Just bodies through the teeth of the combine.

And how we are devaluing ourselves into oblivion.

‘Just bodies through the teeth of the combine’ is the chorus of the Parkway Drive track, ‘Sleepwalkers’. Ironically, perhaps, it’s about how giant corporations dehumanise people.

It’s also how corporations and agencies treat ideas. (And, in turn, the people that work on them.)

For a long time now, budgets have been shrinking, salaries stagnating, hours extending, and burnout building.

Consultancies laugh at what we charge for what we do, and we’d probably spend more time mounting an argument about it if we weren’t too busy working on three simultaneous pitches for no remuneration.

How can we expect others to respect the value of our ideas and creativity when we don’t respect it ourselves?

I’m not sure who exactly decided that spending 100k in head hours to come up with three concepts just for someone to decide that ‘yeah, nah, thanks anyway, but we will keep all of your IP though’ was a great business model, but I have some questions.

This isn’t just about pitching though.

I’ve never seen any of the below contribute to a higher quality of work:

  • Always promising to present 3,4,5 concepts.

  • Agreeing to present at least one ‘safe one’.

  • Forcing creatives to come up with ‘red herring’ concepts to make up the numbers that a suit promised.

  • And then expecting them to do this work over the weekend.

  • Clients expecting ‘extra’ ideas they have no intention of ever making.

  • Making agencies roll out every single concept over an endless list of executions. (If you’re deciding the future of your brand over a mockup of an MREC, it probably has none.)

  • Loving an idea, finding no fault with it, and saying ‘that would be great for phase 2’. (There’s never a phase 2)

  • Demanding every idea be extended to 1:1, 4:3, 9:16, 16:9, 3257:29390u235, before you’ve even seen the idea. (This process alone has shortened the average life span of a producer by 4.7 years)

  • Putting your brand out to pitch to 5,6,7,8,15,45 agencies. (This just says, I don’t know the landscape and I can’t make a decision.)

This is all wastage. All of it. On both sides. It does not improve the quality of the work, the quality of relationships, nor the quality of life of ANYONE involved. It’s fiddling while Rome burns. Every minute spent shovelling more and more ideas into a smouldering pile of ash is stealing time from crafting something great.

We’ve become a business of quantity to the ultimate detriment of the quality of work we produce.

One idea can reverberate in people’s memories for eternity. Even ads. 1984. Cadbury Gorilla. Berries & Cream. Skittles Leak. Guinness Surfer. You know exactly what I’m talking about in just a word or two. How many landing page takeover A/B tests do you think anyone remembers?

It feels like there’s less and less of these ideas around, but half the problem is that we aren’t selling in a great idea anymore. We’re selling in 47 and hoping something, anything, just makes its way out the door. For the benefit of both of us, clients should stop expecting it and agencies should stop submitting to it.

The strength of the relationship is a far more important measure of value than the obligatory volume of churn. Put more time into building that, not the decks.

Recently I worked with an agency that made the uncomfortable decision to go off strategy, only present one concept (despite agreeing three), and put all our weight behind what we believed was right. And, lo and behold, the client loved it. And we made it.

It wasn’t easy. It was pretty nerve wracking, to be honest. And, sure, risk involved. But, in turn, MASSIVE reward. Our conviction in one idea was ultimately what won us respect, not a 97-page Powerpoint.

More of this is what’s needed. A few more backbones. A couple glasses of concrete. And the collective drive to spend more time on less, rather than less time on more.

We’re underselling our craft by overselling volume. This is bad for our clients, as much as it is, us. And we may not be able to reverse it until we stop undercutting ourselves into non-existence.

CMOs, back yourselves in. Agencies, back yourselves in. You’re better than this, we’re better than this. Let’s work together on coming up with the one best fucking kick ass solution to every problem.

In the immortal words of Byron Bay metalcore legends, and now advertising industry inspiration, Parkway Drive, everything else is just bodies through the teeth of a combine.


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