Digital Essays: Creative with the truth?

Lacking in creativity and giving awards to formulaic work, digital is an industry that needs to take more risks if it is to produce great creative ideas.

Financially, our industry is in rude health. But what about our creative product? With all the hype about, it's useful to take a reality check. If we're honest, there are creative highlights, but most agencies muddle through. So far, we've not topped "subservient chicken" or BMW Films. There's been no breakthrough work. Axe "feather" has been enjoyed by 15 million people, but we've not heard anyone talking about it in the pub or our mums discussing it with neighbours. So what's stopping the big ideas?


The very notion of working on an idea that is not good enough to be produced with real money in the real world is absurd and yet our industry is obsessed with it. Grainy mpegs, exploding heads and stupid games do nothing for long-term brand health and are damaging our reputation. In many ways, you could simply substitute the word "viral" with the word "bad" and we would be nearer the truth.

Good content is alive, though. The messages that get sent around the most are all good, simple creative ideas. The John West fighting bear ad was not a viral, it was a great TV ad. "Subservient chicken" was not a viral, it was a great piece of interactive content. The Arctic Monkeys did not get to number one because their singles were viral, but because they make great music. But if viral is dead, does that mean the 30-second ad is dead? Not at all. Creatively speaking, the internet will save the TV ad because people will seek out good ads and publicly ridicule bad ones.

So what can we do when clients continually ask us to "do a viral"? First, ditch the time and money spent on "seeding" and use it to produce a great idea. If it's good enough, it will fly. Second, look your client in the eye and reply: "You mean do something good."


Great work travels fast. Our creative community sees the good stuff almost instantly and trends emerge quickly. These trends become formulae that pick up awards. These formulae come and go: do something with video, have something move from one banner to another, type in some information and have it magically played back to you in an amusing or cryptic way. We are all, to varying degrees, guilty of this. So why the lack of originality?

It's bloody hard to come up with a great interactive idea. We have to think of media and technical innovation as well as the creative idea.

It's certainly harder than writing a TV script. And, given the choice between repeating the formula and coming up with an original idea, most people take the easy option: if they're winning awards they must be doing something right, right? The harm is that the next generation of digital creatives will get smug and will not strive for originality.

We need to populate the awards juries with people who are stricter and look beyond formulas, rewarding original thinking and craft.


In such a young industry, it's unreasonable to expect the digital John Hegarty to appear overnight. But there is no sense of a group of quality senior people ready to take up that mantle. There is talent, but it is limited to skill-sets. There are no all-rounders capable of consistently producing magic. At Dare we get by because there are two of us, and we're surrounded by senior management who share a genuine passion for the creative product and back that up with real experience.

Due to the dotcom gold rush there are still agency chiefs and, criminally, creative heads around with little or no understanding or love of creativity.

So if agency chiefs don't prioritise ideas, then how are the talented going to grow? Our traditional agency counterparts are not much use either.

Some are too busy, some sulking, and most don't know how to open a Real Audio file. This is amusing, but it's also depressing because if we can't learn from them either, how will we become great all-round thinkers and executors?

Perhaps inspiration will come from overseas? Certainly it needs to come from areas beyond digital. Wherever it comes from, we need to welcome it and act upon it.


Old advertising creative directors, so the stories go, used to have many "fuck it" moments. This doesn't happen enough in our world. We still nervously hang on to every brief thinking somehow that the industry is due a fall again. We don't take risks because we worry about what would happen if a project went wrong. What would actually happen? Any client prepared to take their business elsewhere after one failure, assuming a healthy previous track record, is not worth our time. Conversely, clients prepared to take risks are worth their weight in gold.

So let's think of some more maverick ways to do things. We recently built a 20-tonne steel crusher to destroy desks for a Vodafone business brief.

On the face of it, it's a silly idea, but when backed by the strategic thought of no longer needing a desk to do business, it makes sense and cuts though.

As interactive becomes the mainstream media, along will come bigger budgets, more scrutiny and research. All these things have a habit of killing risky ideas, so let's at least try to make hay while the sun shines. And stop moaning about budgets - if you build it, they will come.

- Flo Heiss is the creative partner and James Cooper is the creative director at Dare.


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