Why did Friends take over the world, while hundreds of similar shows fizzled out? Why is Carpool Karaoke a must-view, while millions of hours of YouTube are unwatched? Why is a low budget 80s-throw-back-sci-fi the superstar standout of the $5 billion invested in Netflix content? I think the answer is magic. But what is magic? How does it happen? And how can we make magic in this strange old game we call advertising?
Spoiler alert: I don’t have the answer. But I do have some ideas on how to clear the field, erect a tall pole and dance a frantic rain dance in the hope that magical lightning strikes.
Magic doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
“It’s my idea”. Possibly the most oxymoronic sentence in advertising. Or just standard moronic. It doesn’t work like that. I tried. When I first left agency land, I thought I could beat them at their own game. Having spent four years helping deliver some of the best advertising campaigns in the country, I thought I had the recipe nailed on my own. I was wrong. One person does not make magic. It’s the collision of different ideas from different people that forces the magic out. “It’s our idea”. Magic only happens in a team.
Magic doesn’t happen by committee.
The challenge of collaboration is that too many cooks spoil the broth. My favourite line from the first set text at ad school was “pecked to death by ducks”. None of the ducks are predators. None of them want to break the idea. But magic will never withstand an onslaught of valuable opinions from multiple stakeholders who can very quickly and well-meaningly quack an idea into obscurity. Every idea needs a champion. Magic only happens in a team with strong leadership.
Magic doesn’t happen out of balance.
Advertising isn’t art, it’s science. It’s not even science, it’s business. More specifically, advertising is a strange industry headquartered on the intersection of all of the above. It’s a precarious location. Everyone is right. Everyone is wrong. And there’s plenty of cash at stake in all directions. But too much focus on art and ads don’t say anything. Too much focus on business and they don’t engage. Too much focus on the science and everyone falls asleep. It’s keeping that balance, throughout the industry and through different roles in agencies that really makes things work. Magic only happens in a balanced team with strong leadership.
Magic doesn’t happen without trust.
It sounds obvious, but it’s worth remembering. Real trust doesn’t build over days or weeks. It develops over years. Some mates of mine once won a Lion for some work they did for a bank. Still jealous. But I also claim it. The previous year we’d cajoled our client to push out the boat and do something risky. And they did. And it worked. And that helped build the trust that paved the way for a braver, wackier (okay, more brilliant) idea that really was magic. But it never would have flown without the trust we all built as a team. Magic only happens in a balanced team of trusted peers with strong leadership.
Magic doesn’t happen in a fog.
If there’s one thing that connects all of the most brilliant advertising ideas you’ve ever seen, it’s a clear, single-minded proposition born of a pure customer insight. The word ‘and’ in a brief is like Kryptonite to magic. Of all the time spent thinking and crafting, debating and selling, the most valuable time of all is spent crafting the brief. When you start on a tightrope balancing business, science and art, throwing in a juggling act will more likely mean show stop than show-stopper. Magic only happens in a balanced team of trusted peers with strong leadership and a clear, single-minded goal.
Magic doesn’t happen by magic.
There are plenty of things that kill magic. The list could go on. Magic doesn’t happen overnight – it’s crafted, considered, rethought and refined over time. And magic definitely doesn’t strike twice. Ten years ago the brief du jour was “Like the Yellow Treehouse only…” today it’s a reference to Carpool Karaoke or “We’re thinking it’s like Uber for washing powder”. Neither is the recipe for success. The magic of magic is that you can’t predict it.
Sometimes that lightning strikes and sometimes it just gets stormy and a tree falls over. But there are things we can do to give it the best shot. Be open. Be clear. Go with the flow, trust your gut, trust the team. Be pragmatic about picking your battles and dogmatic about fighting the ones that matter.
But more important than any of those, be passionate about the potential of magic. It doesn’t happen every day. Or every year. In over a decade in the industry, I’ve made magic twice. And I’ll never forget either campaign. Nor will any of the trusted team I worked with or the customers who enjoyed the work, felt the magic and made the tills ring. But for me, magic is always the goal. It’s rare, fragile, unpredictable and often unattainable… but you’ll never make magic if you don’t try. And for me, even the smallest chance of making magic happen is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.
That’s what I reckon, what do you think?
Michael Goldthorpe is the owner of creative agency Hunch.