Ad agency philosophies / taglines of the global 700

An agency philosophy is one of the most distinctive features of the ad industry. But to understand it is to first recognise the point of one.

People have tried to predict the future since the dawn of time. Relying on tools as varied as the Oracle at Delphi to the Farmer’s Almanac. But most predictions are plain wrong. Some are right, as a matter of coincidence. Like a stopped clock, that gets the time right at least twice a day. But that hasn’t stopped us from trying to predict with certainty, what lies ahead.

The reason we’re attracted to certainty, despite its probability, is biology. Our primitive brains haven’t evolved to deal with the complexities of an uncertain world. So they use up every available neuron to regain control. Making sense of the world through tools like beliefs, patterns and models that offer confidence, direction and hope.

An ad agency philosophy is a tool to predict advertising successes. You’ll find over 700 agency philosophies below. But to truly understand what an agency philosophy is is to first recognise the point of one.

Put simply, the job of an ad agency is to make something desirable. You can make something desirable by changing perceptions. You can change perceptions by persuasion. So the ad industry is basically in the business of persuasion.

People are persuaded when they’re convinced something has been demonstrated. That’s why Aristotle described persuasion as a form of demonstration. There are three ways to persuade someone, he observed. Demonstrate something that appeals to the character (ethos). Demonstrate something that appeals to the context (pathos). Demonstrate something that appeals to the logic (logos).

Ad agencies persuade people using those three ways, in different combinations. They articulate a distinguishing feature about a brand or product and demonstrate its appeal. Such distinguishing features serve as cues for people to pick one brand or product over another.

Just as people need distinguishing features to pick one brand or product over another, ad agencies need distinguishing features that make them desirable for clients and talent.

The agency philosophy, often manifested in a tagline, is one of the most distinguishing features of the advertising industry. Each agency develops a unique philosophy about their advertising process, and proclaims that it would guarantee the best solutions for clients. Some codify their theories and add all sorts of frameworks around it, which act as proprietary tool for ideas that work.

In reality, advertising, like meteorology, is based on predictions. It’s an industry where you’re more likely to be wrong than right. Rightfully, as the legendary adman Paul Feldwick observed, that there’s no point agonising over getting it too right. For even when something’s right, there’s no guarantee it would be effective. Let alone that fact that all advertising theories are fundamentally wrong.

Similarly, the practice of coming up with ideas in advertising, much like the practice of coming up with discoveries in science, is anything but a linear process; one thing does not lead to another.

Whether it is the process or the outcome, nothing in advertising is clear-cut. So how could there possibly be a set philosophy or step-by-step framework that guarantees effective solutions?

Actually, this has to do with the transaction of ideas. Between those who come up with the ideas — the agency folk — and those who buy the ideas — the clients. Or as the Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman would put, between ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’ thinkers. The former is characterised by its fast, nonlinear and unconscious way of thinking. The latter characterised by its slow, linear and controlled way of thinking.

Indeed, Ogilvy’s Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland observed that clients, with their backgrounds in management, finance and economics, suffer from a trait which scientists refer to as ‘physics envy’ — the need to appear more mathematically linear than their disciplines require.

In which case, an efficient way to persuade such linear thinkers to see the value of dancing ponies or singing cats is through what Feldwick calls ‘showmanship’ — the ability to present something in an attractive, structured and confident manner.

Therefore, just as how scientists skilfully lead their audiences to believe that their discoveries were arrived at through a sequential process, ad agencies have to post-rationalise their ideas based on philosophies and frameworks before they can be accepted by their physics-envious clients.

By bringing a sense of structure and reasoning to the chaotic advertising process, agency philosophies ultimately help agencies sell their ideas better, whilst influencing the kind of work an agency does or hopes to do. Indeed, they dominate the first slides of pitches; even if they’re all fundamentally wrong.

Like Aristotle's persuasion rhetoric, agency philosophies come in three types. Ones that represent a type of thinking (ethos). Ones that represent the context that influences a type of thinking (pathos). Ones that represent the value a certain type of thinking could bring (logos).

Having looked at hundreds of agency philosophies, the key observation remains; that although ad agencies may be good at articulating distinguishing features for brands and products, they struggle, and are in most cases lazy, when it comes to articulating a distinguishing feature i.e. an agency philosophy for themselves.

There are a few reasons for this. There’s little difference between what one agency offers from another. Since every agency uses creativity in going about their business, creativity as an invariable distinguishing feature comes across as hollow. It’s hard to articulate a narrative for success for a business that’s inherently based on predictions.

Whether an agency represents the end or the means to an end, there’s little to work with. But there are exceptions, as you will observe.

The statistician George Box famously observed that all models are wrong, some are useful. The point being, we’re better off focusing on whether something can be applied in a useful way rather than debating if an answer is correct in all cases. Similarly, ‘the opposite of certainty isn’t uncertainty. It is openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox,’ wrote the writer Tony Schwartz, in his eloquent plea against absoluteness. Therefore, the real test of knowledge is utility, not truth; doubt, not certainty.

That’s why good advertising comes from the type of people and agencies that recognise that they can never fully understand it.


The long list of agency philosophies and taglines:

