The Australian advertising industry has been accused of suffering from copycat syndrome. The requirement to produce the same type of output is quashing pride, causing some adlanders to be apologetic for their work.
“Unless there’s pride in the industry, pride in delivering business value for clients – and enjoying it – we won’t encourage the best talent to join our industry which means our industry won’t get better over time,” says Lowe Profero CEO, Wayne Arnold.
“I hate that sometimes adlanders hate adland… we need to be more proud of the industry we work in.”
With a career spanning the globe – from North America to the UK and Australia – Arnold argues that advertising professionals in Australia, and to an extent Britain, are unnecessarily apologetic about working in the industry.
Without pride, there’s a lack in business value which stifles creative output. “It is a vicious cycle,” says Arnold.
Arnold compares the state of play locally to North America, where he says advertising is considered to be more of a legitimate career choice.
“In Australia, if you’re sitting around the dinner table and someone asks you what you do for a living and you reply with ‘I’m a doctor/lawyer/banker’, they’ll respond, ‘Oh, how nice’.”
If instead you work in advertising, Arnold believes the dinner table folk would say: “Oh, so you make all those adverts that disrupt my TV program.”
He reckons in the States, advertising is better received because of platforms like the Super Bowl which give adlanders the opportunity to take risks and showcase their most creative work. And it’s work that make the crowds feel warm and fuzzy.
Toby Hemming, director, Bold Media agrees with Arnold. He says: “I just think people play it too safe here. There’s not enough creativity and you see it with the same thing being done over and over again. In the States, because of the big budgets they’ve got, they tend to be more risk-taking.”
Hemming cites the example of Woolworths and Coles. He says: “There’s been no disruption to the market so there’s no spiral of creativity where there should be. Banging on about Fresh Food all the time isn’t going to make me switch from one to the other. It’s not telling me anything about them at all.”
Hemming agrees that Australian industry folk can be apologetic for executing banal output and says a lack of risk-taking is to blame. He says: “My big gripe would be there’s a lot of talk about creativity and pushing the boundaries. But if you actually look at the majority of the output it’s probably no different to what it was 10 years ago. The whole thing really just needs a kick up the arse.”
“We have cultivated some amazing talent in this country, and they’re probably frustrated because they have to produce the same thing all the time. Really boring, run-of-the-mill stuff. I think clients think that’s what people want but you’d be surprised,” says Hemming.
Paul Swann, creative partner at The Works, likens the problem to a copycat syndrome. He says: “It’s when inspiration becomes imitation. For example, Old Spice comes up with the man your man could smell like, which is heartbreakingly perfect. Then you’ll have this slew of imitations for the next 12 months, but they’re done with a fraction of the budget and a fraction of the pedigree of talent. Therefore the result is a bland facsimile and it’s a genuine trap for people in the industry.”
With a solid shake up, Hemming is confident “the general public would then feel in tune with the industry”.
Despite this lean toward carbon copy output, Swann would much rather be working in adland than bankland and he doesn’t feel “all that apologetic” about it. He admits, though, people might feel apologetic because advertising involves “pulling on emotional levers and creating problems for people they didn’t necessarily know they had”.
“There is a spectrum, and it comes down to how much unnecessary angst you want to create in people’s lives,” says Swann. Still, he’s not saying sorry for the fondness the general public has towards certain ads. “They all love a good beer ad,” explains Swann.
Lowe Profero’s Arnold agrees that adland is a fun place to be, “I used to be a lawyer. Lawyers and bankers are generally pretty miserable,” he says. But he admits adland in Australia could benefit from a dose of pride and re-defining what success looks like in “alternate industries”.
“What we don’t have in advertising is that shiny skyscraper; I remember being a 20-year-old kid and wanting to study law so I could work in the city, wear sharp suits and basically be in a skyscraper. Once you’ve got that, you realise it’s a pretty horrible place to be. You think that’s what success looks like because you see it on TV,” explains Arnold.
“When we’re at our best, we not only entertain, but crucially, we drive millions and billions of dollars of revenue, resulting in increased share price value for our clients,” says Arnold.
And to get there, Arnold says it requires a change in culture that “starts at the top”. Hemming agrees, but adds: “It would take a big brand, like Telstra, to grow some balls, stand up and say ‘Let’s do something really different’.”