Brandmaker Express is onto something

'I have been over into the future, and it works.' - Lincoln Steffens
As for me, I found the future on the Internet the other day. A colleague suggested I log onto www.brandmakerexpress.com, so I did.
The future is owned by four people in an office on West 30th Street, Big Apple, USA, which if I remember the neighborhood correctly, probably once housed somebody who knocked off designer dresses. Their Web site is very professional, very lively, and starts off like this:
'1 - Problem: The project goes on and on. Answer: Brandmaker Express takes only 10 days.

‘I have been over into the future, and it works.’ – Lincoln Steffens

As for me, I found the future on the Internet the other day. A colleague suggested I log onto www.brandmakerexpress.com, so I did.

The future is owned by four people in an office on West 30th Street, Big Apple, USA, which if I remember the neighborhood correctly, probably once housed somebody who knocked off designer dresses. Their Web site is very professional, very lively, and starts off like this:

‘Brandmaker Express solves the three most persistent problems that clients endure with branding, positioning, and new products projects.

’1 – Problem: The project goes on and on. Answer: Brandmaker Express takes only 10 days.

’2 – Problem: The project produces lots of paper, few choices, and no marketplace realism. Answer: Brandmaker Express gives you 15-17 fully developed ideas, each in true-to-life introductory ad format.

’3 – Problem: The project fee is obscene. Answer: Brandmaker Express costs just $30,000.’

Hmmm. These people are attacking basic agency principles. Either they should be indicted for treason, or somebody should have Luca and Vinny pay them a call. Nevertheless, let’s go on.

On the next page, they tell you how it works, again in strong, economical prose. Essentially, you get three meetings and a lunch. A briefing, a client brainstorming session, a ‘creative experts’ brainstorming session, then the four partners lock themselves up for 10 days and emerge with greatness.

It’s on this page, however, that the Brandmaker Gang really gets subversive. They say, in big sans-serif letters, the following:

‘We have always believed that deliberation is the enemy of success; that speed allows great brand-building ideas to happen before over-thinking and bureaucracy have a chance to gum up the works.’

Oh my god. That blows everything. It is a cardinal principle that great ideas take months, so the agency can bill a lot. I suddenly remember a real-life scene in a Bloor Street boardroom, during what may have been the most famous new-business competition in this nation’s history.

The agency creative director, an impetuous chap by nature, started to explain his solution to the problem before the client had finished the briefing! I have never seen such horror on the face of the agency’s Hugo Boss suits in my life. If they could have ejected him, chloroformed him, slain him, they would have done so in a minute. Creative idea development is supposed to be a sacred ritual, as complex and ceremonial as a Masonic rite, and lasting several times as long.

These Commie bastards are saying you can do it in 10 days. Well, yes, you can. In fact, I once did four campaigns on a lunch break. I was chairing a workshop at York University, and trying to demonstrate the client approval process, so I divided the class into four groups, agreed on four strategies, gulped a sandwich and executed them by 2 p.m.

Were the campaigns crap? No, they were not. As a result of that performance, I got the highest student evaluation in the whole workshop program, and weeks later, a major piece of real new business from one of the participants. I am, you see, despite the shy forelock-tugging I do in this column, a goddamn good professional.

Were the campaigns great? No, they were not. Of course it takes more time than a lunch break, or two weeks for that matter, to create outstanding work. And it takes more than a bunch of creative guys – it takes good consumer research, good planning perspective, etc., etc., etc.

When you get to the samples page of the brandmakerexpress website, the work proves this point. Their ads are pretty much slicked-up versions of what I banged out at lunch — very professional, nothing to be ashamed of, and yet still just a bunch of sevens and eights. No tens. We need tens.

And yet … and yet, these guys on West 30th Street are onto something. They are capitalizing, big time, on the huge dissatisfaction with the traditional agency process — the client restlessness that lets independents like Base and me thrive, and creates experiments like Labatt’s Grip. I’ll bet they get lots of phone calls. In fact, I’ll bet more than one Canadian client reads this column and sneaks a quick look at www.brandmakerexpress.com.

That quote at the top of this column describes a trip that Mr. Steffens took in 1919 to a place that had just overthrown the traditional process and replaced it with something they called the Soviet Union. Well, in the long run, the Soviet Union didn’t turn out to work…but it sure scared the hell out of a lot of people in the meantime.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.