The real value in advertising agencies isn't in the bricks and mortar, the computers. It dwells in something far more ephemeral - the creativity of certain key staff. Agencies live or die on creativity: how can you make your work stand out other than by the use of imagination, ingenuity and flair?
But where does this ephemeral quality come from? Creativity is a central mystery in psychology too, and the little we know about it suggests that those who are more creative than the rest of us are, frankly, a bit peculiar.
They look at the world in a distinctly odd way and, as a result, frequently suffer psychological dysfunction. They can be difficult to get on with.
There is also some recent research evidence that the close relatives of the creative suffer higher-than-average rates of mental illness, suggesting that something genetic or in the family background links creativity with being a bit different.
So are advertising creatives really mavericks and oddballs, and is there a chance that if they shuffle too far along the spectrum of strangeness, they might fall off the end and become unable to communicate at all with their audience? To get to the bottom of where creativity comes from, I put three of the advertising industry's prominent creatives on my couch to analyse what lies behind their genius.
Professor Raj Persaud is a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in London. He writes regularly in the national press and is the presenter of BBC Radio 4's programme All in the Mind.
His latest book, The Motivated Mind: How to Make Your Mind Work for You, will be published on 1 March at £12.99 by Bantam Press.
DAVE TROTT - creative director, Walsh Trott Chick Smith
Born: 22 May 1947
Raised: Barking, East London
Family: Father a policeman, mother a housewife, one older sister.
Personality: Smash and grab.
When I opened the video box containing the showreel of Dave Trott's work, a crisp £20 note fell out. I was, first off, amazed that it had taken so long for someone in advertising to get around to trying to bribe me.
Then I was upset that my clinical reputation was such that £20 was considered sufficient to purchase a positive psychiatric evaluation.
I needn't have worried; it turns out the (genuine) note had an appeal about cancelling Third-World debt stamped on it, and is part of a viral marketing campaign that Trott has been running since the late 80s.
The campaign is a personal mission of Trott's, who is enthusiastic about it because there is no client, no brief, no media and no budget - precisely the kind of impossible challenge that gets him most energised.
Aphorisms related to the daring and hazardous projects (in marketing terms) he clearly relishes working on, litter his speech. He stamps the statement "Stop your bank killing children - cancel the Third-World debt" on around 20 of his £20 notes each week and has been doing so for more than a decade. In order to take marked currency out of circulation, as is mandatory, banks require staff to fill out innumerable forms explaining why the note has to be removed. As a result, Trott's message is getting directly into the banks themselves, and he likes to feel his campaign may have some small part to play in pushing the issue of Third- World debt up the political agenda.
Trott believes that others in advertising mistake his confidence and energy for arrogance, but he does have an evangelical appetite for persuasion, which he partly attributes to his family's background in the police. His father was in the force, as were numerous uncles. From that influence, he gets his organisational flair, commitment to efficiency, plus the fact he is not afraid of conflict. He describes a favourite strategy as "predatory marketing" - he identifies which company he is going to take market share from and brings it to his client. Analogies with battles and war abound in his thinking, hence a quote from Napoleon hanging in his office: "It's not generals who win wars - it is the sergeants who win them." Yet he is not obsessed with winners and losers - he believes if he gets things right, he can make everyone a winner.
Another key personal influence is the fact he had to go to New York to go to art school because no institution in Britain would take him. The experience of a US education gave him a can-do attitude that he finds sorely lacking in the UK, where everyone seems to go around asking permission before they do anything. He is particularly irritated by the British tendency to pretend not to care.
Another favourite catchphrase is: "Don't be better - be different." His ads are certainly different. The key is to be remembered, he argues, hence the slightly irritating, intrusive nature of some of his work, such as the two ants debating ad nauseum whether Silver Spoon really is sugar or not.
There was, indeed, something irritating about the simplicity of his summary on the £20 note of what must be a more complex problem - but it's not something I am ever going to forget.
KATE STANNERS - executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi
Born: 14 June 1962
Family: Father trained in law at Cambridge before moving into
advertising and becoming a creative director at Leo Burnett, mother was
a social worker. One younger brother, a lawyer.
Personality: Cheeky girl
Kate Stanners has always been very concerned about the ad industry's reputation for being middle class, and has spent a lot of time and energy ensuring she isn't like that. She probably needn't have worried because, although she went to art college, her feminist social worker mother and legally trained father meant she was brought up in an argumentative family where social issues dominated.
