Dave Trott: 'Advertising should be full of pirates'

As former creative director Dave Trott publishes his latest book, he calls for those in the ad industry to stop sleepwalking, embrace their buccaneering spirit and exercise their creative muscle.

Dave Trott: 'Advertising should be full of pirates'

Dave Trott is frustrated. When asked what he thinks of the current state of creativity in adland, he answers: "I don’t think there is any. All the people capable of thinking have died."

Instead, he says, the "blind hypnosis of technology" has led to an industry that just wants to catch up. "Technology might be doing things faster and cheaper, but that’s not creativity," he says. The industry will become creative again when we stop trying to keep up with technology like a conveyor belt, and realise that "machines are not our masters but are there to deliver our creativity". 

Recognising that creativity can be found in every walk of life is the key theme of Trott’s fourth book Creative Blindness (and How to Cure It), published last month by Harriman House. In it, there is a variety of thought-provoking and eclectic tales of creativity in more unusual environments, from bank robberies and capturing criminals to the battlefield. 

He hopes the book inspires people to stop "sleepwalking" through their lives and realise that, as Steve Jobs once said: "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it." 

Trott says: "You need to develop a creative muscle to spot creativity. People used to think creativity was like a well – that it would dry up if you overused it. But it’s more like a muscle, the more you use it and develop it, the better you are. If creativity is just joining dots, the more dots you’ve got to join, the more creative you’ll be."  

Teaching people to look for creativity in different places and finding new ideas is crucial for developing a creative culture, and this particularly applies to advertising. He cites another Jobs quote: "Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?"

Trott says: "Advertising is now full of people who want to be in the navy. But advertising should be full of pirates because it ought to be about taking share from other people." He explains that in order to get customers for a new product, you have to take them from someone else. "I always thought that was the fun of it. It’s a game. Nobody dies in the end. As long as you do great ads, it’s great to see agencies fighting. It’s interesting and makes everyone play at their peak. But now everyone is too afraid to upset people," he says. 

People’s fears of keeping their jobs or their clients is leading to a risk-averse, uniform output. Advertising used to pride itself on being "outrageous and provocative". To be talked about, you had to create controversy, which by its very nature meant some people wouldn’t like what you did. Trott laments the fact that now the minute that someone doesn’t like something, an ad is pulled and an apology is issued. 

"How do you ever expect anything great to happen in an atmosphere like that? It’s stifling. You don’t change things without changing them. And if you change them, someone is going to grumble, especially on social media – why’s that a problem?" he asks. 

"We all get trolled online. The best thing to do is to ignore them. Walk away. Don’t let it deflect you from being different, doing what you’re doing and going where you are going. Don’t let negative people drag you back – you don’t want to be like them anyway," he says.

He believes that, as with all art movements, a counter-revolution will take place to overthrow the current "effete and decadent" order. But it will start off with small changes, and that is something we are all capable of enacting. 

"The more aware of creativity everybody gets, the better. We will come off autopilot and start to get more alive. Everything picks up. We can affect and change our life, rather than just waiting around until it is time to retire," he says. 

"Start by changing little things, this will lead to big things. Think, ‘how can I do something differently?’ Once you start thinking like that, creativity is going to creep in and change things."