1. &Co. — Collaboration is as important as strategy and creative.
2. +27 — We're producers of interestingness.
3. 11:21 — Only two things matter: being simple and creative.
4. 18 Feet & Rising — Be different from the sake of being better.
5. 180 — Getting the world talking.
6. 22squared — We help brands become a welcome intruder.
7. 23red — We change behaviour for the better.
8. 34 — We believe in creating bold, curious, effective work.
9. 360i — Powered by curiosity.
10. 4août — Useful and pleasant.
11. 72andSunny — Make brands matter in culture.
12. 99 Enterprises — We design experiences that connect with people.
13. 99c — We believe in work that sells.
14. Above & Beyond — The creative agency for the audience age.
15. Accenture Interactive — The world's largest digital agency.
16. Achtung! — Agency for the connected era.
17. Ackerman McQueen — The most expensive marketing is marketing that doesn’t work.
18. adam&eveDDB — Make brilliant work that works.
19. Adex — We create dreams.
20. Adjust Your Set — Content at the speed of culture.
21. ADK — Motivating consumers.
22. Advance — Care more. Nothing less.
23. Advance comunicação — We combine data, brain and heart.
24. Africa — Relay and Shift.
25. Agencia Tudo — Think. Do. Propagate.
26. Agency Brazil — Creative pragmatists.
27. Agency Sponge — An ad agency, a design house, an ideas factory.
28. Agency3 — Best is possible.
29. Aggrey & Clifford — Unexpected, pioneering and above all, relevant.
30. AJF Partnership — One of Australia's most effective agencies.
31. AKQA — The imaginative application of art and science.
32. Alfred - Everything begins around a table and ends with a glass of champagne.
33. All Contents — We like to cultivate singularity.
34. Allen & Gerritsen — Creativity is no longer king. Our new king is inventiveness.
35. Alpha Century — A creative agency for entrepreneurs.
36. Altmann + Pacreau — An agency of ideas.
37. Amazon — Bonding progressive brands with forward-thinking consumers.
38. Amelie — Make a positive impact on people's lives.
39. Amélie Company — Good works.
40. Amsterdam Worldwide — We create cultural connections for brands.
41. Amusement Park — We're not an ad agency, we're a manufacturer of creative content.
42. AMV BBBO — UK's most creative agency.
43. AnalogFolk — Use digital to make the analog world better.
44. Anomaly — A deviation from the norm.
45. Anorak — Be straightforward and to the point.
46. Another Company — Exceed client expectations.
47. Antidote — Dare mighty things.
48. Aqua — Making it awesome.
49. Aquatro — Modern. Simple. Advertising.
50. Arcade — Creative entrepreneurs.
51. Archer Malmo — Big ideas don't require big heads.
52. Argonaut — We make things that surprise and delight the world.
53. Armando Testa — Cross vision.
54. Arnell Group — To get consumers to say wow.
55. Arnold Worldwide — Great work works.
56. Artbox — Centre for creation.
57. Artplan Agency — Ideas that open conversations.
58. Arts & Letters Creative Co. — We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’ve done it a thousand times.
59. Asahi Agency — Applying Japanese spirit and Western intelligence.
60. ASDG — We think out of the box and experiment.
61. Asterix — Heart and soul can transform your brand.
62. Atnetplanet — Innovate and adapt to create viral ecosystems.
63. Atomic — Never quiet.
64. Austin & Williams — Come for the ideas, stay for the results.
65. Australie — The agency that sees things differently.
66. Avail — Taking brands to new heights.
67. Avrett Free Ginsberg — Championing the sometimes sideways, sometimes straight up best ideas in the world.
68. Avrett Free Ginsberg — We inspiring brands to own who they are and live it bravely.
69. AZE/FBR — Create work that sells.
70. B.B.E — Driving growth through creative technology.
71. Babel — Give back to communication the power to create value.
72. Badkoobeh — Go beyond your farfetched goals through our creative, scientific and authentic advertising methods.
73. Bailey Lauerman — Made for America.
74. Baldwin — Don’t do anything just for the money.
75. Baldwin& — We're not really sure, and we'd like to keep it that way.
76. Bandujo — We give smart, unexpected, creative solutions that get results.
77. Banjo — Independent in spirit and thought.
78. Banujo — Be imaginative.
79. Barbarian — Break conventions.
80. Barker — A true alternative to the big slow battleships.
81. Barker & Christol — We believe in world peace, rainbows and fluffy kitties.
82. Barkley — Add something good to the world.
83. Barnes, Catmur & Friends — Do whatever we can to help our clients do whatever it is they want to do.
84. Barton F. Graf — The enemy is irrelevance.
85. Bates United — Let our ads speak for themselves.
86. BBDO — The Work. The Work. The Work.
87. BBH — When the world zigs, zag.
88. BD — Murder the mediocre.
89. BDDP — Breakthrough ideas.
90. Beber Silverstein — Weaving brand stories into the personal culture.
91. Becon — Humankind.
92. Being There — For brands that love people.
93. Berlin Cameron — A boutique agency for building brand cultures.
94. Bernstein-Rein — We care about impact.
95. BETC — Great work. No nonsense.
96. Big — Turning ideas into reality.
97. Birdman — Create something no one has ever experienced.
98. BJL — Stand for something. Take on anything.
99. Black Labz — We deliver with creative care.
100. Black River FC — Work that's not only remarkable, but worth remarking about.
101. Blackbird — Prepare to take off.
102. Blast Radius — Creatively driven. Digitally focussed.
103. Bleublancrouge — We're more than just an ad agency.
104. Blue 499 — The open source media agency.
105. Blue Pencil — We will help you get straight to the point.
106. BMB — We create ideas that generate their own energy.
107. BMedia — Happy combination of multiple skills.
108. BMF — The home of the long idea.
109. Bob — Dialogue is at the heart of everything we do.
110. Bob the Robot — Because creativity is the most important single success factor for companies.
111. Bold + Beyond — Inspire and connect.
112. Bolero — Round ideas for a square world.
113. Bonjour — Forward-thinking ideas for premium brands.
114. Boomtown — Creativity. Possibility.
115. Bounche — Deliver wow.
116. Bowery — We can help you.
117. BPD — Making brands beloved.
118. Brave — Because courage counts.
119. Bravo — Win tough fights.
120. Bray Leino — Whatever it takes.
121. Brilliant & Million — Passion drives everything.
122. Broadbent & Williams, Inc. — Defining. Focusing. Establishing Direction.
123. Brokaw — We help brands rise above the blah blah.
124. Brothers & Sisters — We help revolutionise our clients' businesses in revolutionary times.
125. Brown — Success depends on the success of our clients.
126. Brunner — We're in pursuit of what's next.
127. BSUR — Be yourself to be original.
128. Bunglow Circus — We create emotions driven by data.
129. Bunglow25 — Do not sit still.
130. Burrell Communications — Creating transcultural work.
131. Burns — Strategically led. Creative at heart. Forward thinking by nature.
132. Buutvrij for life — Make nice things.
133. Buzzman — All advertising is unwanted, so if you're going to crash the party, bring champagne.
134. BVK — We believe in the refreshing power of honesty.
135. BWM Dentsu — Creativity transforms brands.
136. Camden — We're a human-scale agency.
137. Camp + King — We made brands conversation-worthy.
138. Campbell Ewald — We create emotionally charged, culturally relevant ideas.
139. Campbell Mithun Esty — Achieve dominance.
140. Carmichael Lynch — We create unfair ideas that give our clients an unfair advantage.
141. Cerebrus — Branding worth loving.
142. Cernuto Pizzigoni & Partners — We love to say that we make ideas, something rather different from having ideas.
143. Change — Benevolence.
144. Channel T — Be bold, be brave, be brilliant.
145. Chapter SF — We exist to solve wicked problems facing pioneering businesses.
146. Cheetham Bell — The power of simple.
147. Cheil — Ideas that move.
148. Chemistry — We tell stories that create a reaction.
149. CHI&Partners — Game-changing creativity.
150. CJ Worx — The new breed of agency for the digital era.
151. Clarity Coverdale Fury — Feeding the emotional connection between brands and people.
152. Cloudfactory — Creativity is collective.
153. Code d'Azur — Stand out. Fit in.
154. Cogent — Built on the power of togetherness.
155. Cole & Weber — Strategically focused. Creatively ambitious. Digitally accomplished.
156. Collective London — We create powerful, emotive and cut-through digital experiences.
157. Conill — Propelling brands into the heart of the conversation.
158. Contagion — Change today to own tomorrow.
159. Contagious Communications — We help companies create braver marketing.
160. Contagious London — The all-in-one creative agency.
161. Contract Advertising — we believe in building brands from the heart.
162. CoolGraySeven — Great work comes from collaboration.
163. Copacino + Fujikado — Find that thing.
164. Cossette — To go beyond.
165. CP+B — To create outrageously dramatic work.
166. cramer-krasselt — Made friends, not ads.
167. Cream — Creativity is our effectiveness strategy.
168. Creative Mindworks — We offer not just services. We create solutions.
169. CreativeRace — No barriers.
170. Creativos & Medios — Let's make mischief.
171. Creature of London — The home the intelligent misbehaviour.
172. CRI Agence — Incite interest.
173. Critical Mass — Relentless focus on the customer.
174. Cubo — Outsmarting problems by making brands stickier in the mind.
175. Cult — We're at the intersection of creativity and technology.
176. Cummins&Partners — Nothing's more valuable than independent thinking.
177. Cutwater — We build brands to move quickly through culture.
178. Dada — We craft bold, creative and strategic business solutions.
179. Daiko — Ideas win.
180. Dailey — We love advertising.
181. Dare — Digital design engineering.
182. Darewin — Helping brands reach their targets with entertainment.
183. David — A first-name agency that believes in the personal.
184. David Guillaume — Killing indifference.
185. David&Goliath — We help challenger brands outsmart and outperform the competition.
186. Dawn — Make stuff people want.
187. Dawson Pickering — Great creative ideas drive exceptional business results.
188. DDB — Imagine. Inspire. Influence.
189. DDFH+B — Ideas company that delivers great work that works.
190. Deloitte Digital — The creative digital consultancy.
191. Delphys — Don't be bound by rules.
192. Des Cheval — A no-limit agency that takes a fresh and impetuous view of everything.
193. Designate — The agency that lives, thinks and breathes brand.
194. Deutsch — Human spoken here.
195. Devito / Verdi — We give our clients what they want but never what they expect.
196. Dewynters — Experience is everything.
197. DF London — For the age of influence.
198. DGWB — The values economy.
199. Different — Together we make a difference.
200. DigitasLbi — We're a modern, data-inspired agency.
201. Dim Canzian — Make it deep.
202. DiMassimo Goldstein — Inspiring action.
203. DMC — Access to success.
204. Dolly Rogers — Be human.
205. Don't Panic — Contagious ideas.
206. Doner — We do audacious things for ambitious brands.
207. DPS les indés — Dependence leads to indifference, independence creates difference.
208. DPZT — To join the right letters.
209. Driven — Creating ideas that sell.
210. Droga5 — Creatively led. Strategically driven. Technology friendly. Humanity obsessed.
211. Drummond Central — Takin' care of business.
212. Duke — Fight indifference.
213. Duncan Channon — Unearth, unfurl and unleash truly distinct identities.
214. DWGB - The power of shared values.
215. East House Creative — Madison Avenue creative without the Madison Avenue attitude.
216. Ebony & Ivory — Making a difference to brands and people's lives.
217. Echo — Communication that resonates.
218. Edelman — Connecting, informing and creating inspiring work.
219. Ego White Red & Green — Without narration there is no communication.
220. Elvis Communications — We turn audiences in fans.
221. Energize — Humanise brands.
222. Ensemble — Creating content that people want to watch, experience and share.
