February 09, 2010

The Age of the Complicator, Part 1

Today we begin a 4-part series called "The Age of the Complicator."

There are two kinds of people. Simplifiers and complicators.

I have spent my advertising career (now going on its 200th year) trying to find simplifiers and avoid complicators.

Next to talent, the most important quality an ad person can have is the ability to simplify.

Every ad problem is a mystery. There are a million things to say about any product or brand. A simplifier understands the difference between what is essential and what is peripheral. A simplifier can clear a path through the jungle.

To a complicator, on the other hand, everything has equal weight. He is unable to do the most essential of all strategic tasks -- eliminate the unnecessary.

One well-placed complicator can easily undo the work of 10 simplifiers.  

The best way to test whether someone is a simplifier or a complicator is to ask her to create a PowerPoint presentation. It doesn't matter what the topic is. Just pick a topic and ask her to do a PowerPoint about it.

A simplifier's presentation will have fewer slides, fewer words on each slide, and will tell a logical story.

A complicator's presentation will try to cover every base. Instead of focusing on the subject, she will attempt to guess what you had in mind by giving her the assignment, and will build her presentation around that.

We have all sat through meetings that should have taken 10 minutes but took 90. We have all seen art directors un-sell work that clients have already bought. We have all seen account executives exasperate an intelligent client by asking unnecessary questions or bringing up irrelevant issues. We have all sat through impenetrable presentations and wanted to stick knives in our heads.

And we've all been delighted when a simplifier has gotten up and cleared away the fog.

The advertising industry, in fact the whole of marketing, is now sinking in the quicksand of complicators. They are in charge. This is the era of the complicator.

Later this week, Part 2 . In which we describe why "advertising is the only sport on the planet in which 20% of the team are players and 80% are equipment managers."

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