Do not read this
Joint CCO, Caroline Pay talks about "Breaking the Rules" and why now is the perfect time to do exactly that.
May 9, 2018
Do Not Watch This Talk!
Grey London’s joint ECD Caroline Pay celebrated the rebels and looked at why, finally, we can break all the rules. Because true creative freedom comes from not doing as you’re told.
Caroline applauded everyone for ignoring her instructions – Do Not Watch This Talk! – and bringing hope for rule-breakers everywhere.
Because the industry is looking for new models, the only way to get to the future is to experiment and take risks, which is why this is the golden age of rule breaking. It takes time, but the only way to get there is if you don’t do what you’re told, and you definitely don’t do what you’ve always done before, because it isn’t working.
Three examples of rule-breaking work from Grey London show what new ways of working can achieve.
Volvo Life Paint
This came from a brief to sell a car, but Volvo didn’t yet know what was good about the car. So the creative explored new ways of making Volvo famous. The campaign was going to stop at a poster of an elk with luminous antlers, but because the creative team kept pushing and breaking the rules, it ended up as Life Paint.
Comic Relief Swear Jar
The team happened upon some tech, had a brilliant idea, and then went out and found a client to make it with. It’s the reverse of what we are supposed to do.
The Way Back
This was a personal project that came about because the team had experience of people suffering with dementia, and it inspired them to do something about it. Grey supported them and we raised the money through Kickstarter.
The aim is always to do the best and most famous work on your biggest and most famous clients, which is why Grey has introduced the 10 per cent project. This means that every individual in the building has to spend 10 per cent of their energy on innovation. It could be tech or packaging or product or playing with new channels – anything that flips the way we’ve always done things.
A new generation of leaders hates doing what they’re told.
Anna and Hermeti Balarin, Mother
They worked their way up from creative placements to creative partners. They were born to break the rules are a married couple, they have a kid, and they are two of the most feisty, creative brains I know. They put a giant boob on top of a building and squirted milk all over the hipsters in east London.
Ben and Stu, founding partners of Creature London
Their first execution was honey made by bees they keep on their roof. They have put on some amazing immersive theatre experiences and they sponsor Watford Women’s football team.
Chris Bovill and John Allison, The Firepit
The superstar team were at the absolute pinnacle of what we’d all love to be doing at 4Creative, but they chucked in advertising and went into the music industry to head Warner Music’s content studio. That’s a really good sign of rule-breakers: they are not happy just to be comfortable and reset on their laurels.
Alice Tonge, 4Creative
I love her for a million reasons. I was super proud of her when she got made chief creative officer at 4Creatie when she was on maternity leave – all the rules tell me that you can’t have kids and you definitely don’t get promoted on maternity leave, so hats off to 4Creative for making that decision.
Oli Beale, creative partner at Anomaly
Oli’s the guy who stuck a camera up someone’s bum and broadcast a colonoscopy live on channel 4. He was also quoted in the Evening Standard because he swore, and that made the news and I just find that fucking ridiculous.
David Kolbusz, Droga5
Probably the biggest rule breaker that I’ve every worked with. He staged a slow motion marathon for the launch of the Baywatch movie, and also makes up dance routines with Solange in his spare time for Uniqlo.
Most of these people have spent quality time at Mother, who I genuinely believe are the ultimate rule-breakers when it comes to ad agencies. If someone else has done it they never want to do it. Mother just turned 21 and is still one of the hottest agencies in the UK if not in the world.
Anselmo Ramos, Gut
He used to run David and he’s just launched Gut and I’m excited to see what he’ll do next. Thanks to his persistence and his incredible relationship with clients, he gets away with murder. He sells stuff I just don’t imagine I have a hope in hell of selling. He just chaired a jury I was on and he’s so generous and so open and positive and kind, and I feel like when you’re this successful it’s very easy not to be. (See Burger King work, below.)
Jan Jacobs, Johannes Leonardo
He’s another person who breaks the rules. You think creative leaders have to be big extroverts and show-offs like me, and he’s the complete opposite of that. (See Adidas Originals x Alexander Wang work, below.)
