Adland in Hamburg: Ideas are for free

But this does not mean creatives should give up and go home - our industry still has much to offer brands

Adland in Hamburg: Ideas are for free

The bitter truth: clients don’t need us for our ideas. The comforting truth: they still need us. Clients will always need adland to perform better against their competitors.
Advertising is dead

Remember when advertising was like a big secret science? Business studies freshmen who suspected advertising was "manipulative", the cult of the "secret seducers", Madison Avenue as the headquarters of the bad, hypnotising people to buy what they didn’t want. There was some truth in that. Ad agencies had access to secrets: exclusive information on the latest creative trends. They were international organisations, so they could act transnationally. Decades of market research meant they understood consumers better than clients, journalists or sociologists. And they had plenty of money. They were rich and full of glamour. Those were the days. Mad Men lived large in fancy New York apartments, had extended lunches with clients and expensive wines. Beautiful secretaries booked first-class trips from the East Coast to the West Coast, from New York to Paris, London and Frankfurt.

Knowledge is ubiquitous

Not any more. Research is just one click away. For anyone, any time and, often, for free. One can send an ad from London to Malawi in seconds. And the worst: creativity is everywhere. One actual online banner says: "Looking for unique design? You found it! Our community of 8,932 designers will deliver 105 designs for your project in just a few days." Ouch.

Creativity is everywhere

Creativity used to be rare. Selling creative work was like selling water in the desert. Now it comes out of a tap. Clients are asking themselves why they should pay for it – and why they’re paying so much. In the 80s, a TV commercial for an electric razor could cost e400,000. Today, e200,000 is more realistic. Taking inflation into account, that’s a cut of about 50 per cent. Or way more than 50 per cent less time and money for the agency to develop ideas. And, on top, we have to discuss why a Sunday spent on a TV shoot should be paid for.

Everyone is a creative

The artist Joseph Beuys got it right. "Everyone’s an artist," he claimed in the 70s. Two generations later, millions of people fulfil his vision and act like paid creatives. The proof is on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, where they display their creativity for the rest of us to love or despise. At the other end of Self-Exploitation Land is The Huffington Post: proof that creative self-exploitation can be a good base for a big business. To cut a long story short: in a world of millions of creatives, you can’t sell your ideas for a fair price. Or to sum it up the other way: clients don’t need us to develop interesting ideas. The Facebook/Instagram/everyone-is-an-artist phenomenon seems to be changing what people (and clients) expect from movies, photos and writing – they don’t expect as much. High-quality is OK but not a must. And that is making it easier and cheaper for marketing departments to get hold of creative output. Which is bad for the people earning a living from that output.

Creativity doesn’t cost a cent

As we learned in economics at school, when goods become universally available in a transparent and competitive market, their price will inevitably fall towards zero. In other words, clients will eventually refuse to pay a copywriter to develop headline concepts if talented students are hawking their own ideas for a couple of euros. We’re in the middle of that process right now. In Germany, 1&1 offers a web presence from e0.99 per month and a bakery can buy a finished website design from an online studio for e99. No wonder some advertisers compare potential customers to intellectual-property pirates.

Creativity used to be rare. Selling creative work was like selling water in the desert. Now it comes out of a tap.

Promised land for stingy clients

Is this the promised land? For a lot of people, it is. For undiscerning readers, TV viewers who hate ads and intellectual-property pirates. But for creatives, account managers and copywriters, the plain truth is this: the value of good, creative ideas is rising, but the price is falling fast.

Forget it!

If you’re a client rubbing your hands at the thought of cutting your creative costs to zero, stop right now. Sure, you can get ideas for free. But that’s not going to help. Because you can’t manage a brand with a bunch of unfiltered ideas that came out of nowhere. Or communicate the worth of an association. Or explain a policy.

The comforting truth: big ideas are still gold dust

Lots of little ideas don’t add up to one big one. Or, as our creative director Reinhard Buschmann says: "With all this garbage around us, good ideas are going to be worth even more." But we won’t be the only ones with access to the channels people use to blare out those ideas to the world.

Managing, monitoring and curating creativity will be key

The best communication is always driven by the best ideas. But managing that creativity, choosing the right creative, ideas and channels – that’s going to be more important than the creative act itself. And that is what clients are still going to pay for: the added value of reliably fishing only the most effective ideas out of the creative deluge and piecing them together, as part of an intelligent strategy to form a functioning, cross-channel communication campaign.

So, don’t worry about your future – just stop dreaming about getting all your ideas properly paid for.

Marcel Loko is the co-founder and joint chief creative officer at Hirschen Group