6 Ads You Should Watch Before Starting an Agency

Dhaval Bhatt of Courage breaks it down

A few weeks ago, as we were marking a year of Courage, Muse asked me to share some thoughts on starting an ad agency. Something along the lines of, "10 things I've learned starting an agency," or "How we built an agency culture in a world of Zoom" came to mind. You know, the usual recent-agency-founder-still-in-diapers pontificating on how to run a successful business type of stuff. 

But then, I remembered how much I like reading those self-congratulatory thought pieces. So, instead of pretending to have it all figured out, I'm sharing something that we all actually like (I really hope so, considering our profession)—ads. Ones that have served as helpful reminders, and guides, providing helpful inspiration, especially over the past year. 

Now, you're probably thinking, "Do you really turn to ads for that?" And I answer with a resounding YES!, as I flash my lifetime membership in the Ad Nerd Club. 

All jokes aside, in our business, we're very fortunate to work with some incredibly brilliant people who bring their rich life experiences and insights into the work. Work that, at its best, is deeply thoughtful, powerful and full of humanity. So, in the part of the brain where most people save inspiration found in film, music, art, literature and the world around us, I have a little corner where I also save ads. Here are a few that made their way to my prefrontal cortex as we navigated the first year of Courage.

'Swing Your Swing' - Dick's

I'm not a golfer. But if this ad isn't a perfect analogy for life, I don't know what is. I've always tried to study successful people and agencies to look for a blueprint and time and again, I've come up empty. For every hotshot who started an agency out of college, there's a legend who did it in their 50s. For every 20-person indie with perfectly content founders, there are ones with multiple global offices who participate in group chats titled "World Domination." This ad voiced by Arnold Palmer was a great reminder that the best swing for the fences is the one that feels right to you. I just mixed sports analogies.

'Grrr' - Honda

We all have things we hate, even at places we’ve loved. Starting an agency with likeminded people is probably the single best opportunity to not repeat those missteps from the start. Pitches where no decisions are made till the last second? We hated that. Treating clients like goalies who must be scored against instead of the centers who actually score the goals? Much hate. The coffee machine at the temp Courage office? Most hated. "Hate something, change something" from this Cannes Grand-Prix winner became a constant reminder to take the opportunity to be the change we wanted to see. 

'Rule Yourself' - Under Armor

It's easy to get caught up with all the trappings of our business—the shiny awards, the beach parties along the Croisette and, of course, the inevitable LinkedIn posts to go with it all. Starting with a blank slate with no work, the first 6 months were scary as hell. "It's what you do in the dark that puts you in the light," from this gem was an inspiring thought to put our head down and just keep chipping away at the work in front of us, instead of worrying about everything else.

'Hear What You Want' - Beats

Someone once said that no matter what you make, a third of the people will love you, a third will hate you and a third won't care. I mean, just ask yourselves how many times you’ve seen something selected by a jury of our industry’s top minds and said, "That won Gold?" This simple and insightful product demo for Beats' noise canceling headphones was handy on days when we needed to cancel out the noise and focus on the third rooting in our corner.

'Mountain' - PlayStation

This multi-award-winning ad may be my favorite of all time. I mean, it's over 20 years old and everything about it still holds up. But I digress. This one is a good reminder that no matter if you're on top or all the way at the bottom, you won't be staying there for too long. So don't let that head get too big up there and don’t beat yourself when you're down. Just have fun riding the waves.

'Dear Sophie' - Google

This business can be all consuming if you let it be. Whether you're an intern just starting out hoping to make your mark or starting an agency hoping to leave yours, it's important to remember why you're doing it all—the big "Why?" The one connected to the people who love you the most. The one that compels you to prioritize the after school pick up. The one that makes you not miss that recital. That 6:30 dinner. The one that when it's all said and done and the golds have oxidized to a dirty gray-brown, is what it's all about. 

Wait, I just pontificated, didn't I? Faaaak. Sorry. 

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Dhaval Bhatt
Dhaval Bhatt is founder and CCO of Courage.

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