A view from Robert Senior

Perspective: Future of creativity being put at risk by cost-cutting clients

George Bernard Shaw's claim that "progress lies in the hands of unreasonable men" is a favourite quotation of mine and is shamelessly overused, often by unreasonable but wise people.

The word "progress", of course, being intended as a desirable destination, pre-supposing a positive shift - the result of a Do-Learn-Fix world. But based on a day in the life of an adman and the same day's news agenda, something's gone very wrong.

On the one hand, I read about a government happy to use the language of social liberalism ("Citizenship isn't a transaction, it's a relationship") while, at the same time, that government is busy creating a pay-as-you-go state, with university degrees defined by earning, not learning. And on the other hand, we have an alarming number of clients believing it to be good practice to remove the margins from the advertising industry. In doing so, these advertisers thereby remove the means of attracting and nurturing the creative talent and therefore compromise agencies' ability to apply the unreasonable power of creativity on behalf of the client businesses.

Is this progress? If it is, it's certainly not desirable progress.

Apparently, getting a degree has only fiscal value, while creative industries are expected to endure without any fiscal inducement. Surely a university education is as much about handing down the stock of human knowledge as it is an insurance policy for a second car in your middle years.

And surely the advertising industry is a commercial enterprise, there to assist clients in achieving the desired economic multiplier effect, as much as it is the noble pursuit of cultural nutrition.

But perhaps this comparison is a politically charged stretch too far, and is in need of grounding.

So, to put it more bluntly, clients (some, but not all, of course) cut fees for the same reason dogs lick their balls.

Because they can. There's probably an evolutionary reason for canine self-help and I fear without our much-needed intervention, evolution will find its natural place for the advertising industry. The unreasonable power of creativity will be removed from communications - the left brain will eclipse the right, our world will be dulled by the rational over the emotional and the magic dust will be replaced by tragic predictability. This might all be good news for the producers of Link Tests, but it's definitely bad news for those of us with the urge to make a difference through our creative endeavours.

Blimey, if progress used to lie in the hands of the unreasonable, it's now seriously in danger of being handed to the clinically insane.

- Robert Senior is the UK chief executive of the SSF Group.

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