In defence of the often maligned creative.


“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

W.C. Fields

When I got into this business 20 years ago creatives and creative departments were always called the crazy ones. We were portrayed as necessary yet unpredictable. We were those long haired, leather jacket types. Apparently, we all had raucous parties, did lots of drugs and were always only seconds away from saying something inappropriate. This B Grade rock star description has stuck and has become the accepted view of Creatives. In fact, it has become something many creatives live up to because they think that is their role.

That is one description.

Recently another has emerged. It is that creatives and creative departments are an old fashioned idea. Somehow, we have gone from being the crazy ones to being old school. Now, we are all creative and everybody has ideas. Just get a banjo player in, or a juggler they are creative.  Or maybe Chris from accounts. He does watercolours. I am sure he will give you loads of ideas.

Not all creativity is the same. There is this thing called relevance and experience. There are many that want to make out that we all have this innate creative ability in us. Short answer, bullshit. Especially, when you only have a couple of hours to crack a piece of work.

This is not something I am making up. It is a thread you can see through the countless articles and blogs about how advertising is changing. The fantastic AdContrarian Bob Hoffman recently spoke about this at an Irish Advertising event. This is what he said.

There’s a mantra I hear in agencies back in the States. I don’t know if you hear it here, too. But it goes like this. “We’re all creative” or “Creative ideas can come from anywhere.” In my opinion this is bullshit.

True creative talent is a rare and precious thing.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many shitty songs, and shitty TV shows, and shitty movies? I’ll tell you why. Because it is really fucking hard to do a good one. 

The same is true with advertising. No one sits down to write a crappy ad. Mostly they just turn out crappy. Why? Because it’s really fucking hard to do a good one — and there are very few people who can do it.

If you really believe that we are all creative, then you have to believe that it’s just a coincidence that Shakespeare wrote dozens of brilliant plays and Donald Trump didn’t.

“Once you label me you negate me,” is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard that perfectly describes the issue. Creatives tend to be a little odd, perhaps not exactly mainstream. Somebody who might be a little awkward at a social gathering. Somebody who isn’t like you. So, because they are not always understood, they get labelled. I guess categories and definitions make things easier.

I have a very different view of creatives. Do yourself a favour. Break into a decent advertising agency around 8 o’clock at night. Walk into the creative department. I guarantee you will find teams working. Come in on weekends and you will find the same thing. Creatives try very hard and work very hard under a lot of pressure. Is that easy to replace? Great creatives care and will keep going until it’s right. They care more than anybody else. What is that worth? What would advertising look like if they stopped caring?

Maybe you think I am full of it. OK, let’s do a little experiment.

Let’s pretend you are a creative. You are staring at a blank screen early one morning when a brief is handed to you. You have been asked to do a 15 second ad for a product. This particular product has 18 variants. You need to give each variant the same amount of time and there is a logo that has to be up for 3 seconds. So 12 seconds for 18 variants. That is less than a second per variant. What the fuck do you do with that? Also, make sure it’s contemporary, award winning and fresh. Have fun with it. And it has to be done by the end of the day. And there are 5 other very diverse briefs on your desk.  And, there will be 5 more tomorrow and the day after that. Easy right?

That scenario is not made up. It happened to me and I suspect it has happened to many other creatives. And that, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Perhaps, you think that is an old fashioned scenario. Maybe you think things have moved on. Advertising is different now. It is another narrative that happens in our business. The new type of work that is happening. I have been hearing about this for a while now. Apparently, there is this work that creative and digital departments can’t do. For this you need other people. The problem is I just can’t find it. Almost every piece of noteworthy work in the last 5 years has had a couple of creatives involved or a creative department behind it. Whatever their job title or description is.

A modern creative is like a swiss army knife in human form. They are useful because they do so many different things and also know how to connect the pieces together. Very few people are good at this. More importantly, creatives have the one thing that makes all the machines work. Ideas. They have the illusive beginning of things. And most importantly, they know how to make them, either on their own or collaborating with others.

What a strange situation. A silly smoke and mirrors game. Everybody goes on about old fashioned creatives and creative departments and how all these other companies are the future. Labels signifying nothing. While this is happening these new companies often hire creatives from these exact old fashioned creative departments. To be clear, these are the same people. So, yesterday you were old fashioned, today you are cutting edge.

Are they the crazy ones? No, they just see our value.

A value that has nothing to do with what somebody is called, but with what they can do.













Published by dbs81270

Chief Creative Officer The Monkeys New Zealand

One thought on “In defence of the often maligned creative.

  1. Thanks for the story. So true. I like the Uncle Bob quote where he states that good creative is a fecking hard thing to do. People don’t realize that enough. (I’ve been trying to explain that for many years)

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