2014 Predictions: The year ahead for...Creativity

Creativity will be fuelled by an improved economy, impressive technology and a TV revival. But beware the new advertising stronghold of Wales, Darren Bailes warns.

Darren Bailes
Darren Bailes

The missus was right. I opened a Word document five days ago and left it open on the desktop with a charger magnetically attached. And, lo and behold, as she predicted… nothing.

This piece was indeed not going to "write itself". If she’s so clever, maybe she should be the one with hands to the crystal ball, clutching the rabbit’s foot and studying every frame of the Back To The Future box set for clues as to what happens next in creativity.

But she’s busy. Homeland series-three finale, it appears, is not going to watch itself either. So, buckle up, creativity. I’m about to get Russell Grant on your ass and make some wild stabs in the dark.

In my Mother days, Swedish creatives ruled. There were Markus & Cissy, the Murderers (just a nickname… nothing was ever proved) and Attila & Matheus, to name just a small percentage of them.

Their stock was so high. They were advertising royalty with PhDs in Adobe Illustrator. What Apple keyboard shortcuts they didn’t know weren’t worth knowing. And how could they breathe in such tight jeans?

In the years since, I’ve been told stories of teams called Brian and Johnny who couldn’t get their book so much as through the door at Mother. Until, that is, they resubmitted it as Sven and Olaf. "Loving your work, guys – can you start next week?"

But advertising is fickle. And the spinning advertising love globe moved on.

Next, the Brazilians arrived. It never made the news, but I think a whole fleet of tall ships docked on the Thames – a scene from the tea clipper days. The docks were teeming with youngsters with glossy brown hair and short black leather jackets. Porters carried their PowerBooks ashore to the salivating creative directors as deals were done and contracts were signed.

VCCP’s second language is Portuguese, we have so many Brazilian creatives. We are even hosting three World Cup matches on the veranda come the summer.

So my first forecast for the year ahead is thus: a new nation shall take up the creative mantle.

Somewhere we hadn’t ever considered could be a hotbed of creative genius. Its creative juices will fuel the greatest work to appear out of London.

But what country? I think it’ll be somewhere like… Wales.

Welsh parties all along the Croisette. Nick Gill spotted on the Carlton Terrace lunching Dylan and Aled. Jon Burley sharing a Marlboro Light with Bryn and Ifan. I can see it now. Deep in the Rhondda Valley is an ad school that makes the Miami one look like Grange Hill.

"And the winner of the black Pencil goes to… Rhodri and Rhiannon!"

SFX: Rapturous applause.

Turning a corner

Creativity has often been the last thing on our minds over the past few years. Recession. Double dip.

Even triple dipping. Keeping our jobs and clients has been priority. There was talk of wage cuts, four-day weeks, voluntary redundancy and involuntary redundancy. But we appear to be through the worst.

Things are looking up economically.

So, basically, if we were going to lose jobs, chances are it would have happened by now. Hallelujah. And if you’re trying to get back into the creative department, then things haven’t looked this rosy or this busy for years. So I hope we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Our confidence, combined with that of our clients, who too should be feeling bullish, should mean braver and bolder work is what’s called for at every opportunity. So how do we take advantage of these perfect growing conditions?

Technology is baffling but infinitely amazing. You'll never be able to take it all in this year. Just make sure you take in some of it. And then create something brilliant

Technology. It sounds clichéd to say such a thing, I know, but it’s so true. I talk more to my Xbox One than I do to my family these days. The voice recognition controls DVDs, films, games and the telly – and I’m sure by the end of the year I’ll be able to shout "Xbox, run me a piping hot bath with a good squeeze of Dove luxury bath crème" and it will bloody well do it. It’s astounding.

And I read an article that said 2014 is all about apps and "tech" becoming extensions of our senses.

Touch, taste, smell… all done on our behalf by our devices. Hold your phone to your armpit and it’ll tell you if you need to reapply your Lynx deodorant. Now that’s an app.

Technology is baffling but infinitely amazing. You’ll never be able to take it all in this year. Just make sure you take in some of it. And then create something brilliant and worthwhile. The world doesn’t need another iPint, but our brains are what’s needed to create the next products and services before we get anywhere near promoting them.

Lessons from TV

TV. I love TV. It’s alive and well. A few years ago, the big question in TV production company brainstorms was what we could do on Saturday nights. Saturday-night telly was rubbish. But then the love-to-hate talent show/pantomime The X Factor arrived and everyone walked out of those brainstorms to the nearest Benugo for a latte.

A lot of people I know proclaim to not own a TV. It’s kind of cool these days to be above TV. My arse.

The people making great TV are doing exactly what we need to be doing. Find an audience, be charming and entertaining, and engage in conversation. So anyone who thinks they are above TV is missing out on free lessons on how to write, craft and produce content that millions of people will drop everything to watch on their most coveted family nights in.

Great TV shows are just great ideas that thrive socially, filmically, digitally – isn’t that what we are all trying to do? Writing great TV scripts is so important – and, no, that doesn’t mean any other part of the process is less important. But it really is a craft. I hired a team immediately a few months ago when they took an idea we had all discussed and loved and turned it into what was needed – a TV campaign. To spare their embarrassment, I’ll just call them Jack and Jake. But they presented these scripts to the whole pitch team and we knew it was cracked on the strength of those scripts. Hired.

With ad revenues insecure, whatever that means, TV companies want to work with us: share their audience with ours, joint ventures. Get involved with this stuff in 2014. It’s a win-win.

New hires

And breathe. My next big thing for 2014 is people.

Remember back in the day… the school disco. Girls one side of the sports hall, boys the other. And you could see no reason why that should change. You were hanging out with Bondy, Burny, Lloydy and Jock, so all was sweet. But in moved the deputy headmaster with his crazy talk. We were encouraged, and threatened with mild violence, to crack on and pick a girl. Mrs Henderson was stirring up similar trouble among the girls. We crossed our arms and stared at the ceiling for a while, but it was futile. By 7.45, we were proper mingling, holding hands, snogging even.

And I think, as an industry, we are all standing to one side of the sports hall right now. We need to explore. We will only keep ourselves fresh when we are surrounded by different points of view and perspectives. This year should be the year of "hiring the random". How great would it be to hire a scientist and put them with a copywriter? Or a stuntman and a planner working out a strategy? There will be as many hits as misses. But it will keep everyone sharp and terrified of who’s going to come up with the next idea that spreads magically around the agency. "Have you heard about… yeah, brilliant, innit?" There’s nothing better.

So these have been my thoughts going into 2014. Have I gone far enough? Have I really predicted what the year in creativity holds? Probably not, because it’s impossible. That’s the beauty of creativity. Very often, the great briefs are really the bad ones, the smallest opportunities are the biggest and the dullest product sectors are the most exciting. If any of this was predictable, I suspect we wouldn’t be doing it.

Good luck in 2014.

Darren Bailes is the executive creative director at VCCP