I agree with what he’s saying, but there are so many other factors involved:
1. Money. Of course people in advertising have always wanted it, but now it is the sole imperative for the vast majority of decision makers in the industry. The rise of the holding companies, who only tolerate creativity as a means to a financial end, has stifled those parts of the business where the magic happens. You need a bit of indulgent wiggle room to let talent breathe, but that is a grey area that is impossible to quantify. As a result, the leash is let out only so far and the ads stay just that bit safer.
2. Vicious circles. …And when the ads get a bit safer, they get a bit safer than that, then a bit safer still and on and on… If the gold standard of Ker-azy Kreativity is 20% duller than last year, then most agencies will work another 20% below that. Risks cost cash, so let’s have no more of the pesky things.
3. Globalisation. The more people you aim at, the less accurate your aim. If you have to hit 500,000,000 people who speak fifty different languages and have infinite cultural differences between them, one message will manage a 6/10 reaction from most of them but nothing more. But now, thanks to that financial imperative, consolidation and globalisation is where it’s at. Otherwise the shareholders might get a penny less in the dividend and the man at the top of the enormous corporation might earn a seven figure bonus instead of eight.
4. The talent drain. Either out of the country, out of the industry, many of the most creative people no longer see advertising as a job that will allow them to express themselves in a way that is properly fulfilling. If you spent your day making Drugstore, Surfer or Cog, you’d rightly feel pretty pleased with yourself and would happily pour every ounce of your thinking into the next ad opportunity. But now it seems pretty obvious that great ads are much fewer and further between (partly due to budget cuts). In addition, we now have excellent people working in the industry who get their creative kicks outside it. They know there is no chance of greatness in the day job, so they pour skill and intelligence that they would once have used for ads into some other project. And the ads get worse, and the circle gets more and more vicious.
5. The downgrading of creative status: relatively far less pay is one thing (in real terms, top creatives are paid 8 times less than they were in the eighties), but now CDs are mere employees, hired by the financially-minded people higher up the chain to produce something, anything that they can charge for. Is it good, or is it great? Who knows and who cares, as long as the money is coming in. Go Compare is a massive success, so why beat ourselves up trying to make Sony Balls? Why indeed…
So some fear of conflict might be a factor, but it’s a small part of a bigger story.