Mother New York discuss the finer points of douche-iosity.
Agencies often run workshops and seminars in Cannes and it’s usually pretty predictable. Jargon-laden titles try and persuade you that, armed with their vital industry wisdom, you’ll be able to stay ahead of the latest tech trends and outperform your competitors with this secret weapon.
It’s rarely the case. You’re far more likely to be bombarded by buzzwords and slogans about blue sky thinking for an hour, before leaving the session with nothing more than a slightly advanced proficiency in the language of bullshit.
Mother New York took a different approach at Cannes this year, focusing on a home truth – that the advertising business has its fair share of total pricks (they’re American, so they went for the term “douche” instead. Please exchange for an insult of your choice). Hoping to reduce levels of douche-iness in the industry, Andrew Deitchman, Charlie McKittrick, Tom Webster and Angie Vieira Barocas took to the stage to teach Adland how to be nice, despite the pressures of this industry.
We couldn't make it on the day, so we caught up with Co-Founder of Mother New York, Andrew Deitchman, and Managing Director Angie Vieira Barocas, to discuss their workshop – How to Avoid Being a Douche in this Business.
The Beak Street Bugle: What do you think is the main cause of douche-iness?
Andrew Deitchman: It’s the most basic of human insights – people get unhappy and they fill their unhappiness with self-importance and puffing up their chest. And suddenly they’re just not focused on the reason why they got involved in this business. They’re more focused on how they posture, position themselves and basically just become a douche.
It’s like in lots of areas of life and business. People treat people poorly and push them down because they want to feel more important because they’re unhappy people and that makes them somehow feel happier. It manifests itself in so many different areas and all that ultimately is is someone who’s not comfortable with who they are, where they are and what they’re doing.
BSB: And why do think the ad industry is particularly douche-y?
AD: I think it happens to be a magnet for insecure people. Creative people are generally quite insecure. And at the same time it’s a weird thing how you justify your work all the time. It just leads to a lot of people who are not happy and project a veneer over themselves that isn’t that nice. We try to make sure that’s not the case. It’s just focusing on the things that make your brain happy and what you like doing. It all sort of starts from there.
Angie Vieira Barocas: My first creative director was David Lubars at an agency that no longer exists. He taught me what an idea was. He said creatives are putting ideas on the table all the time, so if they come up with an idea and it gets killed, they have to go back in and put more ego out.
Even presenting work. If you have a piece of paper and you’re presenting work don’t throw it on the table – treat it with respect because there is a lot of value in what is on that piece of paper and if your actions support that, even subconsciously, people around the table and clients will see that. And if you’re killing ideas, be sensitive.
BSB: Apart from the burden of creativity, what causes advertising people to be unhappy?
AVB: I started on the agency side, went client side and came back agency side. I’m [now] an agency person because I want to be as close to the work as possible. It’s not that you can’t be as a client, but you’re never as close.
AD: Part of what I like that Charlie talked about is embedded, organisational douche-iness. It’s fascinating to me that there are all of these different plains and levels and people who’s job it is just to be creating stuff around the stuff around the stuff [not the product, not the packaging - something far removed from the actual subject].
I go to a couple of conferences a year and I enjoy it. I usually hear some interesting things but people who decide to go to every single conference and sit on every single panel, after a while it’s just crazy. It’s like this has become your job now – to sit on panels. I guess at that point you’re just marketing the agency or whatever, but it’s still in the guise of somebody who’s doing work.
BSB: How do you avoid that particular kind of douche-iness?
AD: We defined ourselves from the outset as being very broad in the way that we do business. It allowed us to be very promiscuous creatively and have interesting conversations and not put limits on what our brand could be. We’ve also grown into creating our own stuff that we put the stuff around and that’s been really fun too. We talked about a couple of examples of things we’re working on in that vein as well, from an app we’ll be releasing to the whiskey we launched.
BSB: This workshop basically acknowledges that the industry is full of douches. How did you avoid offending people?
AD: I don’t think we were really worried about offending anybody because we just spoke from the heart about our own experiences.
I talked about how I was at six different agencies for the first ten years of my career and a lot of it was based on “I could get more money here; I could get a bigger title there” and that bought me all sorts of different experiences. I just wanted to get as senior as I possibly could as fast as I could.
There was impatience there, but it was also a lack of confidence on some levels, in terms of sticking in one place for a long period of time. But mainly it was just not feeling comfortable. I never really felt comfortable until I got to start Mother. That’s when I actually felt relaxed because I was able to be myself versus having to fit into an organisation.
AVB: I think if you want to have a diverse environment like we do, you can’t box people in. You need to recognise that someone might come in and be a little bit writer, a little bit strategist and everything. How do you maximise that?
BSB: How else did you teach people to ward off douche-iness?
AVB: Some of the things we shared with the audience were some basic tenets of mine that protect me from becoming douche-y: Have a good dose of humility. Know what you know and what you do not know.
I said to the young folks in the audience “check the entitlement at the door.” And it’s hard because today’s younger generation grew up differently than I did. To figure out why you’re in this business and what makes you tick in the first place. You need to remind yourself of that along the way.
My four points were:
I need to work at a place that has strong culture and values that are aligned with my own, so then I can be myself.
I want to work with people that I trust and respect all around me. It doesn’t matter if you’re more junior or more senior than me. That’s irrelevant.
I want to be around great creatives.
And my day-to-day needs to be something that I enjoy.
BSB: What did the audience have to say to you?
AVB: A young creative was saying “I just got in this business. I haven’t experienced my douche self yet. What do you recommend so I don’t go down that track?” I said as creatives, you guys are coming up with ideas and most of the people at an agency are surrounding you to make sure you come up with those ideas. I think the way to avoid going down the douche-y trap is to recognise that, appreciate it and don’t take if for granted.
BSB: Why do you think you got away with it?
AD: I think everybody understands in this business that you can laugh at yourselves and be reflective. Look at me. I’m kind of a douchebag.
AVB: [laughs and nods] We’re having a meeting at the Carlton in Cannes! Andrew started [the workshop] by basically acknowledging – “here’s our title, but also let’s remember we are sitting in the South of France in the most beautiful place at an award show.” It’s not to say don’t enjoy it. But you have to keep it in perspective.
AD: It’s not to say there’s some Zen state that I’ve reached. I’m incredibly ambitious and a lot of that comes from having a chip on my shoulder and being insecure in certain ways in the same way that drives lots of successful people. But it needs to be kept in check in terms of treating people well, understanding the business we’re in and not taking it too seriously.