223. EON — We believe in upholding truth for good.
224. EP+Co — Unthink everything.
225. Epicosity — An idea factory that gives brands a voice.
226. Escala — Connecting companies to their audiences with impact.
227. Essence — Making advertising more valuable to the world.
228. Et Vous — Transforming brands.
229. Exp — We create energy.
230. F.biz — Early Adapters.
231. Fabrique — Challenge reality.
232. Factory — We'll make things.
233. Fair&Square — Less money requires more guts.
234. Fairly Famous — To improve the world by amplifying the messages of progressive companies.
235. Fallon — For clients who'd rather outsmart than outspend the competition.
236. Famous Innovations — Innovation is the difference between popular and famous.
237. Fancy — Great work can do great things.
238. Farrelly — Beyond expectations.
239. FCB — Never finished.
240. FCB Inferno — The world needs more interesting.
241. FICC — Leading brands to digital.
242. Figliulo & Partners — Agency for the information age.
243. Fischer — Innovative solutions.
244. Fitzroy — Make brands adaptable to change.
245. FKC — Might to will. Think to do.
246. FleishmanHillard — The power of true.
247. Fold7 — Relentlessly relevant.
248. Footsteps — The motion and culture agency.
249. Forever Beta — Relentless improvement.
250. Forsman & Bodenfors — The Floor: Swedish consensus.
251. Fortune — CORE (Connected, Organised, Related, Effective).
252. FOTW — A blend of creative excellence.
253. Founded — We move people.
254. Fox Kalomaski Crossing — Small but mighty.
255. FoxP2 — Chemical. Here atoms and ideas collide.
256. Fred & Farid — State something.
257. Freeman — Building meaningful relationships.
258. Friendship — Unboring life.
259. GA — Brands that resonate.
260. Geometry Global — We help brands thrive in an omni-channel world.
261. George & Dragon — A family business.
262. Giant Spoon — Ideas through the lens of culture.
263. Gish, Sherwood & Friends, Inc. — We expose the truth, create an experience around it, and make consumers want to act.
264. Gloo — Onwards and upwards.
265. Glory — Audacity is a vector of efficiency.
266. Golin — Relevance obsessed, relevance equipped.
267. Good — We work for good.
268. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners — We make things that reach millions, but seem to speak only to you.
269. Goodness MFC — Uncover the goodness.
270. Goodstuph — Never 'no' but 'why not?'
271. Grabarz & Partner — Participative creativity.
272. Grafik — We define and develop great brands.
273. Gravity Road — Clever with content.
274. Greatest Common Factory — Make things better.
275. Grenade & Sparks — We support companies in their transformation.
276. Grenadier — Creativity and innovation can change the world.
277. Grey — Famously effective.
278. Grid Worldwide — Disruption for brand.
279. Grok — We create emotional connections.
280. Growmint — We're creative adventurers and changemakers.
281. Grupo Gallegos — Fortune favors the brave.
282. GSD&M — Purpose-driven creative agency.
283. GTB — Artful. Stealthy. Unexpected.
284. gyro — Create ideas that are humanly relevant.
285. Hakuhodo — People centred, data-driven creative agency.
286. Hamiltons Advertising — The Jill-of-all-trades agency.
287. Happiness Brussels — Spread happiness.
288. Happiness Saigon — From 30 to 3.0
289. Hasan & Partners — Make our clients famous.
290. Havas — Creating meaningful connections between people and brands.
291. Hellocomputer — More human.
292. Hello Monday — Happy people create joyful digital experiences.
293. Herewecan — Connecting creativity and digital business.
294. Herezie — The power of choice.
295. Hey — It's a fun corner.
296. High concept — More fun. More smart.
297. HighCo Avenue — The power in big, the agility in more.
298. Hill Holliday — Humble, hungry, humans.
299. Home — Feel good.
300. Hometown — Move at the speed of culture.
301. Hot Mustard — Intelligent communication.
302. HS AD — A creative agency with a difference.
303. Hub — We provide world-class creative across every channel.
304. Hudson Rouge — We are pioneers who never settle.
305. Huge — Make something you love.
306. Humanaut — A creative agency making things that humans love.
307. Humanseven — An agency on a human scale.
308. Humdinger and Sons — A creative agency for the common good.
309. Hummingbird — Where ideas fly.
310. Hungry & Foolish — Less blah, more action.
311. Hunt Adkins — We blow shit up.
312. Hunterlodge — We start at the end.
313. Hyde — Creative thinking always.
314. HZDZ — Your best story, simply told.
315. IBM iX — We study the intersection of strategy, creativity and technology.
316. Ici Barbes — Start social.
317. iCrossing — At the crossroads of pretty and gritty.
318. Imagination — Transforming business through creativity.
319. Impero — We make tired brands famous.
320. Indie — Fresh views on all kinds of issues.
321. Innocean Worldwide — Discover beyond.
322. Inside Out — Driven by passion.
323. Insign — Business hacking.
324. Instinct — We find unconventional solutions to common tasks.
325. Intermix — Create value for our clients.
326. Interplanetary, Inc. — We find the humanity at the heart of your brand.
327. Intro — Get noticed.
328. Invnt — Challenge everything.
329. iProspect — Giving businesses a tangible advantage in today's world.
330. Ireland/Davenport — We create amazing things.
331. Iris — We build participation brands.
332. Isobar — Ideas without limits.
333. Isobel — We supercharge brands.
334. IW Group — Crafting content for diverse consumers.
335. IXM — Creative Engineering: design and devise ideas that create wealth.
336. J. Walter Thompson — The world's best-known agency.
337. Jack Morton — Do something extraordinary.
338. Jacobs Agency — Here's to the idea.
339. Jandly — We break boundaries.
340. Jesus et Gabriel — The agency for anything drunk and eaten.
341. JLA — We solve marketing problems for a living.
342. Joe Public — The audience is everything.
343. Johannes Leonardo — The consumer is the medium.
344. Joint — We're a creative business.
345. Josiane — An agency. With lots of ideas in it.
346. Joy. — Make brands into favourites.
347. Jung von Matt — Emotional is the only rational.
348. Karmarama — The home of good works.
349. Kastner & Partners — We build.
350. KesselsKramer — Make it meaningful.
351. Ketchum — Break through.
352. Khanna \ Reidinga — Be interesting or die.
353. Kindred — Understanding people.
354. Kinetic — Connecting with audiences on the move.
355. King James — Making brands spectacularly memorable.
356. King of Hearts — To the point.
357. Kingdom — We are the agency because we build relationships.
358. kirshenbaum bond senecal + partners — Inspired by tough.
359. KKBC — Keep moving.
360. Kokoro — Heartvertising.
361. Kolle Rebbe — Quite simply, believes in common sense.
362. Krieg Schlupp Partner — Change the world with ideas.
363. Krow Communications — Where leaps are made.
364. KWP! — Ideas that are impossible to ignore.
365. La Chose — Indefinable.
366. La Comunidad — Cultural fluidity.
367. La Famille — A great family of talents.
368. Lachlan McPherson and Friends — Create positive change.
369. Lateral Aspect — This way to intelligent creativity.
370. Laundry Service — Make amazing sh!t.
371. Le Fil — Agile agency for creating lasting relationships.
372. Le Nouvel Opera — We believe French brands could have Frenchitude.
373. Leagas Delaney — Smart thinking. Beautiful work.
374. Leith — Bold ideas that work.
375. Lemni Scata — Using the head.
376. Lemon Scented Tea — We use stories to build brands.
377. Leo Burnett — Creating stuff people love.
378. Les Evades — Great big ideas.
379. Les Fraises Sauvages — Smart agency for smart brands.
380. Les Gaulois — An agency on a human scale.
381. Les Gros Mots — The problem with the little words is that we do not see them.
382. Les Pirates — The agency for sports and extreme sports.
383. Libertine — The free-thinking agency.
384. LIDA — Powered by data, technology and creative prowess.
385. Lime — The boutique creative agency.
386. Linney — Restless.
387. Little — Design is everything.
388. Live & Breathe — Considered maverick response.
389. LMWR — Be work and roll.
390. London Advertising — Be Brilliant.
391. London Strategy Unit — We stop companies sliding into irrelevance.
392. Lopez Negrette — Powered by cultural insights.
393. Loveurope — Producers of great advertising.
394. LRXD — Two weeks to truth.
395. Lucky Generals — A creative company for people on a mission.
396. Ludwig — Reveal creative value.
397. M&C Saatchi — Brutal simplicity of thought.
398. Mad & Woman — The future is female.
399. Made — The audience is in charge.
400. Mademoiselle Scarlett — When nothing goes right, go left.
401. Madras — We seamlessly weave together story and delivery.
402. Makheia — To win the battle of commitment.
403. Manasian — A project based agency.
404. Mangos — Helping brands participate, boldly, in the world.
405. Marc USA — Uncovering radical insights that incite powerful reactions.
406. Marcel — We make things that change things.
407. Marcus Thomas — Seeking impossible.
408. Markvardig — Crazy but sensible ideas.
409. Martin Agency — Good and tough.
410. Martin Williams — Create activists for brands.
411. Marvelous — Entertainment is king.
412. Matador — Ideas for all places.
413. Maxmedia — Bring the best together.
414. Maxx — Make everything greater.
415. MBA — Where digital and direct connect.
416. MCC — Building thoughtful brands.
417. McCann — Truth well told.
418. McGarrah Jessee — We create emotional connection between consumers and brands.
419. mcgarrybowen — Clients deserve better.
420. Mediar — Our clients come first.
421. Meerkats — Purposely successful.
422. Mekanism — To create shareable and provocative campaigns that engage audiences.
423. Mendeleiev — People belong to categories of know-how.
424. Merkley+Partners — We make connections that stick.
425. MetropolitanRepublic — Do things differently.
426. MillerVolpe — Giving life to brands.
427. Mindgruve — Expect amazing.
428. Mintz & Hoke — We create ideas so powerful they change the way people think and act.
429. Mirum — A borderless digital agency.
430. Miss Noï — Creative cell with free spirit.
431. Mistress — Brand building in modern media culture.
432. MKTG — The power of shared experience.
433. MNSTR — Opposites attract.
434. Moblaze — Agency for the mobile age.
435. Modern Climate — Be significant.
436. Moma Propaganda — A disciplined agency.
437. Mondo — Search for solutions through analysis and meditation.
438. Monumenta — The world is fluid. So are we.
439. Moreandme — We bring sexiness, desirability and modernity to brands.
440. Mortierbrigade — We fight creative mediocrity.
441. Mortimer Harvey — We put heart and smart together.
442. Moses Inc. — We solve problems before most realize there is a problem.
443. Mother — Make great work.
444. Mr. President — Question bravely. Answer boldly.
445. MRY — Rooted in Culture. Enabled by Technology. Driven by Relevancy.
446. MSI Advertising — Experience matters.
447. Muh-Tay-Zik / Hof-Fer — Professionally outrageous and outrageously professional.
448. MullenLowe — A different kind of beast.
449. Mutt Industries — Beauty. Truth. Simplicity.
450. MXO — Enrich and simplify.
451. N=5 — No-nonsense.
452. Naked Communications — Challenge conventions.
453. Natwerk — Absurdly effective.
454. NBS — No bullshit.
455. Needleman Drossman & Partners — We believe in the power of an idea.
456. New Digital Noise — A collective of creative minds who strive to produce the very best.
457. Nexlabs — Make a measurable difference.
458. Nikkeisha — We connect people with fresh ideas.
459. Noble People — Straightforward, upright and no-bullshit.
460. Nomads — For borderless thinking and ideas that travel.
461. Nova/SB — The popsynergy agency.
462. Now — The advertising agency for a restless world.
463. Nuworks — Storyteching.
464. O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul — Big brand creativity, startup ingenuity.
465. Odd London — Beautiful effectiveness.
466. Ogilvy — We Sell. Or else.
467. Oliver — Inside intelligence.
468. Olson — Think like people.
