One-to-One, Nov/Dec 1994

Tim Delaney of London-based Leagas Delaney was one of our first essayists, appearing in the One-to-One newsletter in Fall 1994. At a time when the advertising industry in America was falling in love with account planning, which (in Delaney's view) was basically a fancy name for research, he made the case for relying on intuition.

People at ad agencies, whose greatest strength ought to be intuition, are pretending that the secret to their success lies in formulas. We are absolutely determined to deny that our best ideas come from two talented people sitting in a room together and writing.

We are far more comfortable when we can make advertising seem like an objective science, wherein we arrive at the definitive strategy and idea through a rote process of reduction and deduction. This is what planning is about: You start with a mass of information and you keep whittling it down until all you are left with is the logical answer to your problem. Of course, this is an absolute fallacy. It suggests that good advertising is deduced rather than created, that the process is passive and best undertaken by pontificators. In fact, advertising is an active process. You must do something in order to change something. You don't want to sit on the edge of the bed saying how great it's going to be; you want to be in bed doing it and either it will be good or it won't.

If you happen to be good at advertising, then more often than not, the results will be good. And not because of science, but because of nature. If you ask the question, 'Why are good advertising people good?' the answer is, they just are. In that regard we're not unlike footballers or cellists or dancers. Good advertising people have a talent they're born with, and they happen to wander into advertising, where that particular talent begins to grow and flower.

It isn't easy to measure this intuitive talent, or even to explain how it works. At the root of it is the ability to somehow fathom and piece together all sorts of disparate information about people and products, and then come up with an idea that captures the imagination of the public or the individual. It's more magic than anything else, and yet the good people are able to do it again and again. Clients come to us precisely because we have this talent, not because we can sit people in a circle and ask them endless questions about shoe preferences.

I'm not suggesting that we ditch all research, or that it has no place in the process of advertising. I don't have a problem with providing research to support the creative people as they develop ideas, or in using research to try to sell through an idea to a client. What I'm troubled by is the recent sovereignty of research. Planning has gotten more and more involved in the actual creation of advertising. And it has begun to deny the intuitive nature of advertising.

While research was supposed to make everyone's life easier, it has actually tended to make it harder to create good advertising. The time spent on analysis only delays the inevitable, because after all is said and done, creative people still have to go into that room and use their intuitive skills to create an idea. Researchers think that if you spend a lot of time analyzing a problem beforehand, it will bring you closer and closer to the advertising solution. But the truth is, you only really begin to crack advertising problems as you get deeper and deeper into the writing. You just have to sit down and start writing on some kind of pretext, and that initiates the flow of ideas that eventually brings a solution. We start writing as early as possible, and we usually find that the researchers are always trailing behind us.

| More