Learn from the masters
Most young creatives believe they’ve nothing to learn from the older generation – but they couldn’t be more wrong.
Being informed that your creative work was way ahead of any other agency is fantastic to hear. And although it hasn’t happened to us, imagine losing a pitch because a client chose instead to believe the other agency as they promised they’d deliver the leads they wanted via SEO and programmatic science.
It’s quite sad to discover that a lot of today’s marketers don’t know the difference between marketing strategies, marketing channels and marketing content. And in some cases we’ve had to write pitch and campaign briefs on behalf of potential clients! Of course SEO and programmatic science can find your customers online, but unless the creative content they see is persuasive and relevant they won’t even notice it, let alone buy. People accept offline advertising and remember the best examples of it. But they tend to hate online advertising and get irritated by it invading their screens and actively block it.
This current devaluation of creativity in the minds of our clients is somewhat mirrored within our advertising agencies. Since its launch in 1962 and once every young creative’s bible, the D&AD Annual this year added an ‘M’ and described itself as a ‘Manual’. Inside there are exercises designed to teach creatives how to generate ideas. When we all entered into the advertising industry in the 80’s, we were desperate to learn and we had heroes to look up to and learn from, creatives like Dave Trott, David Abbott and John Hegarty. And it was their creative work that drew us into the industry. Beautifully written magazine ads for Sainsbury’s; glamorous, funny TV commercials for:-
JOHN WEST SALMON
Ask any creative in their early 20’s today who John Webster is and they’ll look at you pan faced. They would never have watched his Guardian Points Of View ad or laughed at his Smash ‘Martians’ Commercial.
They don’t seem to have any heroes in the business, just carefully well groomed beards.
So when did young creatives start to think they couldn’t learn anything from the previous generation? When did they stop reading books about those great Volkswagen ads? When did they stop reading or caring about spelling and punctuation? Why haven’t they read the world’s best book on creativity A Technique For Producing Ideas written in 1939 by James Webb Young?
Creativity lost its way during the digital boom when almost overnight, online software meant anyone could create their own design, and therefore clients decided that art direction wasn’t a precious skill any more. If their young child could churn out pictures and typography in 10 minutes, anybody could, hence a whole new generation of digital native ‘designers’ being born.
Instead of magic marker ideas more highly finished Mac designs were presented. The copy art team fell into disfavour. Instead of teams, in most creative departments you’ll just see individuals sitting behind computers. So how do they swap ideas or chat about the best way to crack a brief? Without face to face dialogue, new digital creatives are just selecting a typeface and photoshopping images before they’ve even tested the thinking, so rather than constant interrogation and questioning it’s just become instant prettiness.
Copy has suffered somewhat too. Copy used to be a way to test your thinking. You had to put your initial idea into plain English and make sure it was strong enough to stand up. Today there are people who’ve never heard of David Abbott who call themselves ‘web copy specialists’, as if writing for a digital channel requires a different skillset than writing for print.
We also now have a new breed of digital creatives who call themselves ‘content creators’. They have business cards with ridiculous titles like ‘global head of content’. But how many of them can explain what ‘content’ actually is. Content isn’t a thing, it’s anything that can be made public in any medium, from a book to a film. So why does it need a shallow new name?
Ageism is another factor that marks a decline in creative standards. The younger generation are pushing hard for their creative director titles and salaries and combined with the fact they are ‘digital natives’ means that agency management starts believing that they represent the future. Creative directors over the age of 50 are ditched in favour of a new generation who can “do digital”. Ask any agency managing director what the ability to “do digital” is and they will probably say it means kids who can knock out a bland banner ad as fast as their account handlers can type ‘ASAP’ in the deadline field.
The result is that agencies have lost and are losing their creative teachers, the people who made those agencies great in the first place. John Hegarty put it well in a recent talk about advertising’s ageism: “In our industry, we’ve lost that sense of where we’ve come from and understanding how to go forward.” And if you think that we suddenly stop knowing how to crack a brief or craft a commercial once we hit the age of 50 then you’re very much mistaken. ‘Wrinkles’ and ‘grey hair’ seem to be bad words in ad agencies these days. But us so called ‘old has-beens’ are still doing it. And do you know what? We’ve still got it and we’ve never lost it.
The real test of the new digital generation is the quality of their work which should be better than the work of the generation that preceded it, but sadly it falls short.