469. One Show — Don't get lost.
470. OpusMultipla — Creativity is the best way to generate results.
471. Organic — Everything is interactive.
472. Oricom — Communication that grasps moving consumers .
473. Our Man in Havana — We're not for everyone.
474. Out of the Box — Bullshit in, bullshit out.
475. Pable — Home of the humble radicals.
476. Pablo — Creating brands that come alive through radical ideas.
477. Partners & Partners — Boston Consulting meets Ideo meets Droga5.
478. Partners Andrews Aldridge — Rethink.
479. Penguin — Helping our clients sell more products, to more people, more often.
480. People and you — Develop brand values to create valuable brands.
481. People Culture & Ideas — Be small and nimble not big and bloated.
482. People Ideas & Culture — Agency for the 21st century needs.
483. People we like — We blend sense and style.
484. Pereira & O'Dell — We creating cross-disciplinary campaigns for progressive marketers.
485. Perfect Fools — Agency for the digital era.
486. Perfect Storm — Be useful or be obsolete.
487. Periscope — Do things people love.
488. Phelps — We help deserving clients find their voice.
489. Phibious — Playful and thoughtful / Be the unfair advantage.
490. Pilot PMR — Tell your story in a compelling way.
491. PIMO — Welcome to the age of real.
492. Piston — Where strategic leadership and start-up mentality intersect.
493. Plan B — Big enough to do it right. Small enough to do it better.
494. Poke — An ideas company for a connected world.
495. Pool Worldwide — Bringing the Internet to advertising.
496. Porter Novelli — We find greatness in everything.
497. Possible — We create experiences that keep brand promises.
498. Preston Kelly — Home of iconic ideas.
499. Principles Agency — More than just a name.
500. Prodigious Norge — Brand logistics.
501. Promise — Let the most effective idea lead.
502. Proof — Nothing watered down.
503. Propeg — We sell ideas.
504. Prophet — Grow better.
505. Proximity — Creative intelligence.
506. Psona — Can do.
507. Publicis — Lead the change.
508. PwC Digital — We drive business transformation.
509. Quai des Orfèvres — Goldsmiths of communication.
510. Quaras — We enhance corporate value.
511. Quiet Storm — Purveyors of exquisite mind bombs.
512. Quirk — Brave curious minds.
513. R/GA — Agency for the connected age.
514. R9 — Post-digital thinking.
515. Rabbit's Tale — Break the norm, build the tale.
516. Radioville — Radio is a different place.
517. Ramel — Made to measure.
518. Rapier — To make customers' lives better.
519. Rascal — Think curious.
520. Razorfish — Here for tomorrow.
521. Recess Creative — Play is built into our day.
522. Recipe — The UK's freshest independent agency.
523. Red — Everything begins with an idea.
524. Red Baron Werbeagentur — If you want to be sure you score, then you've got to think focussed.
525. Red Brick Road — Go above and beyond.
526. Red Fuse — It's a brave new world.
527. Red Lion — We believe that the best advertising isn’t always advertising.
528. Red Urban — Strong ideas that work.
529. Redder — We make brands redder
530. Republik — Produce outstanding work.
531. Resn — To infect minds with gooey interactive experiences that amaze and stupefy.
532. Rno1 — Together, we can make waves.
533. Robert/Boisen & Like-minded — Together we're better.
534. Rockfish — We are born out of technology, embedded in start-ups, and fueled by strategy.
535. Romance — We work hard and we are nice to people.
536. Rosapark — Fresh ideas for great business.
537. Rosbeef! — We are creative and we have common sense.
538. Rothco — We produce ideas that change fate and fortune.
539. RPA — People first.
540. RPM — We believe brands connect with people when they entertain.
541. Rubin Postaer and Associates — People first.
542. Saatchi & Saatchi — Nothing is impossible.
543. Sanders\Wingo — We use behavioral science to hack the human operating system.
544. Santa Clara — Intelligence is a transforming factor of people, brands and businesses.
545. SapientNitro — Redefining storytelling for an always-on world.
546. Satumaa Family Business — Nordic thinking.
547. Schafer Condon Carter — Think again.
548. Scholz & Friends — We are the orchestra of ideas.
549. School Boulder — Purpose in action.
550. Seagull — Ideas that soar
551. Select — We deliver magic with logic.
552. Selmore — The small big agency.
553. Serviceplan — Turning brands into best brands.
554. Setu — Bridging the gap.
555. Shout — We create conversational topics.
556. Showpony Advertising — We make ads that people talk about.
557. Sid Lee — Agency for the modern age.
558. Siren — Advertising that works.
559. Sivans — Because we're different.
560. Six Tokyo — Mixing unconventional and cool.
561. Smith Brothers — Deliver big ideas with flawless execution.
562. Snap London — Ideas that bite.
563. Socialove — We help customers fall in love with your brand.
564. Solve — We sell solutions not services.
565. Somo — Rapid actionable innovation.
566. Southpaw — Caution doesn't make headlines.
567. Spark Foundry — We bring heat to brands.
568. Spawn Ideas — We don’t settle for good enough.
569. Special — Make things that matter.
570. Spirit — We love to start fires. We ignite emotions.
571. Splash — We believe in the power of connections
572. Sponge — Where brand narrative, creative firepower and innovation absorb into one.
573. Spring — We brands at the forefront of cultural conversations.
574. Squat New York — The brand crafters.
575. SS+K — Born to lead brands through moments of change.
576. St John's — Restore integrity in communications.
577. St. Luke's — Home of agenda setting ideas.
578. Stack — We turn time into money.
579. Steve — Pop culture agency.
580. Stevens & Tate — We make things happen.
581. Stink Studios — A creative studio for a digital-first world.
582. Story — The best selling agency.
583. Story Worldwide — The world's first content-driven agency.
584. StrawberryFrog — The world's first cultural movement agency.
585. Sugar & Partners — Making brands famous.
586. Sullivan Higdon & Sink — Stand out from the flock of sheep-like advertising.
587. Sunday — We create beautifully crafted, brilliantly effective brand stories.
588. Sunshine — A next-generation entertainment company.
589. Super at the Spree — Super is not just a name. It's what we claim our ideas are.
590. Superhero Cheesecake — Raise the bar.
591. Superheroes — Save the world from boring advertising.
592. Superunion — Agency built on a spirit of creative optimism.
593. Sylvain Labs — Our tools are science and whimsy.
594. Syzygy — We create happiness.
595. Tabasco — Be real.
596. Tank Top — Put simply, we add value to brands.
597. Tattoo Projects — No, we're not a tattoo parlor.
598. TAXI — Doubt the conventional.
599. TBWA — Disruption.
600. TBWA\CHIAT\DAY — Be more human.
601. Team One — The new affluence is calling.
602. Terri & Sandy — Woman-owned, strategic & creative advertising agency.
603. The & Partnership — A modern communications agency fueled by the power of '&'.
604. The Ad Store — We are the human network.
605. The Adventures Of — We have no use for rules, they only rule out the brilliant exception.
606. The Allenby — We make campaigns that change the world or put a smile on your face.
607. The Brand Agency — We're agents of change.
608. The Brooklyn Brothers — Home of blockbuster branding.
609. The Cheese has Moved — The small agency that thinks big.
610. The Circus Works — Make people stand up and take notice.
611. The Clan — We're an agent of change.
612. The Community — We build brands for a culturally fluid world.
613. The Corner — We will.
614. The Creative Council — Making ideas happen.
615. The Escape Pod — We bring your brand propositions to life in the most dramatic manner possible.
616. The Full Service — Bold. Brave. Beautiful.
617. The Gate London — Breakthrough work. Boundless culture.
618. The Good Kind Of Crazy Inc. — No secret formulas.
619. The Hallway — Creativity is effectiveness.
620. The Hardy Boys — We're problem solvers at heart.
621. The Hub — Good things happen when unexpected things come together.
622. The Jupiter Drawing Room & Partners — Beautiful mayhem.
623. The Magic Pencil — Meticulous with details.
624. The Minimart — Good people, fierce thinking.
625. The Mission — Concinnity.
626. The Monkeys — Creating entertaining and provocative ideas.
627. The North Alliance — We create new paths to growth.
628. The Old Shanghai Firecracker Factory — Small agency with big ideas.
629. The Partners — We create, cultivate and inspire brands for those who aspire to lead.
630. The Secret Little Agency — We move culture everyday.
631. The Union — Where effectiveness meets creativity.
632. The Works — The creatively-wired agency.
633. They — Be seen.
634. Think — The digital transformation agency.
635. Thinkerbell — Measured magic.
636. TM — Woman-owned indie agency.
637. TM Advertising — Independent, female-owned creative agency.
638. Tokyu Agency — Create amazing experiences.
639. Tongal — Crowdsourcing creative work.
640. Tracy Locke — Applying design thinking to motivations.
641. Trailer Park — All brands have a great story to tell.
642. Transform — Creative entrepreneurs.
643. Tree — Be specific.
644. Tribal Worldwide — Creating the world’s most loved digital experiences.
645. Tricycle — We make stuff people want to watch.
646. Triverse — Ideas cause change.
647. True — Being true.
648. TSR & Partners - Defining experiences for the digital age.
649. TUX — We are a fearless partner in creativity.
650. Über — Over, above, beyond.
651. Ultrasupernew — Free-thinking but focussed
652. Uncle — Simplicity and creativity have the same mother.
653. Uncommon London — Building brands that people in the real world actually wish existed.
654. Union — The ad agency build for where our industry is going. Not where it has been.
655. Urja Communications — Distinctive, digital, fast.
656. Utopia — Changing the fortunes of brands, people, and planet.
657. UWG — We are insight driven storytellers.
658. Valuklik — Delivering digital performance.
659. Vandejong — Dream, experiment and realize change.
660. VCCP — Transformation partners.
661. Venables Bell & Partners — Honest. Fearless. Independent.
662. Verygoodchoice — An idea tank.
663. VIA — We help clients grow through creativity.
664. Virtue — The creative agency by VICE.
665. VML — Champions of the human spirit.
666. VMSD — Create something extraordinary that tells a story.
667. Volontaire AB — Our work never interrupts people.
668. Volt — Moving brands and people.
669. Voskhod — To move beyond.
670. VSA Partners — There's always a better way.
671. W — Start with the reality.
672. Wieden+Kennedy — Find the brand's soul and reveal its truth.
673. Walker Agency — We like to keep things creative.
674. WARL — First person conversion.
675. we are pi — Never settle.
676. We Launch — We launch everything.
677. We, The Citizens — To create interesting communications that'll make stop.
678. Weber Shandwick — Engaging always.
679. Wetpaint — The little big agency.
680. Wexley School for Girls — We're simply an ad agency.
681. What's Your Problem — Creative brand solutions for a digital world.
682. Who Why What — Three times the question brings a real answer.
683. Will London — There's always a way.
684. Williams Lea Tag — To create value for our clients.
685. Willis Collaborative — The agency for progressive marketers.
686. Winter — We push digital boundaries.
687. Woedend! — Relentlessly curious.
688. Wolfe Doyle — If you're comfortable with your advertising you should be nervous as hell.
689. Womenkind — Built soundly on the authentic desires, opinions, insights and wisdom of women.
690. WPN Chameleon — We move people.
691. Wunderman — Creatively driven. Data inspired.
692. X3M Ideas — Change perception.
693. XXS — Challenge conventions.
694. Y&R — Resist the usual.
695. Ymer — Make you shine.
696. You — An ad agency that thinks about what is best for you.
697. Zambezi — Take bigger bites.
698. Zimmerman advertising — Welcome to the growth machine.
699. Zubi Advertising — To erase stereotypes.
700. Zulu Alpha Kilo — We're the 10% more agency, charge and quality.

