I'm basically the best dad in the world. I surprise yanked my twin 11-year-old boys out of school in the middle of the day and took them to see Ford v Ferrari. Great movie, blah blah blah. But as I sat there in the dark looking at the screen, I came to the realization that I was watching the last 20 years of my life play out before me.
No, I'm not a professional racecar driver. I'm in marketing. Specifically, advertising. More specifically, a creative director. I'm Matt Damon's character, Carroll Shelby. But I started out as Christian Bale's character, Ken Miles. And you? I don't know you, but you are one of these characters, too. Let me explain.
Spoiler alert! Briefly. In the '60s, Ford Motor Co. wants to attract younger buyers. Lee Iacocca convinces his boss, Henry Ford II, that they need to build sexier cars and win a prestigious auto race. To do so, Iacocca talks his boss into buying boutique sports car maker Ferrari. Ferrari says no. So they buy an American custom sports car outfit run by former world champion race driver named Carroll Shelby (Damon). Shelby knows it'll take a lot to beat Ferrari, including having the best driver in America, Ken Miles (Bale). The big show, the Clios in their world, is winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ferrari is Wieden. Independent, perfectionists, win every year.
Carroll Shelby International is your agency.
Ford is, well, Ford.
Carroll Shelby (in our world, founder and CCO) knows how to win races. Now he has won this big freaking account. His client, Ford, builds decent cars but nothing world class. But they've hired Shelby to win Le Mans (basically, a Grand Clio). Carroll needs to get Ken Miles, this super creative, slightly nuts and really contrarian driver (creative guy), to join up despite his misgivings by telling him (stop me if you've heard this before): "Trust me, we can turn this company [account] around."
Henry Ford II wants to win. But he has layers and layers of marketers who don't care about winning Le Mans. They like doing things the old way. So his heart is in the right place, but the organization he built around him is set up for mediocrity. He's got one guy who gets the vision and knows how to get there—Lee Iaccoca.
Iacocca is that one client you know in the organization who wants to do great work, because he knows it's right. And he's not scared. And the CEO of the company is giving him this shot. But his immediate boss (please tell me you're not him!) is so insecure and incompetent and scared of rocking the boat, because he's one step from the top, that he is continually fucking getting in the way.
The other Ford guys just don't get why this precious group of "beatniks" at Shelby can't accept any logical changes. They don't think the hotshot driver, Ken, is a "Ford kind of guy." And frankly, he's not. They're worried about their brand image. I get that.
Shelby is stuck. He's not some brash young driver anymore (creative guy), he's got responsibility. He wants to be supportive of Ken Miles, his driver, and he knows he's the right guy for the job, but he's got to keep the client happy or he'll lose the account.
If this all sounds like a fucking mess, and it feels exactly like your life as a client or agency person at the same time, you're right.
And Ken Miles? He has to learn what I've seen every young "fuck them" creative person learning if they end up growing and becoming famous. You may be alone in the car, but you're part of a team.
And the crazy thing? It worked! It really, really worked. They beat Ferrari four years in a row. Won the Grand Clio. I don't know how. And I watched it happen! But that's pretty much how I feel at the end of every project that turned out amazing. No idea how we crossed the line in one piece. I guess that's where we get the rush.