You Can Fake Ads, but You Can’t Fake Talent.

By now we’ve all heard about the scandal surrounding the offensive scam ads done by JWT India for the Ford Figo. Since the story broke late last week, apologies have been offered, scapegoats have been fired, and of course the conversation has turned to “how could these ads be released without the client knowing?” and “what does this say about the state of the agency-client relationship?”

Good questions. But as a creative director, here’s the question I’m wondering about.

Why would any creative person risk so much to get such lame work published in the first place? I mean, did they really think these dated, sophomoric, horribly illustrated ads would actually win awards? Have they ever seen an award show annual? Or better yet, did they think this work would catapult them to a better agency with clients “who actually recognize great work when they see it?” Please.

Look, no one likes to see an idea die when they think it’s great (think being the operative word in this case.) But the really successful people in this business – creatives, agencies and clients alike – are the ones who realize it’s not about a one-off execution, an edgy headline or crazy visual. Truly great creative work solves tough business challenges, reinvents categories, and builds brand value over the long-term. Apple, Nike and VW never got caught cheating. They didn’t have to cheat.

I’ve had plenty of what I thought were great ideas killed over the years. And while I was pissed at the time, in hindsight I realize most of them probably deserved it. (Especially the one where I thought it would be really cool for a luxury automotive brand to pretend they were going out of business. It somehow made sense back then.) But rather than figuring out ways to fake it for my book or to enter an award show, I spent the energy going back to the drawing board to come up with something better. (Which also got killed if memory serves.)

But I understand the temptation to take a shortcut, especially when you’re just starting out and looking to make a name for yourself. That said, there are plenty of things you can do to strengthen your work and gain some notoriety without becoming part of the next great fake ad scandal.

Study great work.

Really study it. Not just awards annuals, but B-school and Effie case studies as well. Read interviews with forward-thinking clients and see how they think about marketing challenges. After all, they’re the ones who ultimately decide whether your work lives or dies.

Befriend planning and analytics.

Real insight into people’s beliefs and behaviors is what makes the difference between work that’s great and work that just looks great. It also makes client decisions much less subjective, transforming ideas that could be perceived as risky into ones that seem bulletproof.

Take a side project.

If for whatever reason you’re not selling your best work at work, take on a side project for a worthy cause, or find a start-up with a ton of potential and very little marketing money. They’ll be open to innovative thinking, especially if you convince them your ideas will fuel their growth.

Our business gets criticized enough for being fake and dishonest as it is. Let’s not add more fuel to the fire.