Sensemaking is retrospective

This article originally appeared on the Amsterdam Ad Blog.

In advertising, to reach a conclusion as a result of a logical thought process in which one thing led to another is seen to be highly responsible – whereas to acknowledge that you had the inspiration first and then test it only afterwards is to risk being accused of post-rationalisation.

But why shy away from post-rationalisation when it is a fundamental skill of our game – the art of applying understanding and coherence to an intuitive leap?

Sure, ours is an industry that’s suspicious of science. This is because science is used to dismiss many of our promising ideas. There is a name for this kind of science – ‘bad science’.

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy describes bad science as the urge to apply the same kind of mathematical certainties found in physics and engineering to solve complex mechanisms like the psychology of consumer behaviour – a practice we also call marketing.

But real scientists are dismissive of this kind of bad scientific thinking. Those who embrace it are the non-scientists, whose backgrounds include management, finance, economics and so on. Such people suffer from a trait which real scientists refer to as ‘physics envy’ – the need to appear more mathematically linear than their disciplines require.

Hence, business schools are rife with this kind of bad scientific thinking. And so are businesses themselves, from corporations, consultancies to adtech, whose managers become ‘psychologically blind’ in their obsessive pursuit of logic and certainty.

Bad science makes them absorb all the methodology and linearity of science whilst rendering them incapable of appreciating the quality of anything that cannot be expressed in numerical terms. It produces the kind that attempts to codify creativity and judge advertising purely on metrics.

Jeremy Bullmore of WPP finds that a crucial problem with bad science is that it churns out people who are made to believe that ‘the scientific method used in the act of discovery eliminates luck, guesswork, wild hypotheses, human prejudice and naturally, post-rationalisation.’ Which leads them to devalue the role of creativity – the very force that has driven the biggest leaps within our industry.

By contrast, JWT’s Stephen King observes that the smartest thinkers apply a different kind of science which Sir Karl Popper refers to as ‘good science’ – driven the spirit of adventure, imagination and enquiry. Popper recognises that science is a process of elimination – it cannot prove anything but only falsify ideas that are thought to be true.

It took nearly three thousand unsuccessful attempts before Thomas Edison created a bulb that would actually light up. First came inspiration; then came experimentation and a process of elimination; last came logic, which was applied to explain why the light bulb worked. Edison recognised that in thinking by intuition, logic comes last.

Similarly, asked about his amazing ability to consistently identify the best moves, Magnus Carlsen, who became the world’s chess champion at 19, said that he usually knows immediately what move to make next, not having to figure things out in the way the rest of us do. On being reminded of the number of times he had taken up to an hour between moves, Carlsen replied, ‘…well, because I have to, you know, verify my opinion; see that I haven’t missed anything.’

Cedric Villani is the equivalent of Magnus Carlsen in the world of mathematics. He has won the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize for mathematics, awarded to the best in the world once every four years. Villani, who insists mathematics isn’t about numbers but concepts, explains how the highest form of mathematics is performed. He says, like detectives, mathematicians use intuition to guess the solution and then logic to prove it.

Edison, Carlsen and Villani remind us that there are two parts to any creative process, which Bullmore identifies as ‘discovery’ and ‘proof of justification’ – and both need to be kept apart.

For instance, although penicillin may have been discovered accidentally, ‘a lot of retrospective digging had to be done before it was released onto a trusting public.’ Nobody said, ‘Here, take these tablets. I invented them yesterday. Trust me, I’m a scientist.’ Similarly, ‘This is a very good idea because I thought of it’ will almost always fail to win budget approval. Therefore, while discovery can be undisciplined, the act of discovery can never be its own justification.

Unfortunately, post-rationalisation causes the wrong belief that progress arrived at thorough tinkering or imaginative leaps is somehow cheating. When in reality, it is how most significant ideas, from light bulb, penicillin, DNA, plastic, X-ray, microwave oven, airplane, Viagra, Post-it Notes to the Internet, were created.

So just as scientists have skilfully led us to believe that almost all discoveries were arrived at through a sequential process, in ad agencies we have to post-rationalise our best ideas before we can sell them. This is because, in reality, the truly unconventional, behaviour-shifting ideas are often products of our unconscious – and this is simply too random and frightening for our physics-envious audience to accept.

Good agencies understand what Bill Bernbach meant when he said that ‘persuasion is an art, not a science.’ You simply will not arrive at great advertising through the rigorous application of logic. But good science, as Sutherland puts, will help you understand and explain what is good about your idea – after you’ve had it.

Bullmore reflects Edward de Bono’s philosophy that it is sometimes necessary to get to the top of the mountain in order to discover the shortest way up. The point is, no matter how you look at it, post-rationalisation is true, and nobody gains by pretending it isn’t.

Therefore, post-rationalisation isn’t just essential, but a fundamental skill of our game. And it absolutely deserves respect for applying understanding and coherence to intuitive leaps.

Don't apologise, adland

This article originally appeared on the Amsterdam Ad Blog.

It is often said that advertising makes people want more things. Sure, advertising can do that. But it very rarely does. In fact, it is more likely to have the opposite effect: make people happier with less; which is the more lucrative use of advertising itself.

Why spend $1000 or $10000 on a watch that does nothing more than a $100 watch? The answer, of course, is status, figured Thorstein Veblen, an eccentric economist known for his satirical portrayal of the upper class in the 1899 classic, The Theory of the Leisure Class.

Turns out, people “conspicuously” spend on certain types of items, such as silverware or oversized houses, just to show their place in society. These items, called “Veblen goods”, are desired because they’re expensive (pleases the rich) or exclusive (pleases the snobs).

A “Veblen effect” exists when people reject a perfectly good solution, like a $100 watch, simply because it is “too common” or “not costly enough.” Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy points to Stella Artois’ slogan that tries to create a Veblen good with two words, “Reassuringly expensive.”

Advertising is basically criticised for amplifying Veblen effects: prompt people to want things they “don’t need” or “can’t afford”.

Except this age-old belief isn’t entirely true.

Firstly, Veblen effects don’t depend on advertising. People have used lavish items to show status since before ancient days: tribal elite held women and slaves as trophies; the Romans threw gladiatorial spectacles; Cleopatra dissolved pearls in her drinks etc.

Secondly, Veblen goods don’t depend on advertising. Rolex watches, Rolls Royce cars and Reinast toothbrushes sell not because of advertising, but for their rarity and price. Veblen goods, for the most part, are not promoted through ad agencies at all, but PR.

Thirdly, almost all advertising that ad agencies produce is for things people need, or would be very reluctant to lose: insurance, detergents, food, broadband, washing machines, travel, beverages etc. And given the choice, which ultimately benefits people, it is advertising that helps them pick the wheat from the chaff.

Quite fittingly, ad agency Young & Rubicam ran an ad that read: “Yes, advertising does sell things that people don’t need…TV sets, radios, cars, ketchup, mattresses, and so on. People don’t really need these things. They don’t really need art or music or cathedrals…They don’t absolutely need literature, newspapers and historians. All people really need is a cave, a piece of meat, and possibly a fire.”

Put simply, advertising rarely adds to Veblen effects. In fact, as Sutherland explains, it is far more likely to have an anti-Veblen effect: create products that become “social levellers”.

Coca-Cola is the world’s best selling soft drink that is accepted by everyone when it should be rejected for being so common. Nike focuses on individual glory whilst stimulating the desire to belong to an egalitarian “Nike community”. Apple’s democratic values began with the slogan, “The computer for the rest of us;” whose products, except the gold watch (still not purely Veblen), are affordable to most people. And anyone can wear the working man’s fabric, Levi’s denim; a benefit reserved for mass advertised brands.

So advertising often works not by persuading people to trade up, but to retain their mass tastes instead. It favours an egalitarian society in which the rich people essentially buy the same things as the rest. “The President can’t get a better Coke than the bum on the street,” said Andy Warhol, the American artist who saw advertising as anti-elitist.

Brands that depend on mass advertising, like Coca-Cola, Nike, Apple, Levi’s, McDonald’s, Google, Sony, IKEA, Vodafone, Dove, Colgate, Volkswagen, Philips, Heinz, Apple, Virgin, ING, Marlboro, Kellogg’s, Heineken, Nestle etc., have it in their interests to be commercial and democratic. It’s the things that aren’t advertised that create social inequality.

Therefore, to bash advertising for dividing society or persuading people to want expensive options is unfair and wrong.

Likewise, advertising is conveniently blamed for peddling the desire that new is better.

It might seem like our upgrade culture is the result of “planned obsolescence”: a strategy to make products with shortened life spans deliberately. But only brands with no competition benefit from such inefficiencies. For categories in which switching is an option – Apple to Samsung or vice versa – brands that peddle new upgrades unnecessarily lose consumers.

Instead, advertising mocks planned obsolescence; it redefines status; conditions us to resist Veblen effects; makes things palatable to the masses; and instils pride in our position as the middle class, which is discerning of price versus quality.

Advertising presents a sensible lack of pretense; a no-nonsense practicality that respects the intellect of its audience, whilst seeing the likes of Volkswagen’s “Think Small” and “Live Below Your Means” as the epitome of great advertising.

