Opinion: Perspective - When recession bites, creativity needs to flourish

Recession, recession, recession. There, I've said it. Three times. No point pretending we're not teetering on the brink of downturn; consensus is that it's unavoidable.

A report just out from TNS Media Intelligence shows recession already has its teeth into adspend in the US, with car manufacturers leading the way (see page 7 in this week's issue for the lowdown on car manufacturers' shift online). The US's 100 biggest advertisers have slashed their budgets by 2.6 per cent.

And the IPA has come out of the closet with its Advertising in a Downturn that confronts the issues of recession head on, with some pretty scientific evidence that cutting spend has a long-term detrimental effect.

So the advertising industry is rolling up its sleeves for the fight. But I wonder whether clients are receptive to such concerns. The transience of marketing directors is well rehearsed; when they're unlikely to be in the same job in five years' time, what care do they have about the long-term damage done by slashing spend now?

Even more worrying is the increasingly rapid turnaround of chief executives; the here-today-gone-tomorrow approach to job tenure is infecting the boardroom. If even the company chief executive won't be around to pick up the post-recession pieces, just who is the IPA hoping to convince with its "keep spending" message?

The truth is that ad agencies themselves often have longer stewardship of their clients' brands than the clients do. Not only are agencies facing reduced income now if adspend is cut back, chances are they'll also be the ones trying to reboot underinvested brands once the downturn's over.

All of which puts a new focus back on creative standards. If budgets are falling, the ads themselves will have to work harder than ever and creativity takes on a new imperative.

Even if clients aren't demanding it, it's time for the ad industry to rediscover the importance of high creative standards and invest in its creative product. At a time when clients are being wooed by a whole lifeboat of consultants and management advisors on the ways to navigate a downturn, the ad industry must fall back on what it can offer that's different, that's magical and that can transform brands and market share: world-beating creative ideas.

The IPA has made an excellent start with its Advertising in a Downturn report, now the industry as a whole needs to speak with fresh confidence about the transformational power of creativity. Surviving recession will not just be about keeping budgets intact, it will be about leveraging the best creative ideas to get a competitive edge when all around are cutting back.

Fallon goes into the launch of the next Dairy Milk campaign with a great effectiveness study already under its belt: the "gorilla" ad helped push sales of the brand up by 9 per cent.

And Fallon goes into the launch of the new campaign with the creative community absolutely slobbering to get an eyeful of the new ad.

All of which makes giving birth to the new ad even more pressured than normal. But, for once, I don't get much sense that the industry at large is hoping that the follow-up to a great ad will be a pale successor.

For once, I reckon adland is full of goodwill and eager encouragement. Which probably makes the pressure on the team at Fallon - and on Juan Cabral in particular - more intense than it would be if we all knew the industry was secretly hoping for failure.

After the triumphs of the recent BTAA awards and the tangible feel-good factor that a healthy body of brilliant work has spread round the industry, let's hope Cadbury is yet another excuse to shout about great British (/Argentinian) creativity. If we're heading for recession, we need to shout louder than ever.