The Year Ahead For ... Creativity

Nick Gill says the best creativity comes from the unpredictable, so agencies need to embrace the random to create more lateral solutions.

This time last year, when Ewan Paterson was invited to make his creative predictions for 2009, he failed miserably to predict that it would be the year of the meerkat.

And this, of course, is exactly how it should be. An exercise in trying to predict the creative year ahead is hopefully a redundant one. I don't want to predict what's coming. I want to be surprised. And so do the millions of people who make up our worldwide audience.

For all the science we inject into our industry, the answer is so often just the right bunch of elements getting together and having a party. Yes, a large part of the meerkat's success is down to the clever strategic play of owning the word "market" instead of "compare". But what kind of scientific rationale led to the meerkat having an Eastern European accent? This was just creative instinct coming good.

The truth is, some things are cool and some things aren't. Some things follow all the rules of "how to write a funny ad" and fail miserably and some things just make you laugh because something kind of chemical happened or one person was cast in the role instead of another.

The impact of YouTube on our industry continues to be huge, in that all the sophisticated processes we had in place to ensure great creative work are being challenged by happy accidents and young chancers with no budget but plenty of ideas.

This democratisation of creativity is something I'm extremely happy about, and I hope the long-term response from our industry will be to kind of de-sophisticate what we're about. Trust creative instinct a bit more. Take more chances. Be bolder.

As such, one of my hopes for 2010 is that we'll see more young creatives influencing our industry.

Experience and knowledge are good for organising information, but sometimes a healthy immaturity is what's required to crack grown-up briefs. Picasso once said: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

And this statement is entirely relevant to our industry, which is looking very "grown up" these days. The most sophisticated mobile function is redundant if people don't simply enjoy playing with it. Retail funnels in the digital space will not deliver the numbers if there isn't a real sense of reward. Of course, these are hugely exciting times to be in advertising. Never was the canvas we had to paint on so vast and never was the technology more liberating. I suppose the question we agencies must ask ourselves is: "How much of the new world do we want?" We all want to grow. We all want to explore new media channels. But, equally, we need to protect our own creative identities. Decide exactly where we add creative value.

It's great that agencies are now free to make bold content plays, and drift out of their media comfort zones. But the creative product, whatever it is, must stay true to that agency's principles, particularly if that agency has a reputation for fresh creative ideas.

I'm a big fan of crowd sourcing, because there are a lot of magical ideas hiding out there. But I'm also mindful that clients are paying us for our specialist skills, and, in the future, truly successful agencies will have to straddle the line between being open-minded enough to embrace all forms of creative development, and demonstrating where they add genuine creative value.

What will creative departments and creative teams look like in the future? The copywriter/art director team has prevailed for many years and is still the perfect combination for cracking print and outdoor briefs. But, nowadays, we work on many different kinds of briefs, some of which call for broader content solutions. Briefs that render the traditional model of a team almost redundant. So I predict we'll see agencies taking a looser approach to what constitutes "the team". Many more skills will be brought into play. Digital technologists, for example, will enable agencies to innovate and pioneer, rather than just wait for the next trickery to emerge from Sweden.

Fixed-contract creative people and partnerships will be key to the success of agencies. Otherwise the ever-widening media landscape and fast-growing technology will prove just too big for them to handle.

And all of this, I believe, will have a positive effect on our business, as more and more latent creative talent is unlocked and new voices are heard in the creative review.

Much has been written about the demise of UK creativity in recent years, as compared to the success of other countries in global awards schemes. I don't share this disillusionment, but I do admit that we could have been a lot bolder last year. I thought the recession might force the hand of advertisers into more adventurous work, and more radical, cost-effective solutions to business problems, but it wasn't a vintage year.

The success of Droga5 with "million" and "The Great Schlep" reminded us that creative people have a lot more to offer than just filling pre-planned media spaces. Lateral content ideas such as these are something the Americans are particularly good at.

They excite us all in the industry because they show that an advertising solution doesn't have to be an ad anymore. I hope the UK will step forward into this space in 2010. If creative people can be at the table when the big business problems are being addressed, and not just drafted in to pen 30 seconds of film, then more lateral, and hopefully cost-effective, solutions will emerge.

The stupidest thing that ever happened to our industry was the separation of media companies from the agencies that created the work. I believed that you couldn't develop the two things in isolation because so often they were inter-dependant.

But it's happening all over again with the divide that now exists between digital agencies and so-called "traditional" ones. This fragmentation just doesn't work. Healthy competition in our industry will always be a good thing, but drawing the battle lines between new and old media is not the way to get brand synergy. I hope that in 2010 we'll start to return to just being agencies. I hope that agencies labelled "traditional" will get the opportunity to take more of their ideas into the digital space and that digital agencies will get the opportunity to do the big idea and not just spend their time bringing some other agency's brainchild to life.

And the sun will continue to rise.

Whatever the future brings, my long-term plea is simply for a bolder industry. Please step forward the fresh thinking, media-restless creatives of tomorrow. And my big creative prediction for 2010? Hopefully that this year will be as unpredictable as the last.

- Nick Gill is the executive creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty.