We are in the process of producing a series of animated shorts called Craftsmen of Creativity: Tales of a Creative Revolution. The idea is a simple one. Stories about storytellers. The fascinating and the absurd. Scenarios from the careers of extraordinarily talented individuals like John Hegarty, Bill Bernbach, Paula Green, Mary Wells-Lawrence and David Ogilvy. I read books. Watched interviews. Read other people’s books. Watched other people’s interviews. I found myself down strange, dated, Web 1.0 Internet rabbit holes. And I did so to get to know these creatives of the past, their motivations, styles, and personalities.
Successful work tends to have the same attributes today as then. Big ideas.
Learning about them was the easy part. The enjoyable bit. Their wins, losses. Ups, downs. From Bernbach building DDB, an agency that changed the nature of the advertising industry itself to his pioneering promotion of the copywriter/art director partnership. Or even Ogilvy’s journey to founding one of the world’s best-loved advertising agencies through Parisian kitchens, AGA stoves and Amish tobacco farmers. The hard part was translating all of this through something I had seldom worked with before – animation. What I learned was invaluable. Not least that animation is an extraordinarily flexible medium where the only limit is your imagination; But that despite seismic industry change, successful work tends to have the same attributes today as then. Big ideas.
Indeed, this common ingredient spurred them on to take the industry to a far different place. Curiosity, perseverance, tenacity, whatever you wish to call it. Despite odds stacked against them they refused to accept the status quo. When faced with a roadblock they worked harder to get around it. They tirelessly worked – at times unknowingly – to promote a revolution purely to have their voices – and their work – heard and seen. Some of which is so good we still write about it today, in a sort of nostalgic throwback to the good ol’ days.
How much of this exists today? For one, things are different. Anyone with access to an Internet connection is able to understand, reach and engage potential consumers. Brands can have real-time conversations with their customers whilst they interact with websites, mobile apps and platforms. The advertising and marketing skill-set has changed dramatically as a result, as have traditional sensibilities towards creativity and advertising. The traditional, creative side of the discipline – using powerful narratives to tap into people’s wishes and aspirations – has been blended with the technical side of data, digital engineering and analytics. These two areas do not always sit easily together – the result being a mish-mash of outstanding examples of creativity executed with big ideas that find people wherever they may be. And naturally, of course, the duds that are about as effective as splashing some water on a wine-stained carpet.
These ‘duds’ tend to come when a second attribute – one I failed to mention earlier – is ignored. Our craftsmen and women didn’t possess it, because they didn’t have to. That attribute is a balance between creativity and an astute understanding of the fragmented nature we engage with content today.
Consider the average consumer. In a typical month, netizens exchange many billions of pieces of information on Facebook alone, with billions more on other social channels. They are all listening to each other. Talking all the time. And as a result, consumers don’t need or believe in advertising the way they once did. Much of this can be attributed to the smartphone, which has marched forth to become the standard. Figures surrounding the number of people who simply ignore TV ads are astonishingly high. Supposedly 9 in 10.
By balance I mean exactly that, recognising the playing field is different to back then.
Ogilvy once said that without a “big idea” at the heart, your campaign “will pass through the minds of consumers like a ship in the night.” He remains correct, though it is with the coupling of that second attribute that new stories and tales will be written. Rather than bona fide advertising legends who crafted the creative revolution, perhaps the next set of stories will come from micro-influencers or YouTube stars.