Let me start this post by saying that I fucking love YouTube. It’s full of the most amazing shit that I would never otherwise have seen.
And it’s free!
Shit my leg off.
It’s great recreationally, but we also know the impact YouTube has had on the creative side of advertising in the last few years: a non-stop torrent of clips from which to take inspiration that must have widened tenfold the frame of reference of the average creative.
And that would be great if the issue ended there.
Alas there are a couple of downsides, where this wondrous tool has hindered as much as it has helped:
1. YouTube as judge, jury and executioner.
The weekend’s discovery of an ad that’s similar to the new John Lewis commercial brings this issue into focus. I mentioned that the team involved were too good to have consciously remade an ad that already existed and I’m certain that is the case, but the similarity is out there for all to see and for all to judge. In the absence of a signed affidavit from the people concerned, ANY ad that is now released will also be subject to the same scrutiny. Is that fair? Well, the problem is that all too often the presumption of guilt is the first port of call. This may be due to the ingrained reflex of the ad creative to call ‘Unoriginal!’ on anything with any obvious precedent. Now the ‘source’ material you may not even have been aware of can be plucked from obscurity and blogged (sorry, guilty as charged) and commented on.
However, the big problem is that pretty much everything has a precedent of some kind, as this site shows. In the past, people didn’t mind that you nicked/were inspired by a scene from a movie:
But now, if you happen to use a single frame or photograph to inspire your work, people will cry foul.
It blows up out of all proportion the issue of how creative a creative is, and there’s nowhere to hide.
2. Youtube as diluter of the creative department’s status.
I firmly believe that people admire what other people do for two reasons: one is the inherent quality of the achievement and the other is the degree of difficulty involved in achieving it. The latter is what’s under the microscope here.
For the last twenty years the Apple Mac has made this job far easier than it used to be. I wrote about this a while back, but this actually meant that the clients gradually realised that a colour/logo size could be changed at a touch of a button, one hundred times if need be, right up to one minute before the supply deadline. So that’s what they now do: changes are many, late and much less expensive (chargeable) than they were before.
Now, the proliferation of ads that use YouTube clips as reference has meant that the TV part of our job also looks much easier to a client. If you show a client a clip then ask him for £350,000 to remake it, that just seems to the client that creative departments are stuffed with people who (very expensively) search YouTube all day. Now why would they respect that? Why would they think that wasn’t something they could do with a spare afternoon? Of course, the creative process is much, much more than the initial reference clip, but I can understand why an uneducated client might think that he’s not getting value for money, and that creatives do very little that he couldn’t do himself. In addition, they see a director getting £50k for remaking the clip, and wonder exactly what creatives do that is worth what he pays.
You may have noticed that the rise of YouTube has coincided with a fall in the standards of creative work. Is that because we are less impressed with YouTube clips that have new logos on the end, or is this just one part of a general slide towards oblivion for advertising creativity? Either way, it means we will get less respect and less pay and it will be very difficult to turn that situation around.
3. YouTube as reference.
We’re all aware that you can no longer simply show a scamp or a script and hope that is enough to convince someone to let you make it. Reference is where it’s at. You may or may not use reference to clarify an idea to your partner or CD, but when it comes to client meetings you’d better have a clip that lays it all on a plate. YouTube is a massive repository of these pieces of film which help lead the client by the hand into waters that are familiar, that he can see working. If you jump straight into the unknown, the client may well be too scared to follow, after all, he might need to persuade his boss, and without that clip from an old episode of Dogtanian and the Three Muskerhounds, how can he possibly hope to do that?
That might seem like an upside – making the persuasion of clients easier – but it also means that you end up having to make ads that are very similar to the source material, and that reduces originality, further depleting the perceived contribution of the creative.
Overall, it can take the client behind the curtain and show him really clearly how we do what we do. In the old days (you know, the days when people thought the ads were better than the TV programs), the making of ads was an interesting mystery which was given the time, money and respect it needed to become as good as it did. The guy who wrote Heineken Refreshes… (Terry Lovelock) did so after a month of failure was followed by Frank Lowe packing him of to Marrakesh for one last chance. Indulgent? Maybe. But that was one hell of a piece of work, and if it came about via a month of nothing and a Moroccan holiday, who are we to argue?
Nowadays, the other people in your agency want to keep the creative down. The funny thing is, we’re colluding wholeheartedly in that process. We’re turkeys voting for Christmas; we’re Tiger Woods leaving messages on hookers’ voicemails; we’re the fresh meat on D-wing and we’re dropping the soap on purpose.
The above downsides to YouTube may not be readily apparent, but I believe they are helping to finish us off (and not in the good way that masseuses finish you off).
Please feel very free to tell me I’m wrong.
I’d love to be.