What creatives can learn from the Iraq war

You know those times when you want to write something, but you just don’t know what you want to write about? Well LinkedIn has taught me that you can turn anything into bullshit, so here I am about to turn a serious news story into just such bullshit in the hope that it will entertain, educate and engage you.

Today was the day that, after 7 years, the Chilcot report was released. It was the longest it has ever taken anyone to write an essay, but unlike my dissertation contained no research taken directly from Wikipedia and was not bound in Staples the day before it was due to be handed in. For that we must give it credit.

The report has taught us many things, mostly that politicians are corrupt, self-absorbed lizards who only care about their own ambitions, and also that war probably isn’t the best decision when it’s based on the kind of research that my dissertation would have put to shame.

But alongside the important stuff, it’s also taught us several key things about advertising. These things are now going to be discussed in a Buzzfeed style list.

You first idea probably isn’t your best one

Sure, occasionally your first idea is amazing. Sometimes you get the brief and the first thing that pops into your head ends up being the idea you run with, the idea that wows the client and the idea that earns you that well deserved promotion.
But often your first idea is shit. Often you should write your first idea down but never say it outloud, because it is so far off the mark you’re not really sure how your mind came up with it. It’s so removed from reality that if you were to sit and think about it for a while you’d probably cry with shame and question your career choices. In many cases your first idea shouldn’t even be classed as an idea. It should be killed. Deleted. Erased from history and never thought of again, because it has no place in this world.

War – bad.
A Youtube channel for pets called Paw-nography – bad.

Don’t always count on the insight

Insight can be a bit of a mixed bag. It’s something that a few account managers will hang their hats on when writing a brief, and will constantly refer back to when discussing your work. But just because it’s in the brief doesn’t mean it’s right. Just like in those beauty adverts that say ‘80% of women agreed our product made them feel less disgusted with themselves’, when you look at the numbers such insight may only have come from 10 people. That insight might have been based on the opinions of some mates in the office, or your family at home, or the people you drink with on a Friday when the week has driven you to despair and gin is all you can rely on.

If you ever look at insight and think, “Are you sure that’s right?” there’s a good enough reason to doubt it and use something else to help form your solution. Question what’s been put in front of you and make sure the facts you’re being quoted haven’t just been made up to make the brief easier to put together.

Never try and post-rationalise your thinking

If some work only makes sense after you’ve done it and convinced yourself of its validity because you quite like the line, it probably doesn’t make sense. Going back over work and changing the rationale to suit it means the work is lazy, ill-informed and probably not the right answer to the brief. It likely means the brief wasn’t read well enough in the first place, or someone’s ego got in the way of producing an idea that was actually good.

Going to war at the time made no sense, and it makes no further sense 13 years later now that the terror threat is at its highest and the country we invaded is more unstable than it was before we went in.

Just like Tony Blair frantically trying to think of a reason why he did all those things, anyone having to explain an idea should probably just accept that – if it needs explaining – it’s not doing a good enough job in the first place.

Always have a backup plan

We’ve all been there. You’ve written an idea, you’ve seen it grow, you’ve had glowing feedback from everyone who’s looked at it and you’re feeling pretty proud of all the work you’ve put in. This is front page of the portfolio stuff.
Then you show it to someone more senior than you, they dismiss it in seconds and you go back to your desk to cry and try again.

Having a plan B is important. Ideally you should have a plan C, D, E and F too, just in case. What is clear with the Iraq war is that we didn’t really know what we were going to do after we went in and killed all those largely innocent people, and that caused mistakes to be made.

If the first idea is a flop, come up with a second idea that makes the first one look shit. Have some resilience, damnit.

Don’t go on for too long

No-one likes a preacher, rattling out cliche after cliche in order to make themselves heard despite the fact an email would have done the trick.

Know when to stop.
Know when to call it a day.
Know when to shut up.