How To Give Creativity Primacy Again

OK, I’m really on holiday now. No wi-fi and a lack of enthusiasm about posting with the iPhone keyboard.

So I wondered if I could find an answer to that post I wrote a couple of weeks ago where I outlined the inexorable demise of advertising creativity.

Oddly enough, since then, two copywriters I have a great deal of respect for have suggested to me that they might be leaning in the direction of alternative careers. They would both be a great loss to the industry but their cases serve to illustrate my point to a tee.

So, can advertising do anything to keep them? Does it care? Does any of this matter?

Here are a few possible solutions that range from stupid to a bit less stupid:

1. CDs/ECDs on the same level as MDs. Most CDs/ECDs get hired/promoted by a suit. This immediately puts them in the submissive position where their voice will never count to the same extent as that of the suits. If the MD hired them then, in the back of their mind, the ECD knows he can fire them. I think Nick Bell at JWT was a good case in point. Brilliant creativity and a department who thought he was the absolute shit (that’s what the kids say when they mean something is good), but this clashed with the business side, so what gave? That’s right: the creativity. MDs need to hire CDs and say ‘Right. This is ground zero. We are all together. One man, one vote. All equal. Let’s make some fucking good ads.’

2. Stop pandering to arsehole clients and their need for quantity over quality. We all like to think we’re getting value for money, but fifteen ‘routes’ on a brief is mindless fuckwittery. If any department in London was capable of producing even five equally good, world-class answers to any brief, I would eat my arms. What happened to the kind of courage of convictions that led to the presentation of one route that the agency fully believed in and fully stood behind? Now it’s all about aiming at the target with a shotgun and hoping you don’t get fired. So you end up with agencies that make money but no good ads; nothing to be proud of; nothing to make the staff skip to work with a spring in its step; nothing to improve what’s on TV channels and poster sites; nothing to stop non-advertising people hating this industry and the cunts they think work in it. Sack up everyone! Risk the loss of a client. What’s the worst that can happen? Would you rather be small and good or big and shit? (That’s oversimplifying to make a point, by the way.)

3. Think twice about open plan. I have a theory that OP is a form of revenge on creatives. Why should we have offices (even the juniors FFS!) when all we use them for is to find a slightly quieter place to read The Sun with our feet up? And if Mother and W&K are open plan then there’s no possible argument against it as far as a possible lack of creativity is concerned. I think Mother and W&K are special cases where they are creatively-led agencies which work differently on all sorts of levels. The OP agencies don’t continue the emulation of Mother by getting rid off account men, and they don’t copy W&K’s half-agency/half-art gallery model. Nah, the whole thing is the taking down of creatives by the exact distance of a peg or two. Almost all the best ads in history were created in an office. Keep them.

4. Presenteeism. “Going already?” “Yes I fucking am. I have a family who are more important to me than a 25×4 ad for 16% off asparagus this weekend. Besides, if I don’t live a life, what do I put into my work? And when did this turn into being a lawyer? They earn ten times what ad people do, and that pay is compensation for the hours worked. AND I still think about the briefs I’m working on when I’m on the tube, in the shower and watching the football. Just because I’m not at my desk, doesn’t mean that I’m knee deep in class As and professional minge. So yes, I am going already. It’ll mean you get more out of me, but you just can’t see beyond that fact that someone’s having half an hour more time outside this building that you are, you sad fucking wanker.” “Oh. OK. Er…see you tomorrow then. You lazy bastard.”

5. Pay. Sorry, I know this probably applies to all departments, but the relative pay of a creative has plummeted in the last fifteen years. In the late eighties, it wasn’t that odd for a senior creative to be on £100,000 (a Seymour, as it was called). In 2009, it’s still not that odd. And I’m not saying anyone should be ungrateful about that, but in 1989 that could buy you two flats in London; now it’ll get you about two fifths of a fairly so-so one. The money is leaving and it doesn’t take Martin Sorrell to realise that that means the appeal is dwindling, and will continue to do so. If the job is becoming shit and the pay is too, why would anyone with a lot of talent and dozen alternative careers choose this one? THEY WOULDN’T. THEY FUCKING WOULD NOT. THEY WILL NOT. THEY WILL GO ELSEWHERE. THIS IS OBVIOUS. McFLYYYYY! McFLYYYYYYYY!

6. Globalisation. Shmobalisation. The Ad Contrarian has written a great post explaining how the only market in the developed world where Pepsi beats Coke is the one where they produce specific local advertising and not repackaged, globalised shit. Coincidence? Of course not. As TAC says, the more specific an ad is, the better and more effective it will be.

7. Give a shit. If you read this and you work in advertising, ask yourself if you really care whether the ads are good or not. If you’re not sure, try this simple test: who is John Webster? If you can’t answer that question, and then beyond that realise why I’ve asked it, give up now. Choose another job, another career and another way of spending 9 hours of 200 days a year that you actually care about. Otherwise, you’re going to look back at the empty hours that hollowed you out and cry about what you could have done instead.

I never said it was going to be easy. My money is still on the longish, slowish death of whatever parts of this industry we think are worth caring for. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Gandhi said ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

I’m not sure, but I have a hunch he was referring specifically to the UK ad industry circa 2009.