Rick Liebling: Advertising Agencies Should Be Creating More ‘Makeable’ Ideas
Conceptual thinking is moving towards more tangible ideas and companies should be hiring more multi-talented creative people to build real things.
As digital technology continues to change consumer behavior and transform the advertising industry, it is ironic that one of the hottest advertising conversations is about the importance of “making things”. We’ve all heard about the theoretical virtues of maker culture—at conferences and in blog posts—but real-life examples of the concept in practice are harder to find. That may be because few advertising pros have any experience making things beyond the conceptual. And so it was with great excitement that I heard about a project undertaken by a colleague of mine at Y&R New York, Matt Colangelo, and his friend Dave Pittman, a designer by trade. 90 Days of Making is an ambitious effort to create something entirely new every day for 90 days. Matt and Dave are hunkered down in an artist space in Nashville, TN where they are entering the final stretch of the project. I caught up with them via email to find out more:
Where did the idea for 90 Days of Making come from?
Matt Colangelo: Dave and I have always written down our ideas in little notebooks, but we’ve rarely ever done anything with them. (Not unlike most of our creative friends.) Over the years, we’ve amassed huge piles of these little notebooks, which are really just sad monuments to our lack of productivity. We were talking one day, and we resolved to make some of our ideas happen. We conceived 90 Days of Making, at least initially, as a way to make some of the things we’d always been talking about. Then we thought, “This could make for an interesting, narrative blog platform, one that Y&R might want to support.” Thus 90 Days of Making was born into the world. Check out our concept video that kicked off the project.
Dave Pittman: Practically speaking, I own a magazine and co-working space in Nashville. Native, the magazine, helps connect us to a diverse group of talented creatives, while Moonbase, the co-working space, doubles as our all-purpose studio. Beyond that, Nashville is quickly becoming a national hub of creativity and entrepreneurship, with a tight-knit community of potential collaborators. Music industry and network TV show aside, Nashville is like Austin was five or ten years ago—it’s a haven for runaway creatives from both coasts who are looking for less stress, more opportunities, and a lower cost of living. It’s a very exciting place to be right now.
Last year I wrote a piece for FastCo.Create on agencies needing to have makeable ideas. How important do you think it is for people in advertising to “make things?”
Matt Colangelo: People in advertising make things every day (mock-ups of print ads, storyboards, finished 30-second TV spots). It’s not that we need to start making things, it’s that we need to change what we’re making. As an industry, we should be thinking less in terms of print and TV ads and more in terms of physical objects, art installations, and new products. Real things that add something to the world, that aren’t just coercive messages a brand has concocted to “raise awareness” or “drive trial”. People see through that kind of messaging.
Is the combination of DIY/Maker and advertising a fad, or an evolution?
Matt Colangelo: Agencies making things isn’t a trend. It’s where conceptual, creative thinking is going.
It’s not that traditional print and film advertising is dead. There’s still room in this world for clever, smart, beautiful, well-produced print and film advertising. On its own, though, print and film advertising is insufficient.
Two major cultural changes have upset the advertising industry: (1) people see traditional advertising messages as coercive and generally mistrust them. And (2) the internet has given us a window into the real world, so we can finally see real things that interesting people are making and doing. Both changes have huge implications on brands. Consumers are now skeptical and distrustful of what brands say about themselves, and they gravitate toward brands that show what they are making and adding to the world.
What are the implications for advertising agencies? Well, they should be generating more “makeable” ideas, and to do that they should be hiring more multi-talented creative people, conceptual thinkers who might not perfectly fit a copywriter/art director title. Engineers, product designers, comedians, musicians… if you put them in a room together, these people will come up with some killer, doable, makeable ideas—and they will know how to make them.
90 days seems like a long time. How did you arrive at that number? What were you thinking on Day 1, 10, 45, 60?
Dave Pittman: 90 is a magic number. There are 90 minutes in a soccer game. The ideal movie is 90 minutes long. Baseball bases are 90 feet apart. 90 mph is as fast you can every get away with driving on the highway. At its closest point, the Sun is 91.4 million miles from Earth, which is close to 90 million miles. Umm… when Henry Ford personally set the world land speed record in 1904, he did it with a top speed 91.37 mph (but it was 1904, so the instruments were probably a little off). Jokes aside, we conceived of this project as a summer-long project… and there are roughly 90 days in the summer. Having it last 90 days also made the project a nice experiment in endurance creativity.
What’s been the biggest take-away for you so far?
Matt Colangelo: The maker-creative shop scenario we’re talking about—where product designers, engineers, writers, and art directors all work together in one room—isn’t a utopia. It can happen, it does happen, and it results in awesome ideas. Our co-working space has all sorts of different creatives working in it (coders, musicians, painters, etc), and we frequently talk to them about our ideas. Collaborating has absolutely no downside; we still own our ideas and we still get to make them happen.
You’ve submitted 90 Days of Making as a SxSW panel, correct?
Dave Pittman: YES! And we’d be super grateful if you voted for us.