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The rumours of advertising’s demise… 23 April, 2007

Posted by Jay Ball in creativity, theory.

The Independent’s media section today has a feature on “Why we don’t make good ads anymore” – you can read the online version here.

They’ve interviewed the usual adland suspects (Frank Lowe, Martin Sorrell, John Hegarty, Trevor Beattie etc). The premise behind the article is that ads today aren’t as good as they used to be – in the days of the Milk Tray man, Hovis bread delivery boys, Smash and all the others that make up the pantheon of golden age greats. The respondents are somewhat divided. Frank Lowe’s comment reads as a lament for times past, the others tend to criticise the lack of time that pervades the industry and are split on whether online is creative enough yet.

These kinds of articles are not new. Each generation of creative seems to feel a need to talk up the dumbing down of the latest crop of work. More recently there has been a flurry of rants as traditional adland has seen digital begin to eat its lunch and many creative directors find it difficult to adjust to a world where many people really, really don’t like TV ads (and where they can almost totally avoid them should they so choose).

There is also the widespread perception that good work = awards. And, of course, some awards highlight some very good work. But, personally, I fear that many awards create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy – established creatives awarding work that they would like to have created (ie traditional advertising). I remember some years back being on a judging panel where the discussion got round to “Is this an (insert awards’ name) kind of ad?” and to what would get the best reaction at the awards’ night dinner. This can’t be healthy.

Of course things are changing (it was ever thus). There has certainty been a shift in the kind of work that gets us most interested these days. It doesn’t tend to be the big ad campaigns so much any more. It’s the difficult, gnarly problems that need clever, elegant answers. It’s the left-field, asymmetric creative strategies that refuse to fight on a level playing field.
It’s the ideas that are not only media neutral (or any of the other buzz terms) but which seek to create new media and forge new connections.

Time, as many in the Independent’s article point out, is an issue. We don’t have the luxury of long, draw-out development anymore. But is this such a bad thing? I don’t know. Yes, I love to see beautifully crafted work that’s had oodles of loving care taken over it. But on balance I’d prefer to beat a competitor to the punch with something quick, dirty and effective. Better still, I’d prefer to get in early and set the agenda for a product or category. All the kerning in the world won’t match up to benefits like these.

Everything these days is in beta (as Russell Davies commented some time back). The days of 100% finished, totally locked down creative campaigns are history. Instead, today’s communications are messier, trickier and more interesting for it. Creatives might make fewer good traditional ads any more but with so many opportunities to do something better and faster I can’t say I’m going to lose sleep over it.



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