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Steve Walls and Mats Michael Olsen.

Brilliant advertising is messy. Embrace the madness, not the methodology.

A conversation with Steve Walls.


27. juni 2024

Av: Mats Michael Olsen, kreativ leder i Spoon


My LinkedIn looks something like this: Inbox full of sales pitches, network requests from people I’ve never met, and an endless feed of gurus, preachers, coaches, and breakfast seminars.

Amongst all this dull, bland monotony, is also Steve Walls.

Walls does strategy at Moon Rabbit in Zurich. He has worked the last twenty years as a planner and a strategist in highly regarded agencies such as Ogilvy, Publicis, TBWA.


MM: So, Steve. Is there a process for brilliant advertising?

SW: Brilliant advertising always looks easy in retrospect. Lay it out in the neat boxes and conventions of an effectiveness paper or case study and the link between end results, creative work, strategy, and the initial problem seem so blindingly obvious we start to wonder what all the fuss was about.


“Anyone given that brand and that brief was bound to succeed, surely?”

“If you’d given me Barbie and a budget I’d have crushed it too.”


But the logic displayed in clear eyed case studies is a million miles from the mess of the making.


MM: Ok, let’s peek behind the curtain, how does it really work?

SW: Getting to great work is messy. It’s a series of dead-ends, arguments, late nights, brutal rejections, blind leaps of faith, moments of luck, the endless search for a fresh perspective and lots and lots of dogged determination.

MM: So great work is messy work?

SW: The view back to great work looks down a cleared path that didn’t exist as you scrambled through the undergrowth on the way towards it.

But fuck do we want it to be simple. To be more reliable. To be more easily repeatable. To be more a process and less of an adventure.

Enter the “Gurus”.

MM: Mhm. I have them in my feed as well.

SW: There are people out there who “for less than the price of a Latte a day” will sell you their magic box of tools. These tools, they promise, will clear the way to clear eyed excellence quickly and without fail. Just pull out the model, fill in the boxes, remember the acronym and Bob’s your uncle, your aunt and your first cousin.

MM: I guess you won’t be signing up for their masterclasses any time soon?

SW: It is, of course, utter bollocks! Great work is a result of the mess of minds meeting, not of the order in which the information is laid out. But still, they persist – these men who tell you that the way to get to “out of the box thinking” is to “buy my proprietary series of boxes.”

MM: Starting from scratch every time is scary though. I can see why people would want to buy a “magic box of tools” that provides a consistent and reliable framework. I would be tempted to go for the same deal.  

SW: And it’s tempting. The shortcut. The guarantee. The security of a clear signposting. Tempting enough to keep them in mink, pink on the flush of subscription dollars.


But I say don’t fall for it. Anyone who tells you the answer to your problem is a pay per use process is lying to you. Here’s to the mess, the meetings, the false starts, the arguments, the sighs, the u-turns, the moments of madness and togetherness and community. Embrace the madness, not the methodology.


Mats Michael Olsen

Kreativ leder

mats.michael@spoonagency.no 918 44 058

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