We need better problems

Freddie Young
By Freddie Young | 7 March 2022
Freddie Young.

 Freddie Young, co-founder of Good One Creative. 

The world is happening to us all at different times and at different speeds and in different languages and in total opposition to what our grandparents or even our parents were taught.

Our generation’s challenge, then, is cause for humility - for retreat, even, to the footing of first principles or to the study of exactly what it is we need from this life and what tools we can use to provide these things.

It is way more than disappointing, our reaction to these times. Whilst we as an industry barrack for and bet upon the success of new platforms, our greatest planetary, societal, and psychological threats remain unscathed. But as this is an industry-based article, I’m going to lay down my broader anxieties and speak to a starker, less Hollywood, and pretty depressing truth: we are midcannonball over the surface of an Olympic-Pool-Sized Kool-Aid.

To be upfront, I’m about to take a lot of swings at the Meta-Verse. Risky, perhaps, in that it may actually take off (and I may get to work on some of its projects). But this I will stand by: it won’t be very good for us. In my cynicism toward the emergent platform, there is hope. Naïveté, even. My hope is that, unlike some of these brands running headfirst into the Meta-Verse, we as real people have learned our lesson, that we can honour our hunger for connection - that our best minds and
our brands get real, get closer to the people they’re supposed to be serving.

I find it’s easy to look at Zux as the villain in this case, but Meta’s behaviours and models are replicated by Australian businesspeople (albeit on a much smaller scale) on an almost-daily basis. 

What might be called hubris or megalomania in Zux, would be called delusion or, most generously, short-sightedness in Australians running their own business.

We’re trying. That’s good. But for all our ungodly leaps in technology, we don’t seem to be making much progress in the quality of our collective lives. If anything, we’re straying further from the desires and the needs of our markets. And so, in the rough-and-tumble techno-rush to utopia, I do think we need a safe-word. Something to which we can all return and synchronise our thinking.

And for this reason I will offer you now an ad-man’s mantra.

PSBI… Problem, Solution, Benefit, Implementation… PSBI… PSBI.

No word of a lie, this acronym is very important to me. Even just saying it aloud is enough to stir within me a feeling of reverence, something very close to that charged, pregnant silence you might experience in a church or a temple. These four letters are the DNA and the destruction of empires, of dynasties, and really, really effective advertisements. If you get this right, you’ve a Product on your hands - one that can and, more importantly, should be sold. Get it wrong and you’ll be joining the cacophony of speculative, bubble-bursting, new-age developments without a customer.

I can’t make rent next week. It’s cold in my bed and it hurts when I breathe.

These are Capital-P Problems. Things to worry about, to resolve. Having an empty room, apenchant for heavy, electronic headwear, and a desire to live in the internet - these are not problems. These are fetishes at best - and at worst they’re less-than-friction in our lives, repellents. They’re what I might say to someone at a conference in the hope of being left alone.

Any Capital-P Product needs a compelling, Capital-P Problem. Your ad, your business, your efforts must all work to service or resolve the great tensions in our lives. And so, to the businesspeople of Australia, to its consumers, please ask yourself  before you go to market (or all the way
home) - “What is my Problem?”

Take a leaf from the ad-man’s book and really try to sell yourself on whatever it is you’re stressing about. Feel the sceptical customer within you poke holes.

Remember, if you cannot sell it, then it shouldn’t exist. Keep it simple. 10 words or less; we’re not that complicated.

Now that we’ve established a Problem deserves to exist, we can go ahead and fix it. This is the fun part - where creativity comes alive and agencies start making showreels and case studies, vying for awards and sending junior suits to the supermarket because “it’s gonna be a late one”. 

But don’t be mistaken, what’s taking so much effort here often has more to do with the creativity required to solve lower-case p problems than it does with the people we’re meant to be helping.

Sorry, that’s a confusing sentence. But that’s kind of my point.

A good solution is simple. Elegant. In some cases, it might cause a cartoon-someone to slap their
forehead and exclaim, “Why, of course!” But for advertisers, the apparent, glittering, quoteunquote brilliance of a solution is something to be wary of.

After all, if it really needs an ad-person to be sold, then it probably shouldn’t exist.

This is because a good solution will go a long way to selling itself. A bad solution will require minutes-long explanations, attendant feel-good causes, and a more-than-usual amount of stock photography.

