Claire Beale: The long, hard road to creativity takes time
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: The long, hard road to creativity takes time

I love Malcolm Gluck's account in last year's D&AD Copy Book, which described the long, leisurely process of advertising creation at DDB 20-odd years ago.

When faced with a brief, Gluck would first write down several dozen possible opening lines of copy, before committing one to the virgin sheet of saffron-yellow paper sitting in his typewriter. Then he’d write down pretty much everything he could think of around the subject in question.

What followed was a rhythm of working that was mostly characterised by pauses when he did everything but (consciously) work. He’d tackle the Times crossword, "organise an evening with a distant young lady", have a three-hour lunch – "several bottles of lovely wine were consumed (with possibly Calvados to follow)" – after which he’d discard anything he’d already written (it was "tosh") and begin the whole process all over again the next day and for several days.

After a few more weeks of mulling, the results were pretty promising. In fact, this way of working produced creative excellence the like of which we don’t see too often any more, Gluck reckons: "I have not seen a print ad or a TV or cinema commercial in the last 20 years which would have been signed off at DDB (let alone the early AMV or CDP)."

Advertising agencies can’t generally afford to work like that any more. We live in a world defined by digital deadlines and constant connectedness; time has become a luxury. Yet great creativity can’t be turned on on-demand.

It’s so interesting to read about Dave Dye’s creative process in answering a recent brief from D&AD (page 28). Long lunches, the Times crossword and flirting with women don’t figure in his account, but he too spent several weeks not answering the brief.

Dye was invited to come up with a treatment for the cover of D&AD’s 50th-anniversary Annual. That’s a big deal. But 49 other people were also invited to submit a design; only one would be chosen. So it’s an even bigger deal, particularly when the other 49 include such people as Rankin, Paul Smith and John Hegarty. Dye spent ages sweating over the one-word brief: "Creativity." After a whole "fantastically irritating" month, he’d got nowhere. Except that getting nowhere in the end got him exactly where he needed to be. A month of sweating, followed by two hours of feverish brain-dumping, and there it was: a creative idea all about looking for a creative idea.

It’s fascinating to see the creative process as the end result rather than the route to the result. And it’s good to be reminded that though advertising is now more about fast-turnaround and instant results than long lunches and crossword distractions, allowing yourself time to percolate away at an idea can still produce the best creative results, even if it’s the sound of a deadline whizzing past that actually forces the idea out.