creative director. That’s like saying the people on those committees are better than you.

Personally, I don’t think they are.

You’ve inspired a generation of creative and advertising industry stars, including Saatchi and Saatchi NZ Chief Creative Officer, Toby Talbot. What do you think of the new talent emerging at agencies around the world, and what advice would you give them?

All the new talent seems interested in is winning awards. This means getting the approval of the status quo. Which means the ‘new’ talent is just a pale imitation of the old talent.

I don’t see anything very creative in that.

You’ve said previously “For me, advertising is a team game, like football. When I was younger, I was just a player – all I had to do was concentrate on how well I played. But what I really wanted to be was the team manager (creative director). That means I didn’t have to score the goals, but I did have to put the team together that made the goals happen”. With that remark in mind, what advice would you give to business leaders striving to put together their best team?

The best advice I ever heard on that subject was from Kenny Dalglish. An absolutely brilliant footballer, he was player-manager of Liverpool. He said: “I’ll know I’ve got the team right when I can’t get on it.”

Martin Weigel, of Wieden & Kennedy, once said: “Sometimes nothing is so effective at evoking an emotional response as a ‘rational’ message.” Why do you like that quote?

Dumb people confuse input with takeout. What we want from an ad is always an emotional response. So dumb people think we must run an emotional ad.

They don’t understand that an appeal to reason can be very emotional. Volkswagen’s ads were always rational, but the emotional response was: reliable.

Your writing is famouslyZen-like” and simple. What one thing assisted you the most in finding your own written voice?

Instead of trying to write it perfectly as I go, I learned just to do a mind-dump: just get it down on paper, don’t worry about the quality.

Then walk away and have a cup of tea.

Then come back and read it like an editor: what can go, what should stay, what can be moved, what needs rewriting, etc.

Earlier this month you wrote a column titled ‘Becoming Creatively Aware’ suggesting that: “Creativity is all around us if we’ll only learn to see it. Because the more we learn to spot it, the better we’ll become at it”. Why is it that some people are better at that than others?

Most people think that what they see in art galleries is creative. Consequently, they misunderstand creativity.

Creativity is great thinking, and that’s all around us in the most unlikely places. If we learn to spot it we’ll develop our creative muscle, like doing daily exercise.

Approximately 90 percent of advertising in the UK goes unnoticed even though people are exposed to more than 1,000 messages a day. In one sentence, explain how that came about Does anyone really believe we can pay attention to 1,000 advertising messages a day?

Of course not, we just screen them out like visual pollution. They became wallpaper and, if we’re any good at all, it’s our job to stand out from that wallpaper.

And finally, if New Zealand was to successfully market itself to the world, how should it do that?

Stop worrying about what the rest of the world thinks about you. America doesn’t keep asking people what they like about America, neither does the UK.

They get on with playing to their strengths and if people don’t like it, too bad. That’s what New Zealand should do, and stop worrying what everyone else thinks and celebrate what makes you different.

Just be like The All Blacks. 

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