Besides, advertising can act as a psychological primer for important social change. Which means, we can tell people it’s cool to wear recycled clothes; save energy; eat food waste; stay comfortable; or even resist consumerism.

So, don’t apologise, adland.

Thanks for persuading people to be happy with less, rather than making them want more. We need more advertising, and far more categories of spending where mass advertising creates brands that become socially acceptable to all, destroying price discrimination and pretentiousness.

Stick to your guns.

Waste is magnificent

This article originally appeared on the Amsterdam Ad Blog.

Waste refers to the portion of advertising budget that seems lavish and unnecessary. It represents the world’s most widely held beliefs in advertising. That half of all advertising dollars are misspent. Jeremy Bullmore of WPP calls it a “superstition”. Not just because there’s no evidence that the retailer John Wanamaker actually said that. But in a hundred years, there’s no evidence that companies that spent twice as much as they needed to on advertising suffered as a result. Yet the belief remains; that waste should be cut.

There’s only one problem: it’s the waste that adds to the effectiveness of an ad.

Take a peacock’s tail. It seems lavish, serves no functional purpose, and is counterproductive to its survival. But the tail also sends out a signal to peahens. “I’ve survived in spite of this huge tail; hence, I’m fitter and more attractive than others.” This is what biologists call “the handicap principle.” Across the animal kingdom, such lavish displays signal biological fitness.

Similarly, people are attracted to brands that invest in lavish displays, such as Superbowl commercials or recession-time advertising, because such extravagance signals a successful brand. Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy points to Darwinian psychology, which shows that people attach huge significance to “brand-bling, confidence, display and conscious waste.” Which implies that companies with money to spare and expensive reputations rarely produce bad products. The relationship between waste and effectiveness is the subject of Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier’s paper, suitably titled, “The Waste in Advertising Is the Part That Works.” Hence, the investment, the waste itself, is what makes the ad reliable.

That’s why, when our industry compared itself with Hollywood, and aspired for “magnificence”, it created advertising that had impact. Sure, many called it wasteful and indulgent. But it got people talking. Cabbies spoke about it. Kids spoke about it. Sometimes prime ministers spoke about it. It made brands famous. People buy brands they’ve heard of because fame is a huge source of reassurance. Brands like Coca-Cola, Levi’s, BMW, Heineken, Nike and Virgin are famous because their lavish exposure exceeds categories and audiences deliberately. Everyone knows them, not just those who buy or use them.

And then marketers rushed to adtech; whose breed of snake oil salesmen treated advertising as a science, replacing creativity and intuition with rationality and data. Their weapon of choice, targeting. An elixir that attempts to limit the exposure of advertising to those already or potentially in the market for any given product. Ridiculous enough to compound people’s existing decisions by repeatedly showing them what they’ve already decided against.

Adtech’s promise of effectiveness, and claim to know which half of the advertising budget is wasteful proved too tempting. For the chance to be successful with limited or no advertising at all seemed too good to be true. Why would a marketer continue to spend huge amounts of money to reach millions, many of whom may have no interest in the category, let alone the brand?

A case to cut the waste in advertising.

But numbers prove otherwise. Real brand growth, across almost all categories, comes not from loyalists, but from occasional users. This is the subject of Professor Byron Sharp’s book, How Brands Grow. For instance, most of Coca-Cola’s sales come from occasional drinkers; the ones who buy it just once or twice a year. Surely, these people aren’t likely to do anything, let alone engage, with the brand online. Hence, adtech’s claim to fame, to cut waste by specifically targeting people, such as loyalists, based on their online behaviour, is not only statistically ineffective, but kills the very signal a brand needs to send out to everyone in order to find fame.

So just as animals use wasteful characteristics to signal their biological fitness, excesses in advertising signal brand strength. Precisely the part that adtech wants to cut. The writer Don Marti notes that targeting not only “burns out” a medium, but also turns an ad into the “digital version of a cold call.”

Admen like Bullmore recognise that publicists have known this instinctively. When the Beatles came to the US in 1964, their manager, Brian Epstein, didn’t set up a series of targeted interviews on fan magazines. Instead, he got them three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, with an audience of about seventy million for each show. Only a fraction of them might have gone on to buy a Beatles record or a ticket. But it’s unlikely that Epstein thought of this exposure as wasted.

It’s become more obvious to spot the bluff on adtech’s delusional claims. Which are clearly not as effective as they may seem. But the damage is done. It has successfully replaced our industry’s once exciting, Hollywood-esque aspirations of creating exposure and fame with a boring, unambitious aspiration of being accountable.

Perhaps it’s time we reconsider our industry’s aspirations, and convince our friends that cutting the waste in advertising means cutting the part that works. The part that actually builds brands.

Don’t lose your feathers. They’re what makes you dazzle.

The illusion of price

A McDonald’s burger that cost just 20 cents a few decades ago now costs around $5. Putting astronauts on the moon that cost $25 billion a few decades ago now costs almost $160 billion.

It seems like everything is more expensive these days. It seems like our earnings don’t match the prices we’re expected to pay these days. It seems like yesterday’s prices are a bargain compared to today’s. But, for most cases, this isn’t true. It is rather, at best, an illusion.

We define prices by money; which doesn't have a constant value. As prices go up over time, the value of money goes down. Therefore, the prices we pay aren’t an accurate guide to the real cost of things.

A better way to understand the real worth of things is to measure it against something that doesn’t change — time. Time, in terms of real productivity, is determined by hours and minutes of work. Which is why, Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘Time is money.’

Hence, the real price of what we buy will make more sense if we marked it, not against money, but against the length of time we have to work in order to earn the money for it. Henry David Thoreau sums it up well, ‘The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life.’ Productivity determines the value of our time, i.e. our wages.

So, if we convert prices into hours and minutes of work, the cost of just about everything we consume today hasn’t actually gone up, but gone down; some to the point of a bargain.

Numbers from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Motion Picture Association of America, Hertz Corporation and Retail and Consumer Reports help calculate the evolution of change, from the 70s till now.

The time taken to buy eggs has gone down by 45%. The time taken to buy an air conditioner has gone down from 45 hours to 23 hours. The time taken to provide a three-square-meal has gone down from 2 hours and 22 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes. The time taken to buy a movie ticket has gone down from 28 minutes to 19 minutes. The time taken to buy a house with a 5% down payment has gone down by 9 months of work. The time spent on the job to rent a car has gone down by 37%. The time taken to buy a colour TV has gone down from 1 months’ work to 3 days’ work. The time taken to buy a microwave oven has gone down from 97 hours to 15 hours. Be it food, clothing, petrol, electricity, cinema tickets, laundry, phone calls, housing or the likes, it now takes us less time to afford them than ever before.

We’re better off as a result of our wages; which, as a result of productivity, has gone up faster than prices. Thanks to the companies and industries that employ us. But, economists Michael Cox and Richard Alm point in ‘The Myths of Rich and Poor’ that, capitalism’s critics wrongly believe the economy benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor. They explain that economic progress emerges from a system of price discrimination; against the wealthy, not against the working class. While the rich take advantage of the masses in most economics systems; under capitalism, it is the masses that benefit at the expense of the rich. The rich, who pay for most early fixed costs, making things available to the masses; know that real money doesn’t lie in selling to the rich, but bringing products within the reach of the masses.

Therefore, without the rich, fewer things would get to the rest of us. There is relentless competition between companies and industries on price and quality. And those who benefit from such competition are people; who get the best of both worlds, improved products for less effort. People get better value, more for money and more money for time. What were once luxuries have now become everyday necessities. As a result of which, many new industries and jobs have been created. Which explains real capitalism.

With our hourly output rising over time, the cost of production has fallen, pushing wages up. The idea of working less to buy more explains why we can afford to consume so much more than before.

Despite getting and spending more, many of us see a world only of rising prices. But fail to recognise and appreciate how much further each hour of our work can get. By simply marking the real cost of our consumption against ‘time’ instead of ‘money’, we can free ourselves from price illusions.

Now or later

The decision to pick now over later is a phenomenon that’s prevalent across everything, from biology to economy. Genes must decide whether to build strong young bodies now at the expense of weak ones later. Plants must decide whether to use up their resources now or save them for the future. Bears must decide whether to overeat now or face a deprived winter later. People must decide whether to splurge everything or set aside funds for expenses later. The psychologist Steven Pinker observes that at every moment, consciously or unconsciously, we’re choosing between good things now or better things later.

The economist Thomas Schelling explains that people behave as if they have two selves. One wants good things now and the other wants better things later. One wants a cigarette and the other wants clean lungs. One wants a dessert and the other wants a lean body. One wants to watch television and the other wants to read economics. The two selves are always fighting for control. An imminent reward engages the self that deals with immediate sure things. A distant reward engages the self that deals with uncertain future things. Schelling believes that one outranks the others, as if the whole person was designed to believe that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

Even the most rational of us end up defaulting to good things now over better things later. Our preference for immediate certainty over distant uncertainty is evolutionary. As nomadic tribes, our ancestors couldn’t really store things for longer. So they had to be on the move, searching for greener pastures. And with the imminence of death, lower life expectancy and an inability to accumulate possessions, the payoffs for consuming something immediate over later was higher. As a result, an urge to indulge now was built into our emotions.

So people have a tendency to prefer smaller payoffs now over larger payoff later. With instincts evolved to appreciate things without delay or risk missing out altogether. Which is why we disregard long-term disasters in favour or short-term happiness. This is what economists call ‘hyperbolic discounting’.

The same reasoning explains why people are happier to make commitments long in advance provided that commitment doesn’t require immediate action. The same reasoning causes people to underestimate the future consequence of things like having unprotected sex, losing temper, procrastinating, buying junk food or taking drugs. So powerful is this instinct that businesses benefit from it everyday. For instance, the finance industry owes its fortunes to hyperbolic discounting. Because borrowing money and paying interest are actions that spend future resources for benefit in the present.

