Devaluing creativity

Advertising has become less effective because it has become less creative.

The creative side of the business has become depreciated and devalued. Creativity has been sold short. Bundled with a stack of other services and reduced to white chalked lightbulbs on blackboards in agency foyers far and wide.

Bob Hoffman blames the financial overlords that now rule over the advertising industry for deliberately muddying people’s understanding of creativity. Here’s what Bob has to say about the plight of creativity in adland.

‘In the first meaning, creativity is seen as a method for accomplishing a practical goal. So you can approach any task in a creative manner. In this meaning, creativity is a way of thinking. So you can fry an egg the traditional way, or you can be ‘creative’ and fry it in alligator oil or something.

‘In the second case, there is a special meaning for the word ‘creativity’ that is specific to the communication arts. This is the kind of creativity that makes music and art and literature and, yes, sometimes even advertising, extraordinary and delightful.

‘Sure, the guy who printed the tickets to Hamlet, or made the popcorn, or counted the proceeds, may have found creative ways to do so. But he didn’t write the fucking play.

‘That’s a whole different kind of creativity. And a whole different meaning of the word.

‘But the current generation of ad industry kingpins are trying very hard to dilute it into meaninglessness by asserting that we’re all creative and that creativity can come from anywhere. 

‘If you think I’m overstating my point, let me read you a recent quote from Martin Sorrell, the ceo of WPP and the most powerful man in the history of the agency business. And, by the way, an accountant by trade - ‘The snottiness of believing that creativity just resides in the creative department of traditional agencies, that media people can’t be creative, or data people can’t be or people who do healthcare or promotion or CRM can’t be creative – it’s a nonsense and it’s insulting to the people who are in those areas.’

‘He’s equating doing a practical job in a creative manner, with creating something unique from scratch. He’s saying they are the same thing.

‘Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against account people, or planners, or data people or CRM people or anyone else who thinks smartly and does a job in an imaginative way.

‘But I resent that the talents of our great creative people are being dismissed as the same thing.

‘This is not healthy for the ad business nor is it healthy for the people who work in it.

‘Our industry has been hijacked by aristocrats with private jets. They have made the agency business leaner and meaner.

‘They have made it more efficient. They have made it more productive. They have squeezed all the fat out of it. And in the process, they are also squeezing the life out of it.

‘They are money managers, and investors and financial wise guys. The one thing they are not is advertising people.

‘Advertising evolved as an industry of craftsmen and craftswomen. Account people, art directors, researchers, copywriters. People who actually worked on accounts would start their own agencies. There were hundreds of independent, entrepreneurial agencies in every country. When I started in the ad business 300 years ago, the largest agency in the U.S., Y&R,  had about a 1.5% share of market.

‘Today four global giants control over 70% of U.S. advertising spending.’

Sadly the media has become more important than the message.

But for how much longer?

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