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It’s the season of goodwill to everyone; unless of course you are an advertising creative because, according to the great British public, you should be ashamed because your latest spot is fucking terrible.

'Shameful', 'horrific', 'awful'; what absolute and catastrophic horror could the tweets refer to?

“You know what I really want? FOR THIS AWFUL SONG TO DISAPPEAR OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH.”

“Who allows this muck? Just to sell crisps that people buy anyway without advertisements! Big corps have ruined the magic of Xmas, shameful.”

“She got paid 12 million dollars and she didn’t even bite that crisp. A LEGEND.”

While Christmas is the Super Bowl of the UK advertising calendar, the real sport has fast become loudly criticising which brands... have got it spectacularly wrong.

'Shameful', 'horrific', 'awful'; what absolute and catastrophic horror could the above tweets refer to? A fundamental threat to humanity or democracy?  Or, more accurately and somewhat predictably, a selection of responses to Walkers’ Christmas advert starring Mariah Carey.

While social media has never been the best source of measured debate; the polarised reaction to Walkers’ festive spot underlines a somewhat cruel trend in the industry. For, while Christmas is the Super Bowl of the UK advertising calendar, the real sport has fast become loudly criticising which brands – and by extension agencies – have got it spectacularly wrong.

Walkers – Walkers Crisps Christmas Advert 2019

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Above: Mariah Carey in Walkers' 2019 Christmas offering.

The kindness deficit

In the age of public shaming, for the advertising industry the uncomfortable spectacle of giving an array of Christmas ads - and the people who worked on them - a good stuffing has fast become an annual tradition.

It’s an unnecessarily cruel ecosystem; one that is fuelled by the hyper-masculine nonsense that still dogs [the] industry.

In the social media age marketers and creatives are finding themselves in the firing line across multiple inboxes and social media platforms. As one marketing director recently confided, emails suggesting she ‘put a toaster in [her] bath’ have found their way into her LinkedIn inbox. Also, while at an event for young female creatives, a copywriter shared that she was attacked on Twitter for a thought-provoking campaign she had helped create.

Reputations are trashed, with context, commercial realities and limitations overlooked completely.

It’s an unnecessarily cruel ecosystem; one that is fuelled by the hyper-masculine nonsense that still dogs an industry that needs to do so much more to escape its ‘Old Boys’ Club’ reputation. The tendency to see festive advertising campaigns as being a battles not only contributes to a narrative where everyone loses but, as human beings, we lose sight of what's important. Reputations are trashed, with context, commercial realities and limitations overlooked completely.

Above: W1A's perfect portrayal of the difficulties in bringing great ideas to life.

Marketing is not a battlefield 

Even when brands get it right, in the style of John Lewis and adam&eveDDB’s long running creative partnership, the spectre of that ‘difficult second album’ is rolled out year after year. In almost W1A-style levels of short-termism, an ever-increasing array of research companies are lining up to crown the most-effective Christmas adverts before most consumers have even reached for their wallets.

We can’t afford to be fragile about our own egos when there is still so much to do.

The sharp edge of this short-termism can be acutely felt by the people behind the work. A female creative at the cusp of becoming a creative director recently explained to me the way in which her confidence was crushed by a backlash to a campaign which actually went on to have a positive impact on the brand’s bottom line.

Of course, there are areas where the industry needs to be challenged to push for progress to represent society as it truly is. Movements and individuals advocating for greater diversity in advertising are desperately needed. We can’t afford to be fragile about our own egos when there is still so much to do when it comes to moving the dial on representation, closing the gender pay gap, protecting and promoting mental health and the normalisation of so many other big societal issues the industry has been too slow to take action on.

The current climate of short-termism, and... downright bitchiness, is at risk of creating a climate where creative careers are quashed before they even get going.

Advocating for kindness isn’t about calling time on the constructive criticism; we all need to do better. But the best leaders give us the space we need for our voices to be heard, for our best work to be developed and for mistakes to be made and addressed. The current climate of short-termism, and let’s be honest here, at times downright bitchiness, is at risk of creating a climate where creative careers are quashed before they even get going.

John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners – Excitable Edgar

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Above: John Lewis's 2019 Christmas commercial, starring Edgar.


A crisis of creativity

The irony, of course, is the ever-increasing number of awards programmes across the industry. But awarding and recognising great agencies and work sporadically is no substitute for investing in a genuinely supportive culture every day of the year. Perhaps what is missing is not another trophy but a long-term culture of appreciation. One that comes not just from recognising the value that creativity brings to a business; but building a supportive, kind culture in which creative people can thrive and in which resilience can build.

It has become increasingly clear that Facebook’s ‘Move fast and break things’ mantra belongs to a bygone age.

So, this Christmas, let’s park the masculine hyperbole and instead usher in a much-needed focus on empathy. An approach that brings the humanity back into business across everything from embracing decent payment-terms to flexible working.

As 2020 approaches it has become increasingly clear that Facebook’s ‘Move fast and break things’ mantra belongs to a bygone age. Yet, equally past its sell-by date, is a culture of criticism and hyper masculine rhetoric which has suffocated far too many a creative career.

Perhaps what is missing is not another trophy but a long-term culture of appreciation.

The psychologist Steve Biddulph writes: “The enemy of love in modern life is not hate, but hurry.” In our collective rush to declare which adverts have ‘won’ Christmas, we all lose.

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