The other week, an agency I used to work for rebranded as VMLY&R. It wasn't the worst name in the world. I mean, there's that Bulgarian soft drink called Arse Juice, that Korean restaurant chain Vomit Sandwich and the Czech lager Twatted.
But given that those responsible were supposed to be in the branding industry, it was all rather piss poor (and I don’t mean the Brazilian mineral water).
A little while before that, Sir Martin Sorrell unveiled his prospectus (stop giggling at the back). His new venture, S4 Capital, was not Welsh Channel 4, after all, but something even harder to understand. Apparently, the company would: "Create a new-era, new-media solution embracing data, content and technology in an always-on environment for global, multinational, regional and local clients and for millennial-driven digital brands."
Again, it wasn’t the worst positioning statement ever. I mean, if they’d wanted to go for the whole bullshit bingo card, they’d have mentioned "purpose-driven influencer engagement" too. But given that those responsible were attempting to position themselves as marketing experts, it was all very meh (not the Iranian snack brand).
The other month, somebody used the word "cagency" to describe their company’s business model. Once more, not the worst portmanteau ever to be spewed out by our industry ("phygital", "blogebrity" and "thighvertising" all vie for that title). But given that those responsible were trying to position themselves as the future, it was a bit of a cock-up (not to be confused with the Croatian washing powder).
I know, I know. It’s easy to make fun of agencies’ long-standing inability to practise what they preach to their clients. It’s a familiar (or even VMLY&R) problem that once prompted John Bartle to observe that the trickiest brief in any agency was creating the company Christmas card.
But, joking aside, what do these recent examples say about the state of our industry?
Well, first, that too many supposedly "creative" companies are led by people who don’t have a creative bone in their body. Second, that these individuals don’t seem to care much about culture either (I don’t know the team running Y&R London, but they looked like they had good intentions, energy and a sense of mischief that are invaluable when you’re building a people-based business). And, third, that these corporate titans may be clever, but they have no fucking sense of irony.
We are constantly told that planet brains such as these will take over our world but, on this showing, it’s unlikely that they’ll even be able to remember their own names or what they do for a living. Of course, their laughable efforts shouldn’t blind us to our own pressing need to learn from outside experts or to change faster than ever before (that’s what makes this job so exciting, right?). But their mishaps do provide a timely reminder that creativity is surely more important now than ever. And we’re pretty good at that.
So if the humourless automatons do win, what a sorry reflection on all of us to be beaten by a company with a bag of Scrabble tiles for its name, an organisation with a thesaurus for its mission or a business model that you would be embarrassed to say out loud.
Andy Nairn is a founding partner of Lucky Generals