Global viewpoint from Melbourne
A view from Darren Spiller

Global viewpoint from Melbourne

Last year, I attended the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. It offers an executive MBA with an emphasis on using creativity and innovation to solve business problems. I think that’s a big shift. We must start to apply our creativity to business solutions as well as to brand communication. At DDB Melbourne, I have been given a joint management role across all of our business units in a move designed to ensure that creativity is applied at all levels of the group.

This paradigm shift – bringing creativity to the boardroom table – just happens to have coincided with a time when marketers are more risk-adverse than ever. But I believe that the words of our founder, Bill Bernbach, have never been truer: "Creativity is the most powerful force in business." Of course, the risk-averse environment I’m describing is not unique to marketing or to our clients. It’s a national observation. Creativity cannot thrive in a fear-based culture.

You could say I’m a bit of an Australian larrikin. A quintessential Aussie, proud of my heritage. In fact, I think the Australian population is craving a little bit of the old rough-and-ready, frontier attitude that reminds us of who we are and what makes us different. We used to be able to laugh at ourselves. Australians have always identified with brands that take a brave stance. The more brands recognise this, the more successful and profitable they will be.  

The Australian population is craving a little bit of the old rough-and-ready frontier attitude

So why is the larrikin side of our culture now bowing to political correctness? I think it’s partly because Australia has grown up. We have lost our naïvety and, in the process, we may also have lost our uniqueness and charm. I’d go as far as saying that the easy-going Aussie larrikin has lost his edge. And I miss him. When I was in the US during the recession, I used to say that the people needed their "swagger" back. Now I’m in Australia, I’m thinking we need to revive our larrikin spirit.

Australia is not alone in becoming a more homogenised culture. I think that ads today are more conservative than ever because marketers are often nervous. A lot of brands are shying away from using humour in their advertising as a result. Most humour comes from someone else’s misfortune, right? Remember the last time you rolled around on the floor laughing and chances are it was at someone else’s expense. I’m talking about light-hearted fun here.

We’ve become so good at measuring how "effective" everything is that people are finding it hard to take a leap of faith into that "yet-to-be-tested" territory. But making something truly brave and influential still requires a little magic. There’s no formula for that.

In Bill’s words: "We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mould it. We are so busy listening to statistics that we forget we can create them."

Darren Spiller is the chief creative officer at DDB Melbourne