Hey, Agency Land – It’s Still The BIG Idea, Stupid!

Hey, Agency Land – It’s Still The BIG Idea, Stupid!
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B&T’s regular guest posters, Brian Mitchell (PhD) and Evan Mitchell, the directors of Love & Wine and founders of Gen Y brand specialists HOW&Y (howandy.net) reminisce back to a time when “creativity was king” in Adland…

“It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra behind Bill Clinton’s successful ’92 tilt at the White House. A sharp reminder to stay focused on the one big thing that really matters, in times of confusion.

The sentiment deserves dusting off for an advertising industry facing no shortage of disruption these days.

Once upon a time, a diary entry “the agency” promised fun and stimulation, clever conversation and some serious pampering. No longer – symptomatic of advertising’s fading star.

In his remorseless analysis of this loss of cachet, Madison Avenue Manslaughter, Michael Farmer dissects the causes. Some he ascribes to unavoidable forces – impact of new management philosophies, globalisation, emergence of digital specialities. But as befits a Greek tragedy, at its heart lay human factors, hubris, greed, and stubborn denial of reality.

In those days, creativity ruled. The picture Farmer paints of today is a copywriter’s hell and a bean counter’s wet dream. No longer the big idea that works, now it’s “statement of work”. Farmer’s efficiency solutions to the industry’s woes are both logical and depressing.

Twenty years ago, they might just have rescued the industry from itself, without the loss of its soul. But now the spirit of adland, its very raison d’être – creativity – has lost its privileged place. Denied even the dignity of being passed over, it’s passed off as a given.

Creativity a given – how can that be? What, all agencies are equally creative? All creative people are equally creative? Or is it that in this new world, all ideas are equally creative? The end of the “big idea” – when all ideas are big ideas. That works fine for those who believe creativity in advertising can’t be measured, and are happy to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If creativity is to take a back seat, what’s going to replace it? Currently there are two candidates, digital media and big data. Siblings, but not quite soul mates, focused on opposite ends of the funnel – the first obsessed with micro-managing what goes in, the other entranced by the possibilities of what comes out. Both have their zealous supporters.

Meanwhile, who’ll defend creativity? Plenty, still. But their arguments preach to the choir. No one with a commitment to the tech side is readily persuaded. Unless it’s those, to quote John Hegarty, who “are dependent on technology to be creative” – a distortion of the very concept.

Fact is, the big idea is a tough sell nowadays. But know what? It doesn’t matter. Creativity doesn’t need a white knight. Its status and future are secured by demographics and a generational cultural revolution. Try marketing successfully and sustainingly to a population of Gen Y-ers, without targeting their values through big ideas. The success of creativity is guaranteed by the consequences of its absence.

The industry will be saved from itself – and the winners will be those who understand that creativity can’t be taken as given. The real stuff requires real talent.

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