The Death of 'Re'

Two letters that are no longer welcome in advertising

There's an old adage in the advertising and marketing world that has been going around forever. I'm guessing the second-ever caveman who was trying to sell the second-ever wheel probably said it. I've been in the game almost 25 years, and I've heard it since year one. I may have wanted to utter it a time or two at midnight before a pitch or presentation … but I didn't. I won't. And I never will.

"It's all been done before." 

That single offending phrase—an old standby in our industry—has become such a clichéd, overused beatdown of a statement that before I even started my first creative director job, I vowed to never say it.

Why? Because for a creative person it's the antithesis of our very being. There is a fire in every creative that must remain stoked by the curious exploration of creativity itself. And for a client that is charging you to create—or even worse, a creative director in the trenches with you—starting off a project with "the phrase" (as I've seen happen time and time again) is the most damaging, buzzkill, killjoy, F'ed up thing. You just don't tell that to an explorer at the outset of the next exploration. 

When spoken, "the phrase" leads to another enemy of our industry, one that sends entire agencies and marketing departments into a flurry of the worst, ugliest defeatist behavior. Those two tiny letters of our alphabet: Re. Placed in front of unsuspecting words, they can ring the death knell for all things creative to come. Formed in this prefix, it's killing creativity in our industry. So before it can claim even one more soul, I'm killing "Re."

"Re" is dead.  

There will be no funeral. No mourning. Get over it. Starting now, you cannot and will not use "Re" again. Ever.

First, send the memo, then get ready for some panic and someone to ask, "Wait, 'Re' is dead? How? Why? But it's a part of my life, my lifestyle, my work style. It can't be dead. What happened? Does Webster know about this? Who killed it?"

You can tell them I did. And then tell them this.

"Re" has held us back for too long, especially in our industry. Oh, but you're about to start a rebrand, you say? Nope, you're going to start a brand. If your brand has no legacy, no equity or no life left in it, don't try it again. Don't redo it, don't rebrand it. Just brand it. Make it real, make it strong, make it relevant, make it new, find your brand's truth, not "Re." If you have to rebrand, you have no brand at all—you have to find what your brand stands for and create new ways to bring it to life and to people.  

And don't do it with retreads, from the same stable of agencies and thinking and strategy and tactics. Recycling is a great thing to do with your plastic water bottles, but not your brand or even your agency. How many times have you replaced your agency, only to experience the exact same results. This is the twenty first f*cking century, try something new. Sorry, Mad Men, but there are so many new, diverse and exciting creative people, companies and agencies out there, full of fresh new ideas. You just have to get off the "Re" hamster wheel.

Try discovering. Quit researching and just search. Quit resetting the same old course and set a new one. Don't renew your last retainer, last subscription or membership—find something new! Quit reimagining and just imagine. A new way, a new path, a new project, a new partner. Go explore! Be brave. Be curious. Quit letting "the phrase" that we won't speak of and two letters (which I just killed, you're welcome) define your brand, your company, your agency, yourself.

Oh, and when they ask who killed "Re," I'm Todd, a creative guy who's putting the alphabet on notice and has letters shaking in their little serifed boots everywhere.

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Todd Lancaster
Todd Lancaster is chief creative officer at GoDo Discovery Co., a creative collective in Dallas.