Close your eyes.
Can you hear that? That’s the swelling narrative that says human creativity is fucked.
Take our industry. Creative agencies are struggling to grow their businesses. Artificial intelligence is writing scripts. Algorithms are taking basic, bland concepts, adding colours, music, imagery that the data says you like, and designing ad campaigns just for you. Fucked, fucked, fucked.
Does creativity need saving? Hell yes. Crusaders will find plenty of discussion in this month’s print publication to insist that it does.
Ask Christopher Wylie, who reckons that bad use of data is killing good ideas and squeezing our humanity. And the ad industry’s own voracious, parasitical demand for data, data, data is partly to blame, alongside governments’ refusal to regulate.
Here’s proof: Brainlabs founder Daniel Gilbert reckons we don’t need people called creatives any more – the same person should be driving the programmatic media machine and "creating" the ads to drop into the digital boxes. Forget full-service agencies, we just need full-service people.
It’s a chilling thought, though a compellingly practical one. It just doesn’t have anything to do with creativity (which Google itself defines as "the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness"), and it’s offensive, fraudulent even, to suggest that it does. Call it producing collateral, call it adapting assets, call it personalising utilities, but let’s be clear, this is not creativity. How did we allow the word that describes the alchemical essence of big brand-building, emotion-touching work to become appropriated by data-driven tools?
Adam & Eve/DDB’s David Golding warned us a couple of years ago when he drew a distinction between creativity and collateral. But here we are facing a creative crisis because we’ve allowed data to rule unchecked and the data drivers to claim the word creativity for their own.
Open your eyes: the best creative agencies are thriving; AI scripts are cold, dysfunctional; algorithmic dynamic "creativity" is a boring if bluntly effective utility, it doesn’t move hearts and minds. So this month’s Campaign is also full of brilliant creativity and exciting creative minds. Don’t let the swelling narrative drown that out.
Does creativity need saving? Hell yes. Let’s do it together.
Saving creativity: a Campaign manifesto
What is the ad industry’s life force? What courses through everyone’s veins? What surprises, delights, inspires, shocks, leaves you gasping for breath and thinking what a pleasure it is to be alive? Creativity.
So why is adland forgetting its magic power? Why is it sacrificing brilliant creativity at the altar of the algorithm?
Data is important. It can inform great creativity. It can help find audiences. It can help shape ideas. But as Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s joint chief strategy officer Craig Mawdsley says, a machine can mimic and create variations of existing ideas but it can’t create the concept of music.
So why has adland lost its voice? Why isn’t it saying no to those who want to reduce everything to a number?
The obsession with data is also leading to some highly unethical practices. At its worst, it is ruining the very foundations of society, blurring truth, damaging democracy and eroding the entire concept of personal privacy – and all for what? To sell some more shampoo? So someone can get a bigger bonus this month?
We need to get a grip. We don’t want our legacy to be a surveillance state.
It’s time to stand up. We can write the future, not a machine. Stop demanding more and more data from social platforms. It’s a vicious circle.
Instead, demand proper, effective regulation of online advertising and social media companies. It won’t harm business, it will ensure everyone is playing from the same, ethical playbook.
Human imagination is more powerful than we give it credit for. Let us use it not to recreate a sci-fi fantasy but a world in which humans can thrive.
It’s time to save creativity.