scholars and rogues

Merely adequate: the new superb.

by greg stene, ph.d.

As I recall things – a while back, an excellent TV sitcom, NewsRadio, had an episode where a local publication rated the performance of the staff on the fictional radio station. The way-bombastic character Bill McNeal, played by the now dead and then-incredible Phil Hartman, was rated, “adequate.” True to his nature, Bill began boasting of his fantastic adequacy. He knew the rating sucked, but maybe building it up might make others think otherwise.

The episode could have been speaking about today’s level of creativity in advertising.

Adequate. And proud of it.

A short while back, I wrote a scholarly paper which went under peer-review for its reasonableness, its overall quality, and whatever. Its basic premise was that there was a shortfall of creative talent. One of the experts who reviewed the paper disagreed. The field had quite enough creatives (the creative talent; copywriters and art directors).

I let that criticism burn for a while, and finally came to realize that the reviewer hadn’t understood that I was speaking of “great” creative talent. The reviewer was right if we’re happy with things as they are:

We certainly have people who can think up adequate ads. Write adequate copy. And put it all together with adequate graphic design.But we don’t encounter great advertising work on a daily basis.

And this is the most subversive aspect of what is happening with our advertising culture (some may say, to our society). We have come to accept the merely adequate as the new superb. We have forgotten to push ourselves to become great.

As advertising has moved more into ROI considerations (Return On Investment), it has moved more to the kind of advertising that presents a strategically sound idea on which one can expect people to respond. That produces safe advertising that follows mental guidelines, uses intellectual safety ropes, and seeks acceptance by society.

All to get to that ROI.

Well, here’s the problem, folks.

  • Creativity is a process of discovering where you want to go, not just taking another path to get to a place you already know about.
  • Creativity is recognizing that ROI comes from being noticed because of brilliant ideas, rather than being ignored because you produce ideas that are adequate.

If that fails to make sense to you, please do not practice the art of advertising. You will develop merely adequate ideas and piss off of the rest of us out here who really appreciate thinking that comes up with things like

And if you’re interested in some print work for products outside the candy lines, take a look at the London International Advertising Awards Print Winners page.

We get wet with a world of advertising as we work through our day. And it’s the creativity in that advertising that helps make our lives, just for a moment or two, something fun, of pleasure, of surprise. And it makes the product with the creative advertising, something to think more highly of.

When we see the great advertising, we’re reminded that life itself is something more than a merely adequate experience. No matter what people with limited vision might be telling us.

Greg Stene has a hard decade in the advertising business as a copywriter/creative and strategist. He’s seen money well-spent, and money wasted. He knows what makes for the difference. He also teaches advertising at Wichita State University, with a total of 10 years or so in university teaching. His research specialty is in creativity. His wife’s an award-winning graphic designer, and as a team, they’re a creative/strategist boutique in traditional and new media.

E-mail Greg here.

5 replies »

  1. What do you think about the Geico ads? They seem to have several different campaigns going on at once. The lizard, the cave men, that kid with the race car cousin…all of them seem pretty good, but I’m not an ad guy.

  2. Can’t speak for Greg, but I love the Geico campaigns. They do a great job of communicating brand in a way that’s entertaining. I LOVED the Cave Men campaign, and while I seem to have been the only guy who watched the show, I thought the sitcom was pretty funny, too.

  3. Back in the day, I remember when Jerry Della Femina used to beat this same drum. He told me he always wanted to write a book with the title “They’re kiling me with slow bullets.” I suppose it would have made a wonderful complement to the one he did write, “From those wonderful people who brought you Pearl Harbor.”