The Meta-Verse is brilliant. It’s huge and just about every high-end brand will want it to work. And it's for exactly this reason that it probably won’t. Before any real users have entered the MetaVerse, brands are setting up inside of it - presumably to, what, beat the digital rush? We as an industry (Marketing & Advertising) are buying into a world before anyone’s really expressed a desire to enter it, before we know what it is, what it’s for.

Against even just the first two letters of PSBI, the Meta-Verse (and our industry’s enthusiasm for it) is starting to feel a little “off”, misplaced. More than that, it’s starting to seem a parody of itself. A brilliant solution to absolutely no one’s problem.

This Summer - from the man who’s repeatedly demonstrated an inability to design for our world’s best interests - a new world!

Now, I must admit this to be my least favourite of PSBI’s teachings. The Benefit section of most advertisements is, more than anything, an indication of confidence. If a compelling Problem has yielded an effective Solution, the Benefits should be clear and few. When selling you the cure to a potentially lethal disease, I’m not going to spend much time discussing the benefits of not-having a potentially lethal disease. When selling an oddly-shaped coatrack, however, I will relate to you its many benefits - such as coat-storage (critical to coats’ preservation), personal expression (a coatrack worthy of your collection), and the dangers of just leaving your coats in the open (tripping hazards and Dickensian pickpockets abound).

The danger of the Benefits section is that it can encourage that sort of myopic, product-centric view of life that just has no basis in reality and yet pervades marketing departments around the world. It’s the sort of thinking that leads marketers to suggest that car insurance will save your marriage. It’s the sort of thinking that leads the Founder of Facebook to think any human in their right mind might want to live inside of Facebook.

Be honest with yourself: what’s so good about your product? If you’ve done your homework, the Benefit of your Solution is that your customer doesn’t have to think about their Problem anymore, leaving room in their mind for the next big Problem of their lives.

Someone once wrote that ‘duty’s recompense is duty done’. You solved a problem. Problem solved. Well done! Now go get lunch and please stop brainstorming.

Ah, Implementation… the quiet one. I love Implementation for the same reason I love the last hurdle of any race. It’s where people usually fall - and spectacularly so.

Implementation is the story of how we use your Product. 3 Easy Steps, that kind of thing. So let’s take another look at the Meta-Verse, a product that within its own explanations will conveniently disregard its biggest threats to take-up.

Clear some room within your home. Were you planning on using this as a nursery? Fear not. There are no children in the Meta-Verse.

Encompass your skull within machinery, blinding and deafening yourself to your surroundings, so that you and you alone can enter the Meta-Verse.

Make yourself at home. This world was built by strangers who do not care for you and is inhabited by projections devoid of real, human expression - but Nike is there! How good’s Nike??

A Capital-P Product is built to insert into and improve our lives. Remember that for a while there we were all about pockets - not because we liked the feeling of super-computers against our thighs, but because we liked leading our lives out in the world. We wanted the power to freely explore this planet and to meet new people. We wanted to dance wildly to U2 against
monochrome backdrops. Remember that ad? Actually…

My olive branch to the world of technology: Apple’s AirPods are a miracle. Regardless of where my phone is in the room, I can have any question answered by Siri and, failing that, I can speak to ny one of my friends in both a crystal-clear soundscape and the physical world in which we live and I pay rent. This is the future - and I’m astonished every time I experience it.

By really absorbing Implementation’s lesson, we might even be able to fix the Meta-Verse. What if Meta, instead of pulling me into some new world, brought me further into the one we share? For all of our weekly, virtual drinks over lockdown, how many of them remain? It wasn’t enough - it isn’t enough to simulate the mild terror and the overwhelming hope of being somewhere with someone. We know this already - all of us except brands.

Via my AirPods and a virtual tour-guide, I might be able to walk through my city like I’ve never seen it, having relevant, actionable, and personally-tailored information fed right to me. I could learn the history of this place, be alerted to a new restaurant in the area - and even to the fact that I haven’t seen Charlie in a while. We could address the increasing levels of loneliness in our society by coaxing each other into shared, real spaces. We could fix some Problems - not run
from them.

So there it is: PSBI, an ad-man’s torch in the search for a better world - or a better ad. Ad-thinking won’t hold the answer to all of our problems but it is a start. For if books are our way of conversing with the dead, then ads are our way of conversing with the dying. We don’t have much time and there’s a lot to be worried about. But we can make progress; we can make a better
world. Just be brave, be honest, and, when lamenting your nursery’s total lack of 5G accessibility, feel free to burp your child (or yourself) to that soothing, soothing song… P…S…B…I… PS.. BI…PSBI…

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