Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5515: The Clueless Call Out The Clueless.

The perspective below appeared at Brandweek.com. It’s another observation about the industry’s overall cluelessness. Most amusing is the authors’ use of “The Talented Tenth”—a reference coined by W.E.B. Du Bois to describe certain Blacks. Given the dearth of diversity in the industry, it seems pretty inappropriate to integrate the phrase. Perhaps the authors criticizing cluelessness ought to look in the mirror themselves. That said, the column is worth reading.

The Talented 10th—er, 15th

By Brad Nierenberg and Charlie Jones

Here’s a little something to chew on: The agency universe is suffering a rapidly declining population of managers who get it. In fact, on average, we submit that only 15% of all agency people actually get it. Think about how low that number is.

If 15% of baseball players got it, you’d only have a pitcher (plus a fraction of a catcher) on the field who truly understood the game. The rest would be fan gazing, spitting tobacco or scratching. Wait—come to think of it, that’s partly true already. Well, anyway, 15% isn’t much.

Yes, we know: We sound like snobs. But our hearts are in the right place. Honest. We’re not calling out specific agencies, here, and we’re not trying to rustle up some business. We simply want to increase the get-it population, perhaps build a colony somewhere. Why? Because get-it people get things done. They make great teachers and future leaders. They solve problems. They make people money.

So, what is a get-it person? Because, regrettably, there’s no official ID card for certified members, the task falls to brands to pick them out. It’s actually not that difficult. Use our handy guide and start right now. Fifteen percenters add value to strategic and creative discussion, but also translate creative thinking into business constructs. Fifteen percenters work effortlessly with a mix of ideas that are both highly logical and analytical (business analytics, quantitative), and talk about more abstract ideas (customers emotional need states, creative voicing).

Now: Apply just this initial description to everyone around you. Suddenly that 15% figure actually sounds generous, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s more.

Brands need agency reps with talent, creativity and expertise that can build business, not marketing valets who monitor processes. Does your account manager ask about brand favorability, sales data and other evidence of success? If he were a 15 percenter, he would. Ever notice how account reps only talk about your account? What good does constantly ping-ponging around in that bubble do? A 15 percenter sports in-depth knowledge of industry shakeups; he can predict trends. Try asking your account rep about his or her favorite industry campaign—a competitor’s campaign. Oh, wait, he can’t call one to mind? A 15 percenter could.

Today’s 15 percenters are sponges and nonlinear learners. They’ll likely have a diverse reading list including serious fiction, trade mags, history and business books. Fifteen percenters are the sort who take classes—ones not related to work. They blog. Ask them about Digg or Second Life or Mollypixie and they’ll know what’s up.

Fifteen percenters have creative pursuits, pursuits that build well-rounded human beings who, by the way, are those best suited to creating innovative branding campaigns. Fifteen percenters are the sort who keep a speckled notebook for their random observations, can play at least one power chord or have something framed that they created themselves.

Fifteen percenters recognize behavior, patterns and anomalies. They take note of things, and possess a driving need to know more, to understand. They’re the sort who notice that you just got a new haircut, a shoeshine, that you’re not feeling well. A good way to know if your account manager is a 15 percenter is to note how many questions they ask you—about anything.

For those in the 85th percentile who collect paychecks because of a bell curve, iconography like this probably doesn’t make much sense. And if it doesn’t happen to make much sense to you, well, it’s time to hide this essay from your boss. But if you are the boss, ask yourself: Is my account manager—heck, are my own people—15 percenters? If not, it’s time to look for them.

And by the way, Mollypixie is a made-up term. But the 15 percenters already did a quick Web search and told you as much.

[Brad Nierenberg is the president of Alexandria, Va.-based RedPeg Marketing and Charlie Jones serves as president of the Brand Intersection Group in Glen Echo, Md.]


HustleKnocker said...

15%? 85%? This sounds a job for Clarence X and the 5-percenters.

NOI might even want to get in on this one.

I swear while ad folks will rip off anything from black folks including the stuff we know is fulla crap.

Unknown said...

I am a little familiar with Du Bois, and I believe when he referenced the "talented 10th," he said something like "the talented 10th of every race." That is to say he wasn't merely referencing Black people.
He was making a wider comment about intellectual and social leadership, perhaps an elitist remark by today's standards, but Du Bois had a doctorate (from Harvard, I think) and thinking that way was more 19th Century than condescension.

HighJive said...


Don’t completely agree with your perspective. Most search engines respond to “The Talented Tenth” with references to Du Bois and how the term was applied to Blacks. But your perspective may be historically/technically correct too. Regardless, we were merely noting the irony of using a term with strong ties to Black culture to describe an industry where Blacks barely make up a tenth of one percent of the talented ranks.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Anonymous said...

No question that it became a heralding note for Black people.
First time I actually heard the phrase was watching the old Roots program.
Only later did I read Du Bois, and came across the reference. It may have even been part of the essay in which he identifies with the great artists and thinkers across the centuries, irrespective of their race.
I enjoy your site. Thank you for doing it.
Also nice to see an old Hollis guy doing well.

Anonymous said...

If the talented 10th was meant by DuBois to ONLY mean Black people, he was being dismissive in the sense that the rest of the race would be the untalented 90th.
But truth was--I looked it up--he wrote "the talented tenth of every race" who are the leaders, the innovators, the elite so to speak.

HighJive said...


We hadn’t really intended to analyze Du Bois. As with anything—particularly the actions and opinions of folks over 100 years ago—there are debatable and controversial components. Not convinced Du Bois ever meant to create value judgments with The Talented Tenth designation (i.e., he probably didn’t mean to label the 90 percent as untalented). Feel free to look here and here.

Again, our main observation was the irony of using the phrase in an advertising column.