A view from Claire Beale

Polite applause: maybe the ultimate insult to creativity

I didn’t make it to British Arrows last week, though there are (still) few greater pleasures in this business than wallowing in big-screen advertising action; a shopper marketing mobile campaign case study doesn’t get my blood throbbing quite so loudly.

I’m told British Arrows was a very respectful affair, the eminent audience nodding in approval as a raft of worthy winners took to the stage to claim their prizes. Better than boozed-up booing, yes, but is polite appreciation really the emotional response that the best ads should hope to elicit from an audience of brilliant creatives (advertising’s harshest critics and fiercest advocates)?

Perhaps too many of the ads on parade have become too comfortable. Perhaps too many risk-averse clients and too many "say yes" agencies have created a body of work that is just generally OK. The industry is certainly too homogenised, and that doesn’t help. Maybe all those shaggy beards (long, long after the media declared we’d reached "peak beard") are a sign that we’ve arrived at a sort of beige middle ground where there aren’t enough challenging voices. And perhaps we’ve stopped expecting our work to grab passions and shake emotions. Perhaps we’re all just happy when it’s safe. No-one gets fired for creating "safe". Perhaps that explains the well-mannered respect on display at British Arrows last week.

Grey’s chairman, Nils Leonard, looks at Alexander McQueen and contrasts his appetite for difference with the conformity of our industry. Leonard writes that McQueen "chose to spend time not with those in his industry but with those who could keep his mind fertile and hungry. Who do we run with? Are we all on the same blogs, in the same clubs, on the same planes to the same tech festivals in Austin?" It’s a brilliant challenge to tilt the lens, to think differently.

Maybe all those beards are a sign that we've arrived at a beige middle ground without enough challenging voices

But it’s also an interesting contrast to Jim Carroll’s perspective about the "age of we". Carroll, one of the very smartest people advertising has been lucky enough to have, writes about the sheer joy of being part of a culture, a shared ambition, a shared passion.

As Carroll says, we live in an age of individuality and empowerment, when the self is thoroughly quantifiable and we have the tools to create our own social stories in which we star. Yet the power of the collective "we" can shape a culture that not only eats strategy for breakfast, but actually becomes strategy.

Where Leonard and Carroll intersect is in urging the creation of a focused professional culture that comfortably integrates – demands, even – diversity and harnesses difference to a common purpose.

More of that, perhaps, and we’ll have less of the OK work that merely commands our polite applause.