Does British advertising lack depth?

Big data? What the fuck is that?" proved to be one of the most talked-about (and Tweeted) comments from an impassioned speech by Sir John Hegarty, the chairman of the Campaign Big Awards, at last week's ceremony, and attracted a generous round of applause.

This seemed to show that he was far from alone in thinking that advertising has become obsessed with the dreary minutiae at the expense of what really matters – big, original, creative thinking – and that the industry’s obsession with the buzzwords "big data" sums up much of what is wrong with creativity at the moment.

Hegarty’s frustration stemmed from his observation from the judging process that, while there were many worthy gold winners that showed creativity was alive and well, there was a widening gap between these and the runners-up.

Hegarty went on to declare that "the only way to improve our creative standing is to take control and fight for what we believe in" – a rallying call to the assembled audience. Wise words, but is there really such a gap between the best work and the rest?

Creative, Mick Mahoney, executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"The best UK work is still as good as it gets. (Although this year will prove to have been a pretty weak one.) And our worst is undoubtedly terrible. But I think there is a vast amount of work in the middle. Not great. Not crap. Just workmanlike, sensible and lacking ambition. The kind of stuff that comes about through consensus, not belief and passion.

"Understandable in a nervous economic cycle, but it’s fast becoming the Japanese knotweed of our industry. It takes a huge commitment to best practice across the agency to create great work and a confident and bullish client to buy it. So I’m not sure it’s depth we lack so much as balls."

Creative, Justin Tindall, executive creative director, Leo Burnett

"I can see why British creativity might appear to lack depth when viewed through the lens of awards – but, sadly, awards are no longer a reliable barometer for creative depth.

"Cheating, politics, corruption and personal vendetta mean they are, in my opinion, the most toxic and damaging influence in advertising. In the real world, the lack of a creative middle doesn’t reflect my working life. I wish it did.

Creative direction would be a piece of piss if everything was either woeful or wonderful. In truth, there’s loads of middle. Middle is easy to write, easy to sell and easy to ignore. Here’s hoping for a world without it."

Creative, Paul Domenet, founding partner, Johnny Fearless

"Sir John Hegarty’s observations are accurate, if a little late. A combination of creative complacency and the convenient scapegoat of a harsh economic landscape have been undermining our output for many years – to the extent that some of the ‘very good’ might not even be ‘very good’. The audacity that characterised our thinking appears to have evaporated. We have to ask of any piece of work: ‘Does it change things?’

"By aiming at this ideal for every idea, even if we do not attain it every time, we will naturally pull the general level – the breadth and depth of the work – upwards. Must try harder."

Creative, Simon Labbett, founder and creative director, Hometown London

"Maybe British creativity does lack some depth, but does that come as any real surprise? We’re an industry so obsessed with data, analytics and social fallout, we’ve lost sight of what makes a good idea great: balls. We all need to grow a bigger set of them.

Creativity in advertising has been, and should continue to be, an art form – and since when were the best artists risk-averse? Work that raises eyebrows or breaks moulds comes about because someone had the balls to write it, someone else had the balls to present it and someone else had the balls to buy it.

"It works because everyone in the process embraces their artistic side and feels bold enough to do something different."


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