We live in a world of fixers.
Throwing answers into the world that provide temporary relief to the problems we are presented with.
From duct tape to WD-40.
From a referendum to a wall.
Or an apology printed on a double spread.
It’s a habit we easily fall into. Because deadlines or public opinion demand it. Because it works (for a while at least). And because it feels good to just get it done, pronto.
We’ve all been there.
But every now and again, seeing a great solution reminds us of how impotent some fixes are. Or, conversely, how some fixes pass up a great opportunity to do something more powerful. More creative. More lasting.
One such example recently presented itself when the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) imposed a higher age limit (from a 12 certificate to a 15) for watching films containing scenes of rape and sexual violence. This followed research that showed it was young people themselves who wished to be exposed to fewer scenarios that could realistically happen to them.
While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Why? Because this is nothing more than a symbolic gesture to address an issue that is symptomatic of the times we live in. When it’s no longer parents, but teenagers themselves saying "keep me away from that", changing the number in a little red circle from 12 to 15 doesn’t seem an adequate response. It’s a quick fix.
Rewind a year. January 2018. The Staunch Book Prize is launched. The prize for a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered. Founded by author and screen writer Bridget Lawless after coming to the realisation that violence (particularly against women) in movies and in fiction has become all too common, and an all too easy way of creating intrigue and drama.
In her words: "There are so many books in which women are raped or murdered for an investigator or hero to show off his skills… This is about writers coming up with stories that don’t need to rely on sexual violence."
Now that could have been a great solution to the BBFC’s problem.
Get behind fresh plot lines, challenge authors and screen writers. Make it better for the future. Apart from stimulating creativity, this prize also represents a bigger opportunity. It helps solve the problem that the public is calling the BBFC out on.
It’s not just limiting the accessibility of disturbing content; it’s perhaps creating a little less of it. Stimulating a debate about whether we have too much that’s too similar. Whether we’ve become over-reliant on violence against women to write exciting stories. And demanding these formulae be corrupted in favour of less predictable, gender-biased crime stories.
Like all good solutions, this doesn’t just fix the problem. But it asks all of us to deploy our imagination and creative arsenal to solve it.
Back in ad land, at a time when everyone is questioning the worth of our existence, we’re not lacking in opportunities to prove ourselves, and challenge our clients, at every turn.
If you’re in the gambling industry, don’t just tell punters to gamble responsibly; actually build safeguards into your platforms and help those afflicted by addiction.
If you’re in retail, thanks for pledging more support for recyclable packaging. It sounds good.
But why not go the whole hog and clean up your entire supply chain?
If you’re with Facebook, the apologies printed in Metro for months didn’t go unnoticed. And as for hiring Nick Clegg, good move. But more importantly, how will you (and your agency) teach a new generation of users to tell the difference between real and fake?
And so on.
Challenging ourselves to dig deep, get messy and really unearth solutions that create change won’t just solve our clients’ problems, it will also help us prove the value of our industry and the potency of true creative masterminding in our time of need.
Anna Vogt is chief strategy officer at TBWA\London