The Business of Persuasion recently interviewed IPNY Founding Partner and Creative Director Bruce Lee

IPNY’s Bruce Lee gives his thoughts on philosophy, emotion, and persuasion

Having a clear point of view or difference is key to helping an agency compete. Can you tell us a bit about IPNY’s philosophy as an agency?

This may surprise you coming from an agency that helps companies create powerful brands, but IPNY has no agency philosophy. There’s a good reason for this. With advertising evolving at warp speed you need to be quick on your feet. Words like “philosophy” feel so unchanging and written in stone. We much prefer having a standard for the work we do: intelligent, artful, compelling, human. The work is why you come to us.

I like agency philosophies when they’re expressed in the work. Can you tell me what agency philosophy gave us VW’s “Snowplow” or Dove’s “Real Beauty”? It doesn’t matter. I know more about the agencies just by experiencing those great campaigns. I worked for a time at an agency whose philosophy was proudly, “We sell, or else.” That made the bean counters tingle, but I can tell you that day-to-day those words had zero effect on inspiring great creative solutions. Those came from the combination of an insight and a sympathetic imagination, and a client secure enough to make the right decision.

Read the philosophies of the agencies you admire. The words are different but they all say the same thing: We’re optimistic, we’re storytellers, we’re truth tellers, we drive results. The real differentiator is the work. Simply, whose art do you like better? Because we’re artists. And better artists are more persuasive. They speak to our rational and emotional selves in ways that are pleasurable, mysterious and, ultimately, a matter of personal taste.

How was this point of view born and what differentiates it from competitors?

We see IPNY as being in the business of persuasion, which a lot of agencies won’t admit to. Maybe it’s because persuasion had an icky connotation dating from the days of Vance Packard. But if you go back to ancient Greece you’ll see that persuasion was one of the great rhetorical arts of democracy – essential to debate and to the process of making up your mind.

Persuasion enables us to not just “publicize” a brand, but to do the complete, multi-layered job of winning you over. From exciting your curiosity, to gaining your trust, to keeping your loyalty into the future, and all the critical touch points in between. And we play a similar role for our clients, whose internal constituencies need to understand the spirit of the brand just as much as their customers.

The product we produce may be different from what society considers art, such as a work by Flaubert or Mozart or Picasso, but our work comes from the same need to persuade, the same drive to push the boundaries of creativity. We even use the same techniques. Particularly humanity. Humanity is when a communication strikes you as true. You don’t just know it. You feel it. This is one of the ways we make a brand unforgettable. It’s a lot different than “we sell, or else.” It’s art in the service of opening minds. Harder to pull off, but boy, is it ever worth it.

Persuasion and rhetoric are at the core of advertising. Aristotle pioneered theories on both topics. Are there any other ways you see the disciplines of philosophy and advertising as connected?

I hate having to follow Aristotle but I think even he would agree that one of the least celebrated tools of our trade is empathy, which is at the core of persuasion. Empathy feeds our imagination. It lets us slip into your shoes, and lets you walk with the brand and see how great it makes you feel. We also empathize with our clients. We learn what they do to the point where we feel their business pressures as our own. This dynamic makes the work more real, more convincing.

Are the concepts of logos, pathos and ethos actively considered during the creative process while seeking the big idea or more something that can be found and analyzed in hindsight?

Actively considered? Yes, just not in those terms. Logos, pathos and ethos are a natural part of our problem solving. But we’re not alone in this. Emotion, evidence, and appeals to credibility (4 out of 5 dentists recommend, etc.) have been our industry’s stock in trade for so long, it’s refreshing to see nonlinear work like, say, W&K’s Old Spice campaign turning the old approaches on their head for younger audiences who are supersensitive to being advertised to.

Ad blockers and streaming services have changed TV, radio and digital, making it more difficult for brands to even present an argument to consumers. Is traditional media still viable? How can brands get the attention of people who are so determined to avoid them?

Brands need to be creative and find new forms to suit the times. And they will. One of our so-called traditional clients uses Instagram to give thoughtful overviews on financial investments, which is his company’s domain. You wouldn’t think a Web photo sharing service would be the right place for a discussion of bear markets and retirement income, but live and learn. People will always get closer to your brand if you make it personally interesting to them.

Regarding new and traditional media: We do both. Each requires lots of attention and artistry and guess what? They co-exist nicely. BTW, I look forward to the day we can drop terms like new and traditional and just call them what they are. They’re media.

What is your view on the “is advertising an art or a science” debate?

Debate? This was settled long ago by Bill Bernbach: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.” Though with measurability and optimization coming to the party, we now apply a little science to improve the results. OK, so we’re blending. Everybody cool with that?

Here’s the point. Brands are emotional things. And in recent years there’s been a lot of commoditization of our industry’s product. So people are less likely to understand that advertising works better when it’s art. Art harnesses the emotions, turbocharges an appeal and speaks to your soul. We don’t say this because we’re taste fairies. We say this because we’re artists, because we have an instinct for what works.