Image courtesy of Mark Strozier.

It has of late become awfully fashionable to lay the many and varied problems of the advertising industry at the feet of creatives.

They are accused of many things including introspection, arrogance, irrelevance and rank stupidity.

And of all their crimes the ultimate is that they simply ‘don’t get it’.

Neither planners nor suits are collectively damned in this way.

Indeed in some circles, particularly the blogosphere, the ridicule meted out to above-the-line creatives borders on a kind of blood sport like hare coursing or bear baiting. In particular it is practiced by members of the new marketing mafia who never made it in proper advertising and consequently have a massive chip on their shoulders.

Well I’m getting a little fed up of this.

It is true that the caricature of the above-the-line-creative as preening popinjay, more interested in the podium at the Grosvenor than the commercial success of their clients has a basis in truth.
Many agencies do run creative departments that are cushioned and isolated from the changing world around us with the effect that the creative teams inside become institutionalised into a particular way of behaving. In particular some agencies still insist on segregating the creatives from the rest of the company on separate floors like oriental eunuchs might have been kept away from the rest of Court.
Many agencies do still use creative awards as the basis for rewarding their teams, so that winning gongs judged by people outside the agency with their own standards and agendas is the only way to get ahead in this business. The worst excess of this is of course the placement of an ‘award’ winning ad in marginal and often agency-bought media or editing the agency’s ‘cut’ of an ad for showreel purposes.
Many teams do have television touretts, capable of the rhetoric of ‘big ideas’ but not the ability to envisage them in anything other than script form.
Most teams still have a bizarre obsession with ads having ‘ideas’ despite the fact that they have no idea why these might or might not be important or work.
And many teams and creative directors still use moribund concepts like talkability and cut through to justify their work to the agency and client alike.
However, all this reprehensible behaviour is merely the result of a bunch of people trying to do to the best of their ability something that they have been trained to do from the outset of their careers.
If that is no longer what we want from them then we have to take some responsibility for changing the situation rather than simply making fun of the ‘old-school’ creative team, whether online or in the pub.
Many years ago advertising had a very simple task. To tell alot of people why a particular product or service was brilliant. Advertising amplified something good about the brand and ensured that enough people knew enough about it to make a purchase decision.
But things started to get complicated when the era of mass production and over supply meant that many identical products or services were now competing for our attention.
Advertising changed tack and started to differentiate identical products on emotional grounds. More than that, in the absence of difference or advantage in those products it started to believe it could be the difference. This lead to the ‘love my ad love my brand’ approach in which many of today’s advertising practitioners where schooled and which has dominated advertising discourse for 40 years. This view remains incredibly pervasive – the belief that an ad, or campaign can make the difference between two products, rather than it reporting on a quality of those products.
Indeed it is this approach that traditionally supported the high production budgets for TV advertising. Sure the ad might cost three quarters of a million to make but this sum paled into insignificance in comparison to the R&D and on-costs required to actually make the product better. In anycase a brilliant ad with an eye-watering budget might actually be more successful in getting the tills to ring.
And the approach does still work on occasion – but it has to be astonishingly good. Sony Bravia’s ‘balls’ is one such example where the ad succeeds in ‘making the difference’ between identical HDTV products with real commercial success.

That balls ad – always worth another viewing.
On the other hand what happened to Stella Artois must serve as a cautionary tale to anyone trying to pull this off. With Stella the whole ‘love my ads love my brand’ deal fell apart rather spectacularly as people continued to consume the ads with gusto but left the product on the supermarket shelf with equal enthusiasm.

The Original Stella ‘Jean de Florette’ ad and immeasurably better than the over blown indulgence of the ice skating priests.
My point in all of this is really only to suggest that we have trained generations of creatives to operate in an environment in which the products were identical and not necessarily any good. They had to make all the running if they were to make any difference.
No wonder they instinctively reach for TV – it’s the best medium, bar none, to pull off this conjuring trick. No wonder they have an awards system that values the advertising idea when that in effect was what people were being asked to consume – in other words there used to be a link to commercial success. No wonder they segregated themselves from the rest of the agency and from clients since neither party were actually a great deal of help in pulling off this endevour.
And it is for these reasons that creative departments are perhaps less fit for purpose in the new brand landscape where products have to have utility to survive consumer scrutiny, where brands arrive with fully formed and engaging ‘ideas’ behind them and where the products that are making the running are actually different not simply covered in an emotional veneer supplied by the ad agency.
That we now need advertising to perform different tasks and want new skills from our creative colleagues is a cause for restructuring the roles and relationships of people in the creative discipline not the opportunity for an outpouring of ridicule and derision in order for less talented people to score some short term points.

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