She remembers vividly that, when she was a child, restaurateurs would dread the arrival of the family and their lively arguments. But this family atmosphere also ensured she became extremely rigorous and hard working at developing her point of view in order to defend it against an exacting parental onslaught. Today, she works hard at ensuring any creative ideas her team develops work practically as well as feel right intuitively.
Unlike male creatives, she is keen to mention her team in any discussion of her work, displaying a more feminine collectivist approach to her career and less of a narcissistic one.
She agrees that all great creatives have to be able to form an emotional connection with the intended audience, but her particular strength is a strong personal empathy with people outside of the Islington set. One example of this is a TV campaign of which she is particularly proud, publicising the Government's New Deal initiative. It was shot in black and white using real people rather than actors, and featured various employers trying to persuade each other to take on the young unemployed.
She came up with the idea after imagining how refreshing it would be to be 16 and out of work and to have employers blamed for her situation, rather than receiving the inevitable lecture. The campaign employs an enormous amount of subtle psychology, reaching unemployed youngsters by appearing to lecture bosses.
Her particular empathy with a female audience explains the power of "that" Flake ad - the one with the woman relaxing in a bath while consuming a notoriously Freudian chocolate stick. The hot steaming bath connects with women at a level men might not immediately recognise.
Yet she readily identifies with the childish outlook on life you need to produce cheeky campaigns that tease and delight an audience - such as Clarks' "Act your shoe size and not your age", or her Boots campaign featuring women dancing naked in a swimming pool full of windows. This childlike approach is more often the province of male creatives who haven't quite grown up, rather than women who have, and yet Kate is clearly having a ball doing what she does - it's more like play than work to her.
Her ability to think like a child, or a man, or a frustrated 30-year-old, or anyone else in her target audience, is a unique skill and she herself is not quite sure of its origins. But the key is she doesn't take it for granted, but instead backs up her intuition with masses of research before taking any idea further. That attention to detail and hard work still smacks of the young girl who knows that if she hasn't got her case absolutely water-tight, her parents will not let her get away with it.
CHARLES INGE - creative partner, Clemmow Hornby Inge
Born: 9 June 1961
Raised: Rugby, Warwickshire
Family: Father a teacher of Latin and Greek, mother a housewife. Two
brothers, one also a Latin and Greek teacher, the other an accountant.
Personality: I'm a genuinely nice person - get me out of here!
Charles Inge confesses he spent most of his youth alone in an attic of his parents' rambling house, painting. A career in advertising was the last thing on his mind - his father, a teacher, used to shudder visibly when former heroes appeared in ads. Selling out drew nothing but scorn from the rather academic Inge family.
Growing up, he was determined to be a serious painter and recalls that, at art college, his central aim was to avoid being popular or too easy to understand. Then, when his wife, whom he met at university, chose to enter advertising and he helped her with some of her creative work, he slipped over almost by accident into the business.
Looking back, he acknowledges that one of his drivers was concern over whether anyone would notice the existence of an obscure painter. Even if you have to pay attention to the audience in advertising, at least that audience is guaranteed. He also feels that the constraints of deadlines and briefs actually release creative juices.
As a naturally shy person, his concern with the audience and his apprehension that advertising imposes itself on its viewers without first seeking their consent means his ads always try to give something back. For him, implicit manners and politeness on behalf of the advertiser are vital but neglected values.
Inge describes himself as a shy and rather awkward creative who doesn't socialise that much with other advertising folk. His hobbies - classical guitar and abstract painting - also ensure he isn't totally immersed in popular culture, which, he argues, helps him to retain his originality rather than following the industry herd who tend to respond "in formation" to the latest cultural trend.
Like many people who are a bit diffident but who are also keen to be heard, he has thought a great deal about communication, and in particular about forming an emotional connection with others to achieve impact. This is a trait less prevalent in more extrovert types, whose natural social confidence leads them to focus more on themselves than the audience.
Examples of the deep psychological thought he brings to his work include the long-running Stella Artois campaign. It's all carefully designed to use gentle humour to make beer feel more like a fine wine than something a lager lout would drink.
Meanwhile, his famous Tesco campaign, which, like Stella, ran for almost a decade, featured Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks tapped into the fraught and significant mother-daughter relationship, something that most of the supermarket's female customers would identify with at a subconscious level.
Because sincerity is so important to him, Inge spends a huge amount of time first trying to sell the product to himself - he only believes a campaign can succeed when he becomes personally convinced that something new and genuinely interesting can be said. Psychologists would argue that one can almost hear the disapproving father in the background being gently persuaded as well - which might explain the beauty and depth to Inge's work.