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Jaffe Juice: I Think, Therefore I Am

Jaffe Juice: I Think, Therefore I Am Joseph Jaffe

In the July 4 issue of Ad Age, one article in particular caught my eye. It was authored by Joey Reiman, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based consultancy Brighthouse. (Incidentally, Markham Cronin, Brighthouse CCO, will keynote the Battle for the Heart Creative Roadshow Sept. 9 in Atlanta).

Joey's article, "Sell Your Marketing Idea For $1Million," really resonated with me and it is the inspiration behind this week's Jaffe Juice.

In his piece, Reiman says that "great thinking is today's most valuable commodity." He references Albert Einstein's Ideation Nation where "imagination is more important than knowledge."

So where's the problem? The problem is that advertising agencies (still quoting Reiman) have become "ad rich and idea poor." They have become an "antiquated broker business, selling space to clients with creativity thrown in for free." To this end, Joey recommends that agencies need to become "thinking partners, not execution vendors."

That's the Cliff's Notes version of his piece and now with proper respect to both Messrs Einstein and Reiman, I wish to present the Jaffe Juice take on ideas, imagination and ultimately creativity.

There are essentially two camps (aren't there always) on the subject of ideas. The first camp contends that ideas are a dime a dozen and that execution is ultimately the most valuable factor or component.

The rationale in this point of view stems from the popular saying that at any given point in time while one idea is being conceived, there are 10 people simultaneously coming up with the same idea. Speed of execution thus becomes paramount.

The other camp would tend to put most -- if not all -- of their eggs in the big basket of big thinking and the process of developing the kinds of solutions that are harmoniously balanced in the fields of strategic and tactical grounding.

Most people would hold that advertising agencies are both historically and categorically in the idea business. It is without question the singular point of differentiation that should, at the end of the day, help clients choose between one shop and another. But instead, it has become anything but -- with variables like "past relationships," "vertical expertise" (particularly with the competitive set) and, above all, price dictating selection -- to the point at which ideas are discounted to the point of marginalization and where they are essentially thrown in as value add.

This has to stop.

And in order to stop the rot, it has to start with the pitch process, the choreographed courtship whereby agencies dedicate their best and brightest minds (who are subsequently never seen again once the business is won -- but that's another story for another article) towards coming up with breathtakingly unique inspirations for their potential client's business and brand.

If you think about it, the notion of coming up with robust ideas on what can be called at best limited information is preposterous. All things being equal, big ideas should take months, years or even decades to gestate based on intimate knowledge and familiarity with the brand's esoteric nuances and sweet spots.

But it doesn't.

Instead, ideas have become the instant cup-a-soup of the advertising business -- just add minimum pay and voila!

If I sound grouchy this week, it is in part due to the fact it is 7:22 a.m. as I write this, but really it is because the notion of "big ideas" is overused to a fault, but as elusive as the color green on the homeland security scale.

As a consultant, I've had to reconcile this view that my ideas are worthless, or at least nothing more than commodities (like salt, just not as high in sodium).

Instead of lamenting on this short-sighted perspective, I've come to embrace it. Ultimately, I am an ideas guy. For every one idea that one person can come up with, I can come up with five bigger ones (at least that's my contention). It's my point of differentiation and it's my way of bottling the amorphous widget that is my brain. When I go into any meeting, the other side of the table has come to expect at least one new thought, perspective or idea.

How much is this worth? Again, that depends on the camp you call your intellectual home -- some (norm) would say nada and others (exception) would immediately value this in monetary terms.

Pricing an idea might just be the way in which we help attach some kind of meaningful and tangible way of perceiving and merchandising the process of thinking. But it is not without its challenges.

The obvious approach is the "set it free" mantra -- if it returns, it was meant to be. If it does not, it never was yours to start with. Phoeeey. Call me a skeptic, but no way am I going to entrust the buyer to do the right thing and give credit where credit is due.

At the very minimum, I would contend that once an idea has been breathed into existence, it becomes optioned property. Should the receiving "parent" choose to adopt it, then along with the idea would come its birth originator.

But it shouldn't stop there. Ideas should be priced at their net present value, and later revised at their actualized yield.

And if good ideas should be rewarded, then by the same token bad ideas should be penalized, should they not? Let the debate begin.

At a time of unprecedented clutter, confusion, apathy and control, perhaps it is time to focus our attention on a different kind of accountability. Think of this as the right brain's approach to ROI -- except this time it is called Return on Ideas or Imagination.

One of the most sought-after consultants, speakers and thought leaders on new marketing, Joseph Jaffe is President and Chief Interuptor of crayon, a new marketing company (www.crayonville.com) crayon is a mash-up of 5 key areas: strategic and...

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