Picking good things now over better things later is not treated as a sign of intelligence. Because it highlights our weak will; that of poor self-control. And by undervaluing the future we fail to anticipate it and plan accordingly. We give in despite knowing that it may not be the most rational thing to do.

But we try hard to defeat our own self-defeating behaviour. Through ways, which Schelling calls rightly as strange. Like putting the alarm clock away from our beds so we have to walk up to switch it off, setting up a bank account that prevents us from cashing out, keeping snacks out of reach or setting our watches ten minutes ahead.

No matter how hard we try, our brain, which is very good at doing many things well, is surprisingly bad at planning for the future.

Why rituals matter

Ever wondered why Corona comes with a lime? We might think that the culture of mixing beer and lime must be a Mexican thing. Or that the lime’s acidity must kill off any bacteria formed during its packaging. But it actually came about as a bet. A random one between a bartender and his mate. Could the bartender get patrons to ask for a lime in their Coronas simply by seeing him do it a few times? The 30-year-old bet eventually became a global ritual.

Why is Magners served on ice? Many Irish pubs didn’t have fridges in the county of Tipperary. So patrons decided to pour it over ice and cool it down themselves. The ritual helped cut down the sweetness of cider and improve its taste. So bartenders started serving Magners bottles over pints with lots of ice. It's now referred to it as ‘Magners on ice.'

Consider the Guinness ‘wait’ ritual. The bartender first pours three-quarters of it by titling the glass. He then stops and waits for it to settle. Finally, he tops the rest into the same glass that’s now held straight. It takes about 120 seconds to pour a perfect pint of Guinness. The wait seemed too long for people at pubs across the British Isles. Guinness was seeing its sales slide. So it launched an ad campaign with the line ‘Good things come to those who wait.' Showing the beauty of its artful pour. The wait seemed cool all of a sudden. Guinness had something unique. It had a ritual.

Rituals and superstitions make things we buy memorable. Even science tells us that they connect with us emotionally. Not as rational actions that need reasons. But as beliefs that make us behave in a certain way. It starts with change. Things are changing fast, from economics to technology. Even the speed at which we’re walking is – British Council's global study revealed we're walking 10% faster than we did a decade ago. Or the speed at which we’re talking is – watching classic films will reveal how far we’ve come. Change basically brings about uncertainty. Stress takes over when we’re no longer in control. The more unpredictable the world becomes, the more control we want of our lives. And the more anxious and uncertain we feel, the more rituals we follow.

British churches saw a huge rise in attendance during the 2008 recession. Areas hit by scud missiles saw a rise in superstitious beliefs during the Gulf War. Even the most rational of us fall pretty to this kind of thinking. No matter how rational we might be, rituals are something we all follow everyday. Right from the time we wake up to the time we sleep.

BBBO's global study identified the four stages of universally consistent daily rituals. First, we start by ‘preparing for battle,’ as we wake up from the bed to face the day. The stage includes checking emails, texts, weather, news, brushing, bathing, shaving etc. Then, we enter ‘feasting,’ as we meet over meals. This including eating together with friends, colleagues or family. The social act unites us with our tribe. Soon, we’re ‘sexing up’ with an indulgent series that transform us from our workaday-selves to our best-looking, confident-selves. This involves primping, grooming, asking others for reassurance and validation. Finally, we finish by ‘protecting ourselves from the future.’ This involves the acts we perform before going to bed at night – turning off computers, lights, charging phones, checking on kids, pets, locking the doors and windows, packing up bags for the next day etc. The same round of rituals starts all over again the next day. Basically, these rituals put us in control, or at least give us an illusion of doing so.

There are rituals we don’t even know we’re aware of. Things like going out of our way to avoid walking through a narrow lobby. Hugging or kissing foreigners based on local customs. Uttering the word ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. Buying the newest, most complex-sounding anti-wrinkle creams despite knowing they’re pointless. Do we eat our Big Macs with one or two hands? Do we eat our French fries before or after the burger, or alternating bites? Do people twist, lick and then eat Oreos or dunk them into milk first?

Then there are less productive rituals based on superstitions. Norwich Union's study found that the number of car accidents in London and Berlin have doubled on Friday the 13th. Number 4 is considered unlucky in China for it reads as ‘si’ and sounds as ‘shi’, meaning death. Many hotels in China don’t even have fourth or forty-fourth floors. But the same country likes number 8, as it’s closer to a word that signifies wealth. Which is why the Beijing Olympics started on 8/8/08 at 8:08:08 pm. Nestlé’s Kit Kat was a huge hit in Japan for sounding like ‘kitto-Katsu’, which translates to ‘win without fail.’ Michael Jordon never played a game without wearing his old, university shorts. So he coveted them with longer shorts starting off a trend in the sport. Serena Williams never changes her socks during tournaments. Sachin Tendulkar always sat on the left-side of the team bus.

Being obsessed with rituals is the same as being obsessed with brands. Both involve habitual, repeated actions that have little or no logical basis. Both start with the need to control in an overwhelmingly complex world. Both tend to accumulate and become part of our lives. Rituals may be everywhere around us, but it's easy to miss them. In Together, the sociologist Richard Sennett explains three ways to spot and understand rituals better.

Rituals keep routines fresh. They start out as habits before becoming routines. As routines, they rely on repetition for intensity. Which is, doing the same thing over and over again. The exercise often dulls our senses. But when the same thing helps our concentration better, it becomes a ritual. Listening to a song over and over helps us concentrate on its specifics. Specifics like lyrics, tone, length and pause are then ingrained into us. This sort of ingraining defines a ritual. Precisely what religious rituals intend. Performing a chant over a thousand times will ingrain it into our lives. Unlike habits or routines, which remain stuck in the first stage of learning, rituals self-renew and keep things fresh.

Rituals turn objects, movements or words into symbols. The point of a handshake is more than just feeling someone else’s skin. It signifies an achievement or relationship. A stop symbol doesn’t just warn us of the dangers ahead but also tells us what to do.

Rituals make expression dramatic. Walking down the street is nothing like walking down the aisle as a newly married couple. Every step feels immense.

Right-brain revival

Humans tend to pick sides. Splitting everything into two groups. And see life in contrasting pairs. Good versus bad. God versus evil. East versus West. Mars versus Venus. Left versus right. Logic versus emotion. Yet, in most cases, we don’t have to pick sides. And it’s often dangerous if we do. Say, logic without emotion is cold. Emotion without logic is weepy. The yin always needs the yang. It’s the same with our brains too. Left brains need right brains and vice versa. Only by using them together turns brains into real thinking machines. Using either one leads to absurdity.

But some people are comfortable with logical, linear reasoning. A form of thinking that is functional, textual and analytic. They tend to become lawyers, accountants and engineers. The left brain directs their thinking. And has led to the Information Age that started in the 1970s. So it’s overemphasised in schools and prized by firms. Encouraging left-brain results.

Others are comfortable with intuitive, nonlinear reasoning. A form of thinking that is simultaneous, visual and aesthetic. They tend to become artists, inventors and entertainers. The right brain directs their thinking. It is underemphasised in the Information Age. So schools neglect it and firms disregard it. Undervaluing right-brain results.

It is these individual inclinations that go on to shape families, institutions and societies. While both ways are needed to form productive, fulfilling lives, there remains a tilt towards the left – our society seems to prize left-brain directed thinking.

For much of the last century, parents fed their kids with the same advice. Get good grades; go to college; and purse a profession that’ll offer a decent standard of living with some prestige. Kids who were good at maths and science were told to become doctors or engineers. Kids who were good at English and history were told to become lawyers. Kids who were slack on verbal skills were told be become accountants. As computers arrived, kids were told to take up high tech. The rest flocked to business schools, finishing with MBAs. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers and executives were, as put by the father of management, Peter Drucker, classified as ‘knowledge workers’. For Drucker, these people were simply paid for putting to work what they learnt in school rather than for their skills. What set this group apart was their ability to grasp and apply theories. They excelled at left-brain directed thinking. Entrance exams for such professions measure what is essentially undiluted left-brain directed thinking. These are filled with linear, sequential exercises that are bounded by time. With rewards based on logic and single correct answers. Most developing countries are producing plenty of such left-brained knowledge workers.

So, twentysomethings in developing countries are doing what was, until recently, mostly done in the United States. They are doing them just as well; if not better, and just as fast; if not faster, for the wages of a typical McDonald’s worker. This includes software and operations work for everything from banks to airlines. Half of Nokia, Sony and GE’s software is developed in India. Seems feasible for a country producing half a million engineering graduates in a year. Number crunching work for financial firms like Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase are done by Indian MBAs. Most low-level editorial work for Reuters is done there too. This is difficult news for the white-collared, left-brained worker of the developed world. Also, machines proved that they could replace human backs in the last century. While technology is proving it can replace human left brains in this century. So any job that can be reduced to a set of rules, or a set of repeatable tasks, is at a risk.

For much of history, our lives were defined by scarcity. Today it’s not scarcity, but abundance. Abundance defines our social, economic and cultural lives. It has lifted our standard of living to remarkable levels. It has made us rich. But left-brained thinking has also produced an ironic result in its triumph. It has lessened its own significance. While placing a premium on less rational and more right-brain sensibilities. Such as beauty, spirituality and emotion. We no longer create products purely on price or function. We create them on meaning and beauty. This has led to a new middle class-obsession with design.

Abundance has brought beautiful things to our lives. But material goods haven’t made us any happier. This is the essence of the paradox of prosperity. Which is why more people, free from prosperity but not fulfilled by it, are searching for meaning instead. As social critic Andrew Delbanco puts it, the most striking feature of contemporary culture is the unslaked craving for transcendence. It is this craving that’s made yoga mainstream business. Just as books on meditation and spirituality are too. Meaning and purpose in life is now more crucial than ever.

We’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. Now, we’re progressing yet again, as put by Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind, into a society of creators and empathisers, of pattern recognisers and meaning makers. In other words, we’ve moved from an economy built of people’s backs to an economy built on people’s left brains to an economy built more on people’s right brains.

