The Year Ahead for ... Creativity

Nick Gill believes exciting the public is still the priority: get the most out of your creative, take an open-minded approach and use technology wisely.

Nick Gill
Nick Gill

I've just got back from three days in Blackpool. Have you seen the size of the rollercoaster they've got there? From a distance, it looks like some gigantic piece of conceptual art. Ride it and it's a bit like our industry right now: scary and unpredictable as we negotiate a recession; exciting and overwhelming as advances in media and technology force us to think faster and wider.

Last year, the British public, watching nearly four hours of telly a day, feasted on our work, and long may this continue. ITV, looking stronger and more confident than in a long time, is making the big event films possible with better deals and real enthusiasm for the creative we produce. Regulators are finally loosening their shackles on our product to the extent that it's sometimes hard to see where the programme ends and the ad begins.

And social media still hasn't killed TV. In fact, the two channels seem to be getting on very well, thank you. Millions of consumers who love to chat will always need something to chat about. Serve them up a real event of a film and they'll talk about it so much that you can whip it off the telly and let them do your advertising for you. "Super Bowl, super social" isn't about one channel versus another. It's about both, making each other work harder and brands more famous as a result.

What of the global stage? If you believe various awards schemes, the UK isn't at the races when it comes to creativity. OK. We didn't boss it this year. But I wish we'd stop apologising and believe in our own strengths a bit more. Awards schemes are very important to our industry. They are here to inspire, set the creative bar and help build the career of the individual. But as a metric for judging success, they can be distracting. We must decide, as an industry, whether we want to be like the Latin American agency that stops working for its clients at Christmas to focus on Cannes, or whether we want to prioritise exciting the public with increasingly surprising work for real brands and believe that jurors will be smart enough to recognise "great" when they see it.

Something I admire about work coming out of emerging markets is the open-minded approach it takes to cracking a business problem. Such as the Korean Tesco campaign that said: "How can we get people to shop while they're commuting? I know - let's take the shop to the tube station."

There's a genius Pepsi campaign emerging out of a Swedish agency that teaches blind people to play football using 3D sound to calculate distance and angle. Wow! Now THAT is how to get the most out of your creative.

People have always had great ideas, some of which dramatically impact on our lives. Only now they're coming out of agencies and being celebrated by our industry. If Louis Pasteur created the concept of microbiology in 2012, I wonder if we would see him walking off with a Pencil.

And technology will continue to liberate creativity. One of the most exciting things that has happened to tech in the past few years is that creative people are finally using it. Motion sensor, augmented reality and image recognition are enjoying longer shelf lives because the demo guys have moved out and the lateral thinkers have moved in.

It's only a matter of time before some brand appropriates the embryonic art form that is "video super-cuts". Kevin Kelly describes this phenomenon as "unseen patterns in our visual record of something". He reckons there are about 160 really good examples around, one of the best being a Sarah Palin speech with all the words cut out so that all we enjoy is a chronological sequence of breaths and pauses. It's insane.

Easy editing software. Transcripts for searching key words. A huge library of video footage. These have been available to us for years. But now creative people are playing with them in more interesting ways.

And data will continue to focus the message we deliver. I found an interview with Eric Schmidt from 2002 in which he imagined a world where a radio commercial would say: "Hi Nick. You need new trousers." We're not quite there yet, but micro-targeted promotions on Facebook and location-based messages on smartphones are allowing our product to be as intimate and personal as the homemade birthday card.

We've now learned that there are many more ways to crack a business problem than an ad. The challenge over the past few years has been how we adapt as creative businesses to meet this ever-widening opportunity. I'm bored with the whole traditional versus digital agency debate and so are you. If full-service agencies can't build stuff, they should learn or forge mutually respectful relationships with people who can. If digital agencies aren't cracking the big ideas, they'd better start, otherwise they'll be in a lot of trouble.

Surely, the future must be about total creative businesses, obsessed with moving their creative product forward, comfortable in any discipline and mature enough to know they can't do everything by themselves.

I'm attracted to the idea of a creative business rather than a business with a creative department, because I believe creativity should be cultural, not some discipline to be fenced off. I like the notion of creativity everywhere in a business, with creative influence extending way beyond the response to a brief. I like the idea of multiple creatives from different disciplines collaborating with generosity and ambition. But I also like the idea of two stubborn bastards locked in an office looking at a wall until a script of great genius finally flows out of them. So what do you do?

I suppose it's about working in different gears and being comfortable in doing so. The creative business of the future will just have to find its own working rhythm, by understanding when fluidity and agility are appropriate and when individual specialists just need to be left to get on with it.

Maybe our industry needs to unlearn a few bad habits. Take a more lateral, simplistic approach to how it solves a problem. Immature with age.

It was a child who said "hang on, the emperor's wearing no clothes", and I think this industry can learn a lot from people who know very little. I urge everyone to give more young creatives not just jobs but opportunities in 2012. We should be putting free-thinking, junior teams on the biggest briefs and getting them in front of clients at the first opportunity. It's certainly a policy we've adopted at our place.

So this has been as much about my wishes as my predictions for 2012. I feel hugely positive about where we're all going. I wish our most ambitious agencies great success this year. If everyone is at the top of their game, this will be a far more interesting industry to work in.

Who knows what the future holds for creativity? All I know is that creativity will always be the answer.

Nick Gill is the executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.