The least we can be is polite.

A lifelong lesson from a legend.

Many years ago, when I was still just a junior burger, I saw Ron Mather, a legend in the Australian advertising industry, speak at an event. He said a lot of great things, but one particular sentence has stuck with me every day of my career since. It was something to the tune of, “If you’re going to walk into someone’s lounge room uninvited, the least you can be is polite.”

Now, the specificity of this statement obviously relates to TV ads, but the thinking behind it resonates throughout everything that we do. And if you look at advertising in eras past, you can feel this intent behind a lot of the work. Print ads are made to be admired, and actually read. Worth interrupting your page turning. Films are made to be entertaining, witty, funny. Worth interrupting your show of choice. There’s a certain modicum of respect for the viewer’s time and attention.

I’m not being one of those ‘oh, how I miss old advertising’ kind of guys, because the world has changed, media has changed, business has changed, budgets have changed, it’s not those changes I’m lamenting. It’s the slow disintegration of respect for the intent behind Ron’s statement. Which, contains within it, the key takeout - a lack of respect, in general.

At some point, marketers decided that paying for the privilege to invade people’s lives gave them the right to be rude and aggressive. Stalking people all over the internet is creepy. Shouting at people on screens and through speakers is impolite. Dumbing down messaging and bombarding everything with logos and watermarks is disrespectful to people’s intelligence. If you look at the history of advertising, the hallmarks of enduring brands, the DNA of effective campaigns, you won’t find any of this behaviour, now or then. If you met a person who behaved like this, you’d never invite them into your home. So, perhaps, as brands, we should consider not behaving this way.

Having tens or hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, to make something and release it into the world for everyone to see is an incredible privilege. I mean, really think about that for a moment. Who else gets to do that? In the history of human existence? It’s a fraction of a percent of people. And look at what we use it for. It’s for this reason, when working on a brief, I think about Ron’s statement quite often.

Are we respecting people’s time? Are we respecting their intelligence? Are we making something that people actually want to look at? Or watch? Or listen to?

Are we just padding our own egos? Are we just making this for ourselves? Are we spending all this money on something worthwhile?

Am I making this change for me, or the audience? Am I feeding back on something I’m an expert on? Am I being naive to my own ability and experience?

Everyone, on both sides of the fence, should be asking these questions. About every concept. About every execution. About every change and piece of feedback. Constantly.

Agencies should respect the fact we aren’t experts on everything. The client knows their product better than we do. We simply don’t have the experience or insight. There’s plenty of moments when our role is to be quiet and listen. Conversely, clients should also respect the fact they aren’t experts on creativity. And that they simply can’t see what we see from outside their bubble, or craft what we’ve spent our lives working on. And then, together, pass this same respect on to the audience. It’s only when this three-way respect is in balance, that great things can happen.

Here’s a few pieces of work from the last 12 months.

When we launched Ocean Blue, we went against a lot of category conventions and initial prescriptions in the brief, and only presented one concept. It made a lot of people nervous, but ended up selling plenty of salmon and setting the tone for what’s now a great brand to work on.

Within 12 months, we got another brief to double down on the tone of voice and irreverence we established. Again, it made a lot of people nervous. But for the right reasons.

Our first piece of work for Deakin University was three, single-shot films. No montages. No campuses. No people holding beakers in a science lab. Even we were nervous about this one. But in the end, people loved it. They’re just enjoyable to watch.

FMCG can be a hard category to have fun in. You can’t sell food by strapping leaf blowers to chairs and racing them, or sending a wok down a slip n’ slide, or use your product as fishing bait. But, for Maxibon, we did. Because it’s ice cream. And ice cream should be fun.

All of these piece of work required a lot of back and forthing and difficult discussions and moments of nervousness. But I respect our client partners for backing them, and I like to think they all respect our audience’s time and intelligence, and are worthwhile as a brief interruption to their day.

As an industry, we’re not always going to get it right, and we’re always going to be somewhat of an intrusion, but what is undoubtedly true is that everyone involved, agencies, clients, production, media, could all do with stopping and pondering Ron’s statement once or twice a day.

Because if we’re going to walk into people’s lives uninvited, the least we can be is polite.

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