Adland is getting into a tangle over creativity – again

Creativity is something you recognise when you see it (or you should be in another business) but it’s hard to describe.

Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland has been looking into this for, well, quite some time. He argues that adland has allowed irself to be “painted into a corner” because it has allowed creativity to be associated primarily with “verbal or visual artistry.”

Sharad Haskar

Grey London CCO Laura Jordan Bambach goes further and says (creativity) is “the business that we’re in and the most transformative superpower that humans have.”

It might be but that doesn’t make everyone in the ad business creative – indeed it’s time to reach for the smelling salts when they say they are.

Creative is the ability to produce original communications. Usually these involve the aforementioned visual or verbal artistry. By definition, not that many people are able to do this.

Others may contribute to the process of course. Researchers (who have since morphed into planners and now ‘strategists’) may play a role although very often it’s a negative one. They can tell you what’s happened before and what the public think but that’s no guarantee you’re going to produce anything original.

Suits, account people in other words, do actually have an important role to play. Left brain as opposed to right brain, it’s their job to put the benefits of what creatives produce into language even a client can understand. Most creatives are not that articulate (to many of them creative work is either great or crap) so a silver-tongued suit comes in handy.

Frank Lowe did this at, first, CDP and then Lowe Howard-Spink but even the imperious Frank never called himself a creative. What he makes of the CCOs popping up all over the place at media agencies and PR companies heaven only knows. New Commercial Arts’ James Murphy is a more recent incarnation: it’s one reason why NCA and, before that, adam&eveDDB, have won so many pitches. But neither Murphy or his sidekick strategist David Golding would call themselves creatives.

To be a creative you have to create something – not just have the odd bright idea. Creativity may, indeed, be the driver of the agency business. But for it to continue to be so it needs more and better ones, not data-minded apologists trying to grab a slice of the cake.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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