Flags have had a hard time of it recently. Most obviously, there has (quite rightly, in my view) been a clamour to remove the Confederate ‘Stars and Bars’ from public places in the States. Then there has been disquiet about the black flag of ISIS appearing in the UK (although one such sighting, at last weekend’s London’s Pride march, turned out to be promoting sex toys rather than jihad). Meanwhile, in October, a drone carrying an Albanian flag into a Serbian football stadium caused a European Championship qualifier to be abandoned and this December, New Zealand will hold a controversial referendum, to decide whether to change its national banner.
It will be obvious from the above that flags are often seen as negative, divisive devices in our society. But they can also be positive, unifying symbols.
When we set up Lucky Generals, the first thing we did was to make our own flag. This was partly a function of having lots of time on our hands back then (I recall that we also spent hours choosing cushions and doodling in cafés). But it was also partly out of recognition that flags have a powerful, galvanising effect, for people on a mission. Or, as one of my partners remarked: “All the cool people have them. Astronauts. Pirates. Soldiers. Cowboys. OK, maybe not Cowboys.”
A knock-on effect of this early decision was that we started making flags for all our clients too. At first, this was a relatively practical consideration: we didn’t want to do the traditional agency thing of hanging our work on the walls and condensing the core idea into a banner felt like a fresher way to dress the room.
Very soon though, our little tradition took on far greater significance. You see, we realized that some ideas simply made for much better flags than others. And these, in turn, tended to be our best ideas: punchy lines, full of attitude and action, brought to life in an iconic design.
Now when we develop a new campaign, we ask ourselves: “Would this idea make a good flag?” Not in a self-serving way, related to the quirks of our own interior design, but as a test of the idea’s brevity, longevity and power to rally people to a cause.
The best ideas have often done this, of course. (“It’s good to talk”, “Just do it” and “Every little helps” would all make great flags.) But most marketing initiatives these days would make for pretty bog-standard banners. The equivalent of the plastic tat that sponsors give away at sporting events. Or the sort of anonymous fare favoured by obscure South Sea islands. We need to create ideas with more swagger and mission than this. In short, we need more Jolly Rogers, Stars and Stripes and (dare I say it) Union Jacks.
What kind of flag would your idea make?