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August 7, 2002
What Creative Slump?

There's been a lot of talk lately about an industry-wide creative slump. It certainly seems like there ought to be one. The stock market is plummeting, corporate America is collapsing, clients are tightening their belts, and agencies are laying people off. It only seems natural that our industry's creative product would suffer in such adverse conditions, right? I'm not so sure.

Conventional wisdom would tell us that the period that we all just lived through, where budgets were plentiful and creative was allowed to run wild, provided the optimal conditions for creative greatness. Right? Well let's be honest, how did that really turn out? The occasional brilliant sock puppet campaign was vastly overshadowed by a myriad of ill-advised, ineffective ads. How many truly great ads were born during that supposed heyday? And before you answer, remember that any historically relevant definition of greatness must include effectiveness.

Here's an alternate perspective: artistically adventurous work that didn't get the job done always makes future artistically adventurous work harder to sell. The more case studies out there of edgy, interesting work not delivering results, the easier it is for clients to paint your work with the "crazy creative" brush, right or wrong. If you judge by standards of both artistic excellence and effectiveness, then the real creative slump was the supposed heyday that everyone is now lamenting the death of.

Those saying that the fun is now over, sound a bit to me like the kids turned savages at the end of The Lord of the Flies, just after the adults arrived. If that's your idea of fun, then they're right. But it's not mine. My idea of fun is doing advertising in a time when it has to be great, because the bottom line is depending on it. Are our clients scrutinizing us a bit more? Yes. Do they ask a few more questions before taking a risk? Yes. Does that mean they don't want, or won't buy great work? Absolutely not. If you believe that great creative will also deliver great results, then you have nothing to be afraid of, because that's exactly what our clients all want. I believe that now is actually a wonderful time to be selling good work. And historically speaking, not just in advertising, but in all art forms, times of difficulty and opposition often produce the real creative revolutions.

So how are we faring during our time of difficulty? Well allow me to side step self-flattery and bad politics and leave Deutsch's work out of the conversation. Let's talk about the remarkably fresh work being done for the launch of the Mini. Let's talk about the medium-bending, paradigm shifting BMW Films work. Let's talk about big, formerly conservative clients like Sears and Target, in the middle of a huge retail downturn, suddenly banking their fortunes on strong, inventive campaigns. In tough financial times you would at least expect conservative work from our biggest financial institutions, but there's Citibank, taking a sharp, clean, and utterly fresh approach. The current creative slump has also produced some of the best anti-smoking ads in years with the Truth campaign, some of the best Nike work in years, and the world still seems to be safe for the ever escalating and irreverent musings of clients like Fox Sports and ESPN. The list goes on. And all the work listed here has the added bonus, at least judging by the apparent stability of these accounts at their respective agencies, of getting the job done.

Now, there's plenty of bad work to go around right now as well, but that's always been the case. The presence of bad work doesn't mean we're all in a slump. Unfortunately it just means we're all still in advertising.

Our clients need big ideas now more than ever. Being emotionally impactful or humorous or attention getting are not the perks of a good economy. They are the essential elements of advertising that works, and the world needs advertising that works right now. Saying we're in a creative slump doesn't inspire people to come in and do the best work of their lives right now. It does little more than give us an excuse to lower expectations and ride it out. Let's not do that.

Let's make this the creative heyday. Let's not lose our conviction that great creative isn't a luxury. It's a necessity.

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If you have a hot East Coast agency and want to open a hot West Coast agency, you may want to put Eric Hirshberg at the helm. That maneuver is precisely the one made by Donny Deutsch. Responsible for Deutsch LA's creative product and co-management, along with his partner, Mike Sheldon, Hirshberg has helped establish Deutsch LA as a West Coast powerhouse.
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