"If advertising were a Farrow & Ball colour it would be Casein Distemper."
Is creativity becoming gentrified? Yes, argues Sue Higgs, group creative director at Grey London - and it's risking the future of the industry.
Would the iconic Guinness Surfer ad get made today? I’d wager no chance.
It would fail to be bought because creative genius like that can’t be quantified. Nowadays if you want to do something entirely out of the ordinary and you don’t have the metrics to back it up, your idea could never see the light of day. Too much of the creative work in our industry has lost its flavour and originality. If it were a Farrow & Ball colour, it would be Casein Distemper, which is posh for beige.
The world does not need another emotionally-overwrought sepia-tinged ad with a hipster looking into the middle distance and tinkly piano music in the background.
Like pre '90s Shoreditch, adland was once a much dirtier and crazier place to be, boasting a higher than average number of mavericks, weirdos, misfits and renegades. That was until the gentrifying rot set in.
This homogenisation is a gentrification of creativity which has resulted in vanilla campaigns that try to be everything to everyone and end up meaning nothing to anyone. The world does not need another emotionally-overwrought sepia-tinged ad with a hipster looking into the middle distance and tinkly piano music in the background. Yet our industry keeps churning them out.
Advertising has never been under more pressure to justify our creativity: success now needs to be data proven, rather than a heart-stopping emotional reaction to work. This isn’t the way to make sure we’re still the destination for the next generation.
At Grey London we’ve got some incredibly gifted young talent – but for how much longer will bright young things turn to advertising to flex their creative might? Young people with raw talent are seeing that they can do it for themselves: creating their own businesses, or joining eccentric little start-ups on their own terms.
We’re overwhelmed by job applications from people called Josh from Buckinghamshire.
The gentrification problem starts early. It’s now so difficult for young people without huge amounts of cash to explore their talent.
When I was starting out, if you weren’t lucky enough to have parents with money, an arts grant would enable you to forge a creative career anyway. Now, rising tuition fees and education policies that work against creativity in state schools, mean those with private education (read: money) stand a better chance. And so we’re overwhelmed by job applications from people called Josh from Buckinghamshire. Gentrification in action.
So what’s the answer? It’s complex and I don’t have all the solutions, but we can start by resisting attempts to make us conform.
Creatives need to be bold and start sticking up for themselves and their ideas. We need to show clients that amazing work flogs stuff and builds brands because its brilliance moves people. I have a terrible, dystopian fear that awards ceremonies will one day have a category for highest Ipsos score or best eye trace. The industry is in danger of forgetting that our main purpose is to connect with people.
We should demonstrate that we’re aware that creative people are not commodities, but humans with foibles whose ideas don’t fit neatly onto a spreadsheet. We need to make things uncomfortable, imperfect, unpredictable, unpolished and interesting again.
Embrace the fact that we can’t control creativity. Start to realise what we do is special and sell it as well as the clients sell their product. Remember that work like Cadbury’s Gorilla flunked all the metrics and yet it’s probably one of the last truly great ads people can remember.
We need to embrace who we are, not continually shape ourselves into something more palatable as a way of getting clients to buy the work. The alternative is that, one day, we become so colourless we fade out of existence.