The only 'best practice' is to have none.

And some wisdom from the Five Burroughs.

“Without order nothing exists, without chaos nothing evolves.” - Mahatma Gandhi

This is one of my favourite quotes. Only it’s not Mahatma Gandhi.

“Without order nothing exists, without chaos nothing evolves.” - Ill Bill

It’s Brooklyn rapper, Ill Bill.

Wisdom doesn’t always come from expected places.

Some years ago, along with the eruption of digital advertising, came the obsession with ‘best practices’. A set of executional rules that must be adhered to before creativity even has a chance to breathe. A practice previously known for thousands of years as ‘putting the cart before the horse’. Except now it was no longer a cautionary tale of what not to do, but what must be done.

Digital and performance marketers and platforms had figured it all out. Advertising had been solved. To make a successful ad, all you had to do was follow these ‘best practices’.

Thou must always put a logo in the first 3 seconds.

Thou must always use tight framing.

Thou must always use vibrant colours.

Thou must use a warm colour grade.

Thou must not build to a reveal.

Thou must put slabs of text over everything.

Thou must put every key message before the skip button. (The fact that these people were running content so bad a skip button was even needed to begin with never seemed to dawn on them.)

There was no mention at any point about ideas, or creativity, or making naturally engaging content. Just follow these rules and you’ll get a 1% better something or other.

Now, if you’ve made a shit ad, these rules might help you get that extra 1%. But if you put all of that to the side for a second and just focus on making something that people actually want to watch, you don’t need to follow any of it.

What is the benefit of using the first 3 seconds to jam a logo in people’s faces if the only outcome is that they hate it and skip it? What positive association am I building with this? It’s like walking up to a stranger and interrupting them by screaming your brand name in their face and then walking off thinking ‘job done’.

If everyone follows the same ‘best practices’ then by definition they aren’t best practices. They’re mediocrity. At most, you’re the best wallpaper in the wallpaper shop. Personally, I’d rather not be in the wallpaper business to begin with.

The most effective and memorable ideas always have, and always will, swim upstream. One of the first brands to thumb their nose at the rules of the digital era was Geico. I’m assuming, after being told that everything had to happen in 3 or 6 seconds they went ‘no it doesn’t, we’re going to make a 60 second pre-roll that people won’t skip’.

This subverted all the rules and expectations and, if we’re honest, took the complete piss out of them.

This is not meant to be a specific takedown of digital advertising, I’m just using it as a recent point of reference. The issue here is the practice of establishing execution before idea. This kind of pre-emptive thinking is everywhere now.

For the most part, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like the pervasive notion that people’s attention spans are shrinking, so everything has to be 6 seconds. (Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and all of a sudden marketers claim to have made a huge anthropological discovery.)

Movies have never been longer. Entire days spent binging Succession. The 100-hour video game now an industry norm. People will give all the attention they have to something that warrants it. Attention spans aren’t the problem, bombarding people with shit content and the defeatist attitudes that create it are.

Creativity is play. It’s what’s left of our child-like curiosity. What happens if I do this? What happens if I do that? It’s being fascinated by ‘what ifs’. Being enamoured with learning and discovering the boundaries and how to go beyond them. It’s remaining unattached to what has come before and open to possibility.

The most dominant culture across the globe is hip hop. This year it celebrates its 50th birthday. Still a pretty new idea amidst the pillars of eternity. Taking existing recordings and cutting, sampling, looping, and scratching them into something new. Taking poetry from stage to streets. Flipping every dance style on its head, literally. Writing names on walls and trains so as to be impossible to ignore. Could a handful of kids in the Bronx have ever changed the world by following existing ‘best practices’? Or was the only way to blow them up and do something new?

Without order nothing exists, without chaos nothing evolves.

Uncreative people dictating how and when and why creativity should happen before anyone has even picked up a pen is not ‘best practice’.

It’s the antithesis of.

Start with a problem, and let people work on a solution. The solution might be anything, just let it come.

Executional restraint is needed in the early stages. All of the previous learnings we have should be stored in our back pockets and integrated where useful once we have a creative territory to explore. Not before.

The idea comes first.

Execution comes second.

And ‘best practice’ should be nothing more than a suggestion, not a rule, that can be freely ignored if it’s not in service of the work.


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