A few rules that I’m very proud to have broken in my career:
A woman’s place is in the home.
When I had my son I thought I would stay home and bake and sew and keep chickens and not wear any make up, but 45 seconds after my husband went back to work I knew it was going to be a nightmare. I’m not domesticated at all I like making and creating and arguing and being part of something. I’d denied I was a career woman and now I know I am.
You can’t have it all
I genuinely believe that you can have it all, as long as you don’t try and do it all. If you’ve got the best support system in your real life and in your work life, and you’re are not afraid to ask for help, you can definitely have a brilliant career and be a brilliant mum.
Crying shows weakness
I was running the Tesco business and the whole industry was looking at us, but we had brilliant idea to bring the brand back to its best. But just before we went into production, the bottom fell out of the whole idea. I was exhausted and I burst into tears, but my business director told me later that day that it was the most powerful sign of leadership she had seen, because it showed that I was human.
Women aren’t funny
Another rule I’ve broken and we are slowly breaking. I’m really lucky I work with Vicki Maguire who is the most hilarious human being I’ve ever met – we are often screaming with laughter across the desk. Vicki wrote some amazing work for the British Heart Foundation called The Angina Monologues, which was staged at the Haymarket Theatre and broadcast on Sky One to 7 million people. She won D&AD awards, she won Creative Circle awards, she won Campaign awards, and she also won a British Comedy Award – so women are funny.
I’d like to celebrate three pieces of work that pissed me off because they are brilliant and original and definitely broke the rules.
Burger King’s “OK Google” is phenomenal. It uses the most traditional medium to fuck with the newest medium while all the other agencies are trying to get their voice strategy right, Burger King just killed it, and killed Google at the same time.
Adidas x Alexander Wang. Using the enemy as a springboard to make you famous I just think is a beautiful way of fucking with the rules.
Celeste Barber. She’s one of my heroes. She is one of the biggest individuals in the fashion industry but she completely subverts it. She’s got a fantastic sense of humour, she’s very single minded, she stays on brand all the time, and I think we could follow her lead in terms of how true she is to her brand.
Some rules we can break right now to get us moving in the right direction
The client is always right
Clients get the work they deserve. So if they are ballsy, ambitious, smart, brave clients they will get ballsy, ambitious, smart, brave work. If they are a scared, mediocre, vanilla client they will get work that doesn’t get noticed. So call the out on it.
Sadly I think we all know this means “just fucking do it.” We have to be able to go into a room look into the whites of the eyes of our clients, or our leaders, or whoever we’re arguing with, and get it out of our system. If I think something is so wrong, and someone else thinks something is so right, what a fucking great conversation we’re going to have about it. So never JFDI.
Answer the brief
You can’t just give someone a brief and expecting them not to want to have a conversation, or ask any questions, or completely 100 per cent disagree with it – which I do most of the time. The better way has to be to get to the brief together. Creative people need to get in on the conversation, whether that’s with their strategist or with their client, and come up with a brief together.
Working 9 to 5
Great song, terrible idea. Vicki and I really champion flexible working at Grey. This is based on the fact that we all work differently. I work best at two in the morning, and Vicks works best at seven in the morning – which is great because we’re a 24 hour service. Kim and I used to work best when we were arguing out of the office. Some people work best with their headphones on not talking to anyone. As long as you over-deliver on what you’ve been asked to do, and as long as you’re making the best work of your career, work wherever and whenever works best for you.
Especially as a creative person, you mustn’t fit in. it’s our job to scare people and challenge perceptions. Different inputs give different outputs. We are all right in the middle of all this incredible conversation about diversity, so go and be the different somewhere – stand out, and if you’re too comfortable then leave. I believe creative people work best when they’re scared when they’re challenged and they are learning.
Develop a house style
Hats off to agencies that have a house style. John Lewis at Adam & Eve, Lurpak or Honda at Wiedens, or Moneysupermarket at Mother are hugely successful, but I challenge a creative person to always do different things. Try and be bespoke to the client that you’re working on, but also flex yourself and challenge yourself and learn new things.