Dave Dye has been head of art at agencies like Mother and JWT. Over his career he's founded Dye Holloway Murray and Campbell Doyle Dye, as well as Hello People. He has a design agency called Thingy and also runs one of the most incisive and well-read personal creative blogs in the game. And now he’s founded another new agency.
Called Love or Fear, it calls itself a ‘psychologically-driven creative agency’. Co-founded a few weeks ago with ex-Karmarama chief strategy officer Matthew Waksman and new-business specialist Allan Dutton. The pair have also brought in ex-BBH deputy executive creative director Rosie Arnold and former Hall & Partners Europe chief executive Paul Edwards as advisors.
To find out more about this new venture, LBB’s Alex Reeves sat down with him while he was in Kinsale for the Sharks Awards last week, judging out-of-home work and giving a talk about the most pared-back form of advertising ever.
Dave> What’s the most basic, amoeba-like bit of advertising you can do?
There was a deli near me with an A-board outside that sold tons and tons of different things in the shop. So, I wondered if I could take those over for six weeks and treat them like ad spaces for the shop and see if I could get someone to go in and buy stuff. I did that and monitored what happened.
It was good to do because at the end of it you think the things that worked were really simple, quite funny, had a point - basic stuff that I knew 30 years ago, but you can forget along the way. Mark asked me if I could talk about that. Other people are talking about Grand Prix winners. I’m talking about little chalk boards outside my local deli.
LBB> What are the main principles that you’re injecting into the new agency?
Dave> There are two. One is a bit like what we’ve just discussed with the boards, which is the bit that I think makes advertising better than working in a bank or a boring office block in Slough. It’s that you get to communicate with other human beings. So, if you try and use a bit of psychology and emotion and figure out how to do that, that’s amazing. If you do stuff everybody knows about and likes, that’s a really good buzz. And it’s helpful for whoever you’re advertising.
There’s a chart that the IPA showed recently that showed the view of advertising and the people who work in it. Digital comes in and it just goes off a cliff, because now I’ll get to my hotel and I’ll get bombarded with whatever I was looking at this morning saying ‘buy this fridge’. That’s annoying because it feels intrusive, but not only that, it just says ‘buy this fridge for £1000’. It’s not interesting, funny, anything. It’s just boring stuff they’re churning out. So your overall view of advertising ends up being that it’s just annoying.
LBB> What’s the second principle?
Dave> There’s the human aspect. To focus much more on emotions and humanity.
Then there’s this whole other thing which is that over the past 15 or so years, big agencies put a bet on digital, kicked out loads of communicators, got in loads of digital people. And digital has become commoditized over that period, so now anyone can build websites or make bits of digital stuff.
There are lots of people I know that are amazing but are not in big agencies anymore. I thought if there’s a way of structuring how you hire talent around the gig economy, hiring amazing people for very short periods of time, rather than thinking, ‘how do we fill up with lots of young, cheap people and keep them turning over?’ As you get older you start to value experience - whereas the industry’s at a point where there’s not lots of experience. If it was plumbing and there was a plumber who’d done it for 20 years and one who was very fresh but had only done it for one year, you’d probably want to go with the one who’d done it a lot. Advertising doesn’t really work like that.
LBB> Do you think advertising fetishises youth?
Dave> It does a bit. I probably benefited from that when I was youthful.
I guess that’s our two biggest things. When I’ve done it before, you have to come up with the best answer. I don’t think that now. I think you have to come up with the answer that you believe in. It’s not a game where you’re thinking ‘what’s the winning answer?’ You think about what you believe in and then do that. And then hopefully you find some people who agree and do work with them.
LBB> Apart from the fact that you know lots of freelance talent, what dictated the decision to work with people on more of a project basis rather than having everyone on a salary for the whole time?
Dave> It’s partly because clients are going that way as well. Whereas you used to have three-year contracts at ‘X’ amount a month, so you could arrange all of your staff costs and building costs, clients increasingly want to do this thing for three months and then they want the option to go anywhere. So it’s harder to structure an agency like that now. And the fees have come down so you have to look at other ways of funding it. Not just to deliver things but to deliver really good things.
LBB> Let’s talk about the people. I’m interested in the team that you’ve assembled. Why those people?
Dave> They’re very different. We all have the same values. Obviously, Matthew is a very different generation to me but he’s dead smart, one of the smartest planners I’ve come across. It’s a combination of having similar values but people bringing different things to the party. Allan is tremendously tenacious, Matthew’s really smart. We’ve got various people supporting in advisors roles who’ve brought unbelievable heritage with them. I wish I could give a crazier answer, but it’s people who kind of agree and seem good at their various disciplines. We have a similar sort of vibe.
LBB> What would you say the vibe is?
Dave> Someone said, ‘you look very grown up’. I laughed. And he said, ‘no, I think it’s a good time for grown-ups’. I don’t know if it is a good time for a grown up. You hear the things you want to hear but clients sometimes say they make more advertising than the agency and sometimes that’s the case. I don’t want to say we’ve got the perfect answer. We’ve got a thing we believe in and we’ll see. It’s better to be polarising than to be just another.
Stand for something, have a point of view that you believe in, rather than one you’ve made up because it sounds cool.
LBB> So there will be clients who you aren’t going to be right for?
Dave> Hopefully. I mean, there are billions of pounds worth of clients out there. You can’t attract all of them. And the risk is trying not to say anything that may put someone off.
You could say that with us trying to use the best, most expensive people for short periods of time, that some clients may think they want someone 24/7 all year. That’s fine. That’s just not our thing.
LBB> There’s a record label called Speech Development Records whose slogan is: “We may not be for you… and that’s fine.”
Dave> Absolutely. Maybe we should steal that because that’s exactly right.
Some people will say their priority is tech, not the human being at the end of it. Which is fine. There are loads of agencies for that. It’s not to say that’s wrong. It’s just not our thing.
LBB> And your other ‘thing’ is that, true to your name, you want to understand what potential clients’ loves and fears are. Why is that?
Dave> We’re called that because if you had to do a diagram from a client at one end thinking they need to sell more stuff and then you’ve got someone at the other end that you want to influence, our main thing will be what’s inside their head? With some sort of trigger to do something. And love and fear are the biggest triggers we have as humans.
It’s been interesting talking to people in chemistry meetings about what their biggest fears are. That’s different than asking ‘what’s your brief?’ When you go through briefs, they’re all very similar. They want to sell more stuff, they have certain issues. But when you talk about what they really love about other people’s ads, about their brand, what makes them scared… when you talk about the emotions you get to very different things than when you take the brief and interpret it.
When I started, it was a much more psychology-based industry and the -ology now is technology. We’re not technophobes, but my main thing is I like communicating with humans.
LBB> How do you convince clients to open up about those things honestly?
Dave> They either will or they won’t. Some people will be dishonest or won’t want to engage with it so we might not be right for them. Some people will think it’s a good process to get to the bottom of what their issues are. And we’ve got more chance of winning those.