Columbia University’s medical students are being trained in narrative medicine. For it turns out that a patient’s story could sometimes tell more than diagnostics. Yale’s medical students are learning the art of observation from their art school. For it turns out that painting helps pick subtle details of a patient’s condition. Japan tops the world’s scores in maths and science. Yet it’s recreating its education system to foster greater creativity, artistry and play. Which is why Japan’s most lucrative export isn’t automobile or electronics today, but pop culture.

Asia has turned MBA graduates into this century’s blue-collar workers – people who entered the work force with great promise, only to see their jobs move overseas. While corporate recruiters are now looking to art schools for talent. America’s art and design industry now employs more people than in law or accounting. Global giants like Unilever employ painters and poets to inspire the rest of their staff.

In a world tossed by abundance, Asia and automation, as identified by Pink, left-brain directed thinking remains necessary but no longer sufficient. We must become more proficient in right-brain directed thinking and its aptitudes. Just as the factory workers of the Industrial Revolution learnt to bend pixels instead of steel, today’s knowledge workers need to command a new set of aptitudes. They’ll need to do what workers abroad can’t do equally well for much less money. This means using right-brain aptitudes to forge relationships rather than execute transactions. Applying aptitudes like empathy, design and play over logic and function. Tackling novel challenges instead of solving routine problems. Synthesising the big picture rather than analysing a single component.

Back in the savannah, our ancestors weren’t plugging numbers into spreadsheets. They were telling stories, putting play into seriousness, showing empathy, designing innovations and doing things with purpose. It is these abilities that have defined what it means to be human. These are fundamental human attributes. But after a few years in the Information Age, these muscles have shrunk. It’s time to work them back into shape. For right-brain directed thinking, once disdained for its artistry, empathy and longer view, is what decides who gets ahead now.

Lure of unreason

The philosopher Thomas Aquinas found that the pursuit of wisdom, through reason, is the most perfect, sublime and profitable of all human pursuits. As did Voltaire, Paine and Aristotle, who all maintained that happiness, from the use of reason, is the ultimate goal of life. For many such great thinkers, reason is the greatest good to which humans can aspire. The trouble is, many of us are notoriously good at abandoning it.

Reason is a faculty that separates us from all other living things. It is basically a cause, explanation or justification for an action or event. But as a powerful tool it's demanding. Like many power tools, it’s difficult to use well too. And we’re not up to the necessary mental exercise.

We often fall short of being reasonable for many reasons. Sometimes we’re beaten by emotion. Sometimes we fall prey to logical fallacies. Sometimes figuring out pros and cons seem trivial. Sometimes we just don’t want to be. But mainly because many of us aren’t as good at it as we might wish. Even when the ability exists, some are just not inclined to use reason well, or especially often, or to the determination shown. Therefore, when it comes down to the things that count — whether to marry someone, have kids, or commit to a political ideology – most of us don’t bother counting.

Humans are, by nature, characterised by reasoning above all else. And yet, much of impressive thinking has been used to debunk its role. Because emotion seems sexy – it’s cool, exciting, juicy and heart-thumping. Whereas reason, by definition, is unsexy – it’s boring, dry, head-pounding and number-crunching. So a rejection of reason seems reasonable. Consider how rare it is for someone caught in the grip of strong emotion to be overcome by a fit of reason, but how often it goes the other way. Even trying to be reasonable can trick us into emotion, usually negative and troublesome ones. And when faced with difficult situations, in which reason alone may be unhelpful, we shift gears into yelling, crying and so on. Strong emotion can be wonderful, especially when it involves love. But it can be terribly horrible, when it calls for hatred, fear or violence.

Even the most rational of humans aren’t strangers to unreason. Pythagoras sacrificed a bull to Apollo just after inventing his geometry theorem. Isaac Newton tried to explain the predictions in the Book of Daniel despite discovering gravity. Blaise Pascal gave up mathematics to pursue religion after founding the Probability Theory. He even famously said, ‘the heart has its reasons that reason does not know.’ As did the English poet Henry Aldrich, who in his ‘Reasons for Drinking’ said, ‘sometimes we make up our minds first, and find reasons only later.’ When reason and unreason clash, people sometimes choose the unreason to be stubborn, to disagree, or just because.

People don’t just want to abandon reason; they’re not up to the task either. Let’s take the Game theory of mathematical economics. Founded by John Nash – the subject of the film The Beautiful Mind – it assumes that people seek to maximise their positive outcomes. However, we don't often see logic-based maximisation of outcomes in practice. We turn to bounded rationality instead of true rationality. A finding put forward by the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Herbert Simon. Which means the capacity of the human mind to formulate and solve complex problems is very small compared to the size of the problems whose solution is required for objective rational behaviour in the real world.

Reasoning is also bounded by practical constraints. Which means, when it comes to evaluating outcomes in real-life situations, people are more likely to pay attention to the basic distinction of ‘satisfactory or unsatisfactory’ rather than to go for the perfect maximisation of Game theory. And so emerged the term ‘satisficing’ – a hybrid of satisfying and sufficing. Instead of obtaining perfection, people are likely to sample their opinions and choose one that is satisfactory because it suffices. Which is why people looking for a new car, or a house, or even a mate, nearly always stop looking after finding something or someone who meets certain simple, realistic requirements.

Perhaps abandoning reason may be a kind of strategy - an unconscious one played out by evolution. As Simon found, our mind is indeed capable of solving many of the problems posed by the real world, not simply because the world is big and the mind is small, but because the mind did not develop as a calculator designed to solve logical problems. It evolved for a limited purpose; to maximise our evolutionary success. This is its most important, natural function, not reason. And as the evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides found, it is not adapted to solve rarified problems of logic. There’s nothing in the biological specification for brain building that calls for a device capable of high-powered reasoning, solve abstract problems, or provide a clear picture of the outside world beyond what's needed to enable its possessors to thrive and reproduce. Our rationality is bounded not merely by our inherent limitations as small creatures in a large universe. It is bounded more so by what our brains were constructed - that is, evolved - to do.

Reason may seem like a complicated logical analysis. But as David Barash puts in The Survival Game, at it's heart it's simply a means to an end. Which is perhaps why animals often act more reasonably than humans. As a means to an end, reason is only a guide to achieving potential outcomes. Sort of like a road map. And like any map, it can only tell us how to get to somewhere, not where to go.

Thinking beyond purpose

There is a difference between existence and essence. Best understood by the classical thought experiment of humans versus hole-punchers. Before the hole-puncher we got at the stationary, there was the hole-puncher factory. The factory was built on certain specifications that someone designed. And before the hole-puncher itself, there was the idea of paper, holes, punching holes in paper, and making a machine for that purpose. As soon as the hole-puncher exists, it’s playing the part assigned by its designers. We buy it and put paper into it. It then punches holes into the paper. This is its essence; it’s purpose. To use it as a paperweight or a hammer is to go against its essence. The essence of the hole-puncher precedes its existence. To the hole-puncher, and almost all other machines, essence precedes existence. To the humans, existence precedes essence. But only some of us understand this.

The human being ‘exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself,’ said the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. And the science writer Brian Christian, in The Most Human Human, explains that what really defines us is that we don't know what to do. Each of us, individually, have to make it all up from scratch. We don’t know what we’re supposed to do, where we’re supposed to go, who we are, where we are, or what comes next. This, to most of us, is stressful. Existence without essence is stressful.

Which is why many, including the subscribers of intelligent design, put essence before existence. Because it’s easier to believe that the human being is a designed thing. A thing with a purpose. Getting people to say things like, ‘Bolt was born to run.' It is therefore critical to understand that while our body parts may have an essence, we ourselves don’t — our bones and blood have a function, we don’t. Aristotle sums it in his view that hammers are made to hammer and humans are made to contemplate. Which means, essences or purposes aren’t discovered because they don’t exist ahead of us. They are, instead, invented.

We invent purposes, just as computers do. The computer was initially built as an arithmetic organ. It now turns out to process almost anything. The computer is probably the first machine to precede its essence. It was first built, and then came what to do with it. Apple’s ‘There’s an app for that!’ marketing rhetoric proves just that. Our relationship with technology has evolved accordingly. We don’t decide what we need first and then go buy a piece of technology to do it. We buy a piece of technology first and then figure out what we need it to do. With both humans and computers, the idea of existence precedes essence.

But when existence precedes essence, there’s a struggle to define the essence. Because it appears that the human being is nothing at all. And that goals really don’t matter. But because our lives are filled with forms of games. It helps to look at goals through games. A game is basically a situation in which a clear or an agreed definition of success exists. For a private company, there may be a number of goals, any number of definitions of success. For a publicly traded company, there is only one: returns. Not all business is a game — although much of big business is. In real life however, as observed by Sartre, there is no real notion of success. If success if having the most number of Facebook friends, then our social life becomes a game. If success is gaining entry into heaven upon death, then our moral life becomes a game. Life itself is no game. There is no finish line. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado puts is well, ‘Searcher, there is no road. We make the road by walking.’

So, while games have a goal, life does not. Putting us into an anxiety of freedom. Where anything that provides temporary relief from existential activity becomes life. This is why games are such a popular form or procrastination. And this is why, on reaching our goals, the risk is that the reentry of existential anxiety hits us even before the thrill of victory. To the point that we’re thrown immediately back on the uncomfortable question of what to do with our life.

Zen philosophy observes that we’re always trying to do something, trying to change something into something else, or trying to attain something. Trying to find the real essence. When the really beauty of essence goes beyond the essence itself; the existence. Beyond the idea of trying to attain something.

By putting existence before essence, we’re celebrating true originality and authenticity. Which is why Bertrand Russell stressed that men and women have need of play, of periods of activity having no purpose. Which is why Aristotle understood that the best form of friendship is the one with no particular purpose or goal. Which is why besides us, we regard dolphins and bonobos — animals that have sex for fun — as the smartest.