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Your Mother Should Know

Posted on March 22, 2012 and read 1,650 times

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bayfield Your Mother Should Know Mike Bayfield
Senior Copywriter
balloon dog

I have a confession to make. Actually two confessions.

I have failed as a son and as a creative.

Unlike most countries around the world, last Sunday in the UK was Mother’s Day. This year I’d left things even later than usual in getting a card, so my wife kindly offered to pick one up for me. She was in a bit of a rush too, but chose a nice enough design – with flowers and a few flecks of silver glitter. But it wasn’t one that I’d have picked.

The message inside was about the things mums do – being there all the time with a listening ear, a warm meal, band-aid or pair of clean (matching) socks. In other words, ‘love.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t agree with what it said, just that it all sounded, well, a bit schmaltzy. Hey, I’m a copywriter. Surely I could do better than that.

When I usually pick a Mother’s Day (or birthday) card for my mum I tend to go for something with no message inside and a ‘funny’ cartoon or image on the front. I then write my own warm and witty message inside. But this year I didn’t get my act together in time. I simply added a quick soubriquet and a few kisses, then popped it in the mail box.

The next day my mum called me.

She was crying.

With happiness.

It was the nicest card I’d ever sent her. The most beautiful words. But not mine. What could I say? Should I come clean and ruin the moment or just roll with it for the greater good?

No prizes for guessing which I chose. But that’s not the real reason I’m making this public confession. All these years I’d been carefully picking cards out I thought she’d like, but it was something I wouldn’t have chosen that resonated more. That’s because it was about her, not about me.

This made me think pretty hard about what I do for a living. I try to come up with creative ways to connect with strangers and I don’t even know how to connect with my mum. Someone I’ve known and loved all my life.

A central part of being an advertising creative is empathy. The ability to understand how other people feel. To put yourself in their shoes. But the problem is, when trying to create messages that will resonate with our audience, we’re often creating ones that only resonate with us. Ideas that we think are cool, clever or funny. That will impress our colleagues, creative director and the jury at Cannes. Oh, and maybe the client too.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the ad world wasn’t so insular. Most of the people we hang out with tend to be in the same, or connected, industry. And most advertising people tend to come from a fairly narrow background. In the UK, agency folk are predominantly young, white and middle class. In creative departments they’re also predominantly male.

I imagine the picture is fairly similar in many agencies around the world, relative to the culture and ethnicity of the particular country. But society isn’t like that. It’s incredibly rich and diverse. And if I don’t even know how to connect with my mum, what hope do I have of connecting with the rest of the world? But, I’m assuming here, it’s not just me.

So what do we do? In the longer term we obviously need to increase the diversity within our industry, but that’s not going to crack the brief sitting on my desk. In the shorter term – like this week – we have to step outside ourselves, outside our comfortable worlds. Get beyond the facts and figures of the ‘Who are we talking to? section on the brief. These are real people, with their own hopes and dreams, loves and hates, friends and families.

Try to meet them. Get to know more people from different walks of life, different backgrounds, occupations, ages… Soak up a bit of their lives. Read the magazines they read. Watch the TV programmes. Buy the products. See how they live, where they work, where they shop.

Of course, if you’ve only got until 9am Wednesday to deliver the job, that doesn’t leave you much time. But, if you’re regularly working on the same brand, it does.

You shouldn’t have to go too far. It might be your next-door neighbour, your window cleaner or someone you’re sitting next to on the train into work. Talk to them (most people like talking about themselves). Find out what makes them tick. You could even start with your mum. But please don’t say anything to mine.





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