Media: make it simple, stupid

by Jed

You’ve all been sat in the room with the strategy guy. The one who’s presenting some charts on the ‘next big thing’, and a few charts in you see the chart. ‘The’ chart. You know the one; the one that shows how complicated marketing has become. TheLumaScape chart.

As you read this, somewhere in the world, someone is presenting that chart and saying “marketing is so much more complicated than it used to be!”. Then looking around the room at a puzzled, and increasingly terrified audience.

“Wasn’t it easier when we just had a handful of TV channels, a few radio stations, and newspapers…”

Everyone then looks at each other in exhaustion, beads of sweat forming as they worry about how they’re going to do their jobs in such complicated times, and genuine fear as they feel like an actual fish out of water. On the hottest day of the year.

I know this scene well. I was the orchestrator of this situation at least once a week for the first six years of my career.

But four years ago I stopped.

I had started to feel like a fraud. I wasn’t trained in anything special; not an engineer, nor a doctor, or an architect. I worked in advertising and just happened to understand a bit more about the internet than some other people.

I wasn’t being malicious, and I’ve always been far too average to have a superiority complex. It’s just that when I would speak to people, it felt like I was telling them something profound and new, and the feeling that gave me was pretty intoxicating. Then I realised that the more complicated it sounded, people would (initially) think it was very, very smart. For someone that’s neither trained in marketing, or particularly smart, this felt good. What’s in the brackets in that last sentence is important though; because people would initially think it was smart. Then they’d take some time to understand and learn about whatever it was that I’d told them, and then they’d realise it wasn’t profound, just different, and actually, once you’d spent a bit of time digging around, pretty simple.

What I was effectively doing was setting off a fireworks show, and then making my audience try to repack the gunpowder afterwards.

What a massive waste of everyone’s time.

Whether it’s SnapChat filters, DMPs, or footfall attribution models: some people make it feel like magic, and magic that only they can do. Nobody likes the feeling you get when you take your car to the garage and they gasp. “Ohh that’s not good”, they say. There are a lot of people in advertising and media that do that every day.

Since I started trying to make things that sound complicated simple, there are undoubtedly less terrified faces, and instead now I’m faced with eager ones. Now people want to work together to make the new things even better. It’s hard, but I now see it as a core part of my job. I don’t want to finish a presentation and people congratulate me on ‘how smart it all sounds’, I want them to feel like what I’ve said is common sense.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of complex parts to our industry, and I often marvel at the technical ability of many of those in the industry, but the best ones take the complex and make it simple. They open it up to everyone, because they know that on their own they can only make a little difference, but with other people, from other backgrounds, they can make a huge difference.

We need more of these people. We need more translators. We need people that can take the technical, and make it simple. It takes a strong person to take something complex and make it simple. Show people how the innards work, and say ‘come on, you get it, now help me make it better’.

It wouldn’t be an article on LinkedIn with a Steve Jobs reference(!), but I feel this one is maybe a little more apt than usual. Jobs and Jony Ive famously believed that simplicity was the ultimate sophistication. I think they might’ve been onto something.

Anyone can make something simple, complicated. Very few people can make something complicated, simple. Those are the people that are going to help move the whole industry on, and do more effective, more innovative work – and that’s what I find intoxicating now.

This post originally appeared on AgencyVoices on LinkedIn.