What if Good Enough is Enough?

Not long ago, but in a different century, the late great Jay Chiat coined the phrase “Good enough is not enough”. There was a time when I whole-heartedly agreed with him.

Advertising was a craft, and I was a damn fine craftsman.

My clients’ deserved nothing less than excellence.

And when excellence required casting commercials in New York, or shooting them in Paris, it was a small price to pay.

Besides it was fun.

Chiat’s dictum remains a mantra for creative agencies to live up to.

Currently Bartle Bogle Hegarty subscribe to a similar POV:BBH pencil adThey keep at it until they get to great.

There’s no doubt outstanding creativity deserves to be applauded.

Did you see the British Airways digital billboards that won a Grand Prix at Cannes?

It’s brilliant, but I doubt it will persuade anyone to change airlines.

Still, as a creative director, it’s almost heretical if you don’t subscribe to the creed of “Good enough is not enough”.

Only hacks would knowingly present their clients with less than the very best, right?


As Tom Goodwin, SVP Havas Media commented, “The last few Cannes Lions festivals show all the signs of the industry unbundling itself further from reality. At a time when businesses face existential challenges, we seem determined to provide silly, self-serving solutions.”

Maybe what worked in the twentieth century doesn’t work so well in the twenty-first.

At least not for the SMEs and startups who will be driving tomorrow's economy.

Many of them operate in highly specialized niches against a few direct and indirect competitors.

They don’t need the perfect Super Bowl commercial.

They need to be mostly right, right now.

That means strategic and tactical agility that delivers creative that’s better than their direct competition, to boss the category they operate in.

All I have to do is make them top-of-mind with a well-defined target, by putting as much daylight between them and their competition as possible.

And do this as fast as possible because the creative we’re working on today, will very possibly cease to be relevant in 12 - 18 months.

That makes my job simple—but not easy.

I’ve written about the unattainability of perfection before.

Art for art’s sake is a good maxim—for artists.

But not so suited to practitioners in the advertising trade, challenged by limits of time and budget.

Maybe we need a different skillset for different times.

Good enough is probably still not enough.

But mostly right, right now—undoubtedly is.

The Cleverest Advertising is About Nothing

Advertising is a simple business.

We persuade people to buy goods and services.

We do it by pointing out a product’s benefits and giving them a reason to buy.

And when we do our jobs convincingly, they do buy.

And when we perform at the highest level, people form emotional attachments to brands.

This may not happen very often, but when it does the results are remarkable.

Think of the Apple cult at its height.

500 people lining up overnight to buy the latest gadget.

In 2001, the latest gadget was the iPod.


This is the original ad and it’s excellent.

It’s as close to a product demo as you can get in print.

The ad doesn’t need to be clever, because it’s advertising a product with revolutionary benefits.

So it simply states what the product does.

And it worked, millions of people bought iPods.

But revolutionary products are the exception.

The majority of products aren’t that clever.

The majority of products are actually, or virtually, parity products.

Like toothpaste, or toilet paper, or detergent.

These products are the antithesis of clever.

They don’t have real competitive advantages, in spite of what the agency brief may proclaim.

No one is lining up overnight to buy toilet paper.

If you’re like me, you buy whatever name brand is on special, because it doesn’t matter.

So how do you make it matter?

How do you get people to care about toilet paper, or dish soap, or whatever?

How do you make the unremarkable remarkable?

How do you distinguish the indistinguishable?

How do you sell parity products?

By being clever, that’s how.

Advertising needs to be clever in inverse proportion to the cleverness of the product.

Truly clever products don’t require clever advertising.

They require advertising that clearly communicates why they’re clever—and then they’ll sell themselves.

That’s why the cleverest advertising is about nothing.

It’s because the degree of difficulty is higher.

Like Olympic diving where the difficulty of the dive is factored into the final score.

Doing an easy dive perfectly can score fewer points than doing a hard one imperfectly.

It’s harder to advertise toilet paper than sexy new technology.

Here’s a great ad that says absolutely nothing about the product.


It says nothing, but we understand a lot.

That’s pure creativity.

And according to the awards show Eurobest, it  increased sales by 130%.

That’s the power of saying nothing brilliantly.

Advertising is a simple business, but simple is not the same as easy.

Thinking cleverly is rarely that.

Turn Off the GPS

Some years ago I was driving through Picardy in Northern France with my mate Danny. We were in an old MG with no GPS.

By the time we realized it, the moment of getting lost, had passed.

We’d missed a turn somewhere and before we knew it we had no idea where we were.

We were good and lost.

The map wasn’t much help because we couldn’t fix our location.

We reached a fork in the road and had to make a decision.

We tossed a coin.

Then we were turning left and climbing the brow of a gentle hill.

As we crested the hill, spread out before us bathed in the golden evening sunlight lay the picturesque town of St-Valéry-sur-Somme.

As its name suggests the town sits on the southern side of the wide Somme estuary.

Coasting down the road into town we were met by the tang of salt on the breeze.

And the sun had just begun to turn the water the colour of flame.

The MG seemed to steer itself, right into the gravel car park of the Relais de Guillame, a splendidly ramshackle fin de siècle château, turned hotel.

We decided to spend the night there before we even got out of the car.

The bar and restaurant were spacious and high ceilinged lined art with Art Nouveau wallpaper faded by sunlight and time.

But the meal we enjoyed was light and contemporary.

We stuck around, and over the next couple of days we explored the small town with its medieval walls and gatehouses.

We ate lunch at charming and inexpensive quayside restaurants bursting with fresh fish.

We strolled along the boardwalk past substantial Edwardian seaside villas built by prosperous bourgeoisie, to the point with the light house.

It was the best part of our trip.

And if we hadn’t got lost we wouldn’t have found it.

But getting lost is usually viewed with frustration.

It’s the antithesis of our rigid compartmentalized time-starved lives.

So it’s usually seen as a failure to arrive.

Instead of an opportunity to discover something new.

Getting lost is wrong; it denotes a lack of planning or navigational nous.

Like wasting time it’s seen as non-productive, almost sacrilegious.

But what is creativity, if it isn’t getting lost?

Staring at a blank piece of paper, thinking what if I can’t think of anything?

If you don’t feel a little afraid you’re just going through the motions.

Using the tricks and techniques you know and staying in your comfort zone.

Relying on what has worked in the past.

After a point, that’s repetitive not creative.

Creative means throw away the compass.

Get in the un-comfort zone.

Put some random back in the mix.

Turn off the GPS.

Get lost.