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OpEd: Agencies & Clients, Have No Fear

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We continue our agency op-ed contributions with this piece from Josh Rogers, creative director for Imagination, the Americas. Rogers previously held stints as a strategist and writer at McCann and Berlin Cameron. Here, Rogers discusses the topic of fear, which he believes has gripped client and agencies during the recession, limiting risk-taking and, in turn, creative output. He thinks the industry needs to embrace a no fear mantra as we recover from the economic downturn.

In the early ’90s at my high school in Central Virginia, the only way to be sure someone was badass was to check the rear cab glass in his F-150 with at least six inches of lift to fit 34″-plus off-road knobbies. If you saw a “No Fear” sticker, maybe in front of the gun rack, probably next to OBX and Oakley decals, you knew, well, he had no fear, and thus wasn’t a man to be trifled with.

(Read on after the jump…)

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I’ve been thinking a lot about that sticker these days for some reason that probably has something to do with both recent bouts of nostalgia and an acute frustration with the state of our advertising nation. I’ve wondered was it ever more than a bumper sticker? Was it actually the best tagline ever? In a sense, on its own, isn’t it way more powerful than “Just Do It?”

Because, after all, what can’t you do without fear? Was it the most misunderstood line/brand/line of products (if they existed) ever? Like it all started out as this cool bunch of Buddhists who wanted to make a revolutionary statement through bumper stickers, but at a crucial moment they got one of their high school kids to do the logo, and, of course the kid was really into tagging and quasi-Asian fonts, so it came out like it did. And then it got slapped on trucks by all my country friends and misread as some “I’d rather be beating your ass” kind of message, instead of its deeper, more inspirational intent.

The brand still exists, but you never see the sticker anymore. And if you ask me, it’s time to bring it back. Not in the Stussy kind of way it was, but executed truer to my fantastic imaginings of its peaceful warrior beginnings. Because, though it was an–albeit ironic–sign of the times and not the cause, we had much less fear back then. So what the hell.

Fear is the greatest of enemy of creativity. I don’t just mean that in the “creative department” sense of the word, though I’ll stick to the general realm of brands and advertising here, rather than attempt to convince anyone of the need for more creativity in oil spill cleanup, green energy, journalism or geo-political matters, as much as that’s true as well. Fear is a feeling, a reaction to a circumstance that compels us to hold on, hunker down, halt our movement forward. Stop creating new work, new business, new ideas, because, we think, our best chance at weathering a storm is to curl right up into a ball. It’s scary and uncertain “right here!” So why would we want to risk “out there?!” That makes sense, on a certain level. Survive. But when the storm passes, and it always does, you might still be breathing, but you’ve just been in a ball for god knows how long. Haven’t moved an inch, your muscles have atrophied, and it’s hard to walk for a while, much less catch up to the few brave souls that forged ahead, fear be damned, when you were sniveling head into your knees.

The funny thing is fear doesn’t exist. Not really. It’s just our mental defense against circumstances that are only insurmountable if we allow the fear to make it so. The people that forge ahead know this. Ironically, when more people forge ahead than not, the storm itself clears, even for the most afraid of us all. “Look, everyone’s forging! Must be nothing to fear.”

The last big economic storm we saw followed the dot com bust earlier this decade. Our reaction, then, collectively as an industry of creative business people, was to retool and forge our way out of the mess. Led by the example of companies like Crispin and their clients, new brave agencies like Droga and Mother and their equally brave clients bravely created ideas–rather than the lazy, shout-at-you ads of the boom years. They were hard to classify, who-cares-if-it’s-advertising creative works that engaged people into caring, acting, buying more. Maybe their bravery didn’t single-handedly stabilize the economy, but it certainly helped. It definitely led our industry to higher ground. And it led both those groups into leadership positions today.

Now, honestly, I don’t know what’s happening. We’ve got more tools. We’ve got more creative people. And we’ve got a relatively recent industrial case study that shows the benefit of bravery. And yet, in my opinion, we’re curled up in a fear ball so tight we’ve lost sight of every idea but survival. Yes things are economically uncertain. Yes, we might all have a second dip that’ll make the storm worse. But that’s just the call for more bravery. For clients and account people and planners and creatives and juniors and chiefs and generalist agencies and digital and social and experiential and crowd-sourced and collective ones and everything else. If you steel yourself and move, you’ll move. And if we all do it, it’ll all go away, get behind us. We are a creative industry. Survival is not enough. Slap that bumper sticker on your truck and get going.

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