A view from Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: Why adland must start practising magic again

Saatchi & Saatchi's 40th anniversary last week was one of those events that defies cynicism.

Yes, it was gloriously old-fashioned in its scope (big, extravagant, excessive). Yes, there were enough leggy women wearing only their knickers to upset anyone with a PC bent. Yes, the homage to the Thatcher era might not suit your political tastes. And the gratuitous smattering of celebs might seem like a frivolous distraction from the business we were there to celebrate.

All true. But all bollocks. Brand Saatchi (in all its iterations) managed last week to remind the advertising industry - and, through the extensive media coverage the following day, the world at large - that advertising can be fun, sexy, glamorous, decadent and lots of other definers we seem to have left behind in the grind of the past few years.

Oh, I know it's all very far removed from the harsh realities of falling fees, over-work, job losses and diminished respect from clients. And, yes, perhaps the seeds for this diminished respect were sown by exactly this sort of sexy, glamorous, decadent fun that the industry used to enjoy so much.

But, heck, the advertising business has been through so much crap lately that agencies and clients alike deserve a bit of (tasteless) frivolity every now and then. And when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, I reckon a little bit of fun, sex and glamour does no harm at all.

But the Saatchi anniversary party was important in a less obvious way. It was a reminder of something the ad business used to be rather proud of: magic.

I can't define that magic, but it was in the air last week. Way back when Saatchis was an important agency, that magic was the thing that made advertising impossible to confine into a neat procurement spreadsheet (of course, in those days there was no such thing as procurement). The magic was the thing that set ad executives apart from the management consultants, the thing that got the industry a hearing in the boardroom and got the chief executive turned on. And it was the thing that gave the best agencies the confidence to be better.

Perhaps the magic was as superficial as a certain sexiness, a certain glamour. But even if it was, it gave the industry licence to be bigger, braver, take more risks. And it helped to make London the advertising capital of the world.

Because advertising, at its best, should be something that can't simply be coolly costed by procurement departments. It should be exciting, enchanting: as much a business of instinct and flair as of research and rigour. And, yes, it should have more than its fair share of colourful, glamorous characters, creative excentrics and excentric creatives. The pendulum has swung too far away from the magic and too much towards cost and commoditised efficiency. And we're all poorer for that.

Topics