04 May

Is creativity (in advertising) dying?

I caught up with my old advertising (copywriting and art direction) tutor, last week – the irrepressible Tony Cullingham.

Over coffee, we had a general chat about adland, previous students on ‘the Watford course’ (how they’re doing, what agencies they’re at etc), possible opportunities for myself (Tony is fantastic at trying to link up former students with agencies), and how the adland landscape is looking.

From this conversation, one thing struck me as sad. I mentioned that I’ve been going the route of content writing, rather than the original training I had – conceptual copywriting and lateral thinking.
He said that this is, in part, the direction in which adland is going: agencies seeking out content writers, social creatives, and social media managers almost as much as they’re seeking out traditional copwriters or copywriter and art director teams.

Why does this strike me as sad?
Well it seems that, in some ways, we’ve (clients, agencies, freelancers) all stopped thinking. We’ve gone down the route of;  ‘Everyone is on the internet, so I’ll have to just catch them on there’.

Traditional creative positions appear to be dying a slow death; skilled art directors, impassioned copywriters, and hybrid copywriter/art directors.
I remember the most talented individual in my year (on the Watford ad course) being a chap called Paddy Fraser.
Paddy started off as a purebred copywriter. He was strong-willed, talented, and didn’t want to be tied to a creative partner. Instead of looking for an art director to pair up with, he just made sure he was a brilliant all round creative.
He learnt how to use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign over the course of a week, in a concentrated burst, so he could tart up his ideas properly.
When he realised he wasn’t great at drawing, or creating ‘scamps’ (rough layouts of concepts, in marker pen … good enough for people to understand the idea shown), he buried himself in Tony Hart books and learnt how to draw basic human and animal forms. He then started producing decent scamps for his porfolio.
When he realised he wasn’t a great painter, he buried himself in watercolour painting for a week, used this for an ad campaign for Persil, then edited his paintings in Photoshop. The standard was as high as any ‘natural’ art director on the course.
Paddy went on to become a fantastic one-man-band creative, and is now a Creative Director at Mother.

…and this is exactly the kind of talent I worry will die out, if everything goes the route of content marketing and social media campaigns.
Young creatives will come out of college only able to work across the same platforms, only versed in long copy/content, only able to tweet snippets.

The cracking posters, press ads, direct mail, and TV campaigns of the past may well die out, replaced by ‘targeted campaigns’ which are just literal; ‘you like swimming… here’s some interesting information about swimming… buy this product’.
Again, this saddens me. It sounds like the ad / marketing industry isn’t asking for great lateral thinkers as much.

Apart from anything else, I used to love looking up the great creative teams/duos of the past – seeing how they worked together – or reading a quick, snappy press ad or poster campaign and thinking; ‘wow, that’s cool – what a great, simple, creative concept… how did they come up with that??’
If things continue along their current path, I’m now going to have to read long content or a very literal, but slightly quirky, email/blog post for every campaign … and the content will have to be slightly longer so Google can index it, pick it up, and it can be found quicker: the tail is wagging the dog.

I find myself thinking; what’s happened to the Economist posters, Silk Cut posters, VW press ads, RSPCA press ads? What’s happened to the thought-provoking ideas that made us stop and think… and act.
In essence, we’ve become mechanical, both in the way we consume media and the way we’re aimed at. Creativity is making way for ‘reach’.
It’s becoming a case of; ‘forget making the audience think: how can I get to them… in their home, on their screen… at the right time?’.

It’s sad, and it scares me. I know I have to change with the times and do work on content/social campaigns to earn a crust,  and I console myself by trying to make targeted campaigns as interesting and engaging as possible… but lateral is going out the window for ‘functional’.

We live in a modern world and we have to reach people in a modern way, but am I the only one who’s sad that old school creativity, and conceptual thinking, is dying?
Am I the only one who is sad that traditional creative teams may be a thing of the past?
Am I the only one who is sad that advertising is becoming targeted and functional (‘well as long as we reach the audience with the message, that’ll do’)?

Copywriters, art directors, agencies, clients… please let me know what you think.

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