“If you look at the UK, we are suffering because we are not putting the time into the idea and there’s empirical evidence to say that the quality of our output has gone down. It’s not my opinion. Empirical evidence from the audience shows us that the quality of what we are making is going down."
That's Sir John Hegarty, speaking on the Assorted Nuts podcast. He continues: "By and large the product’s sh*t. Why would I watch sh*t?"
It's possible Hegarty is suffering from the same syndrome which sees old punks bemoaning the state of modern pop, but I don't think so. Quite honestly, if Sir John thinks the ads we're producing are crap, then we have a problem. So, assuming he's right, what has gone wrong?
'If Sir John Hegarty thinks the ads we're producing are crap, then we have a problem.'
Creative adventurousness is a matter of power. In its glory days, BBH (Hegarty's agency) was very powerful indeed. Their work on global brands, particularly Levis, was rightly regarded with awe and envy. This admiring respect certainly came from competitor agencies, but importantly, it also came from clients. When clients aspire to be on the roster of a particular shop, it puts the agency a very strong position because it gives creativity a power-base. Why did so much tremendous work emanate from BBH and others, through the eighties and nineties? Because the power and influence lay in brilliant creative concepts. This is no longer the case.
For a variety of reasons, many of them financial, power has transferred to the client. There are so many suppliers in a very crowded marketplace, chasing a substantially diminished budget pool. Which not only hands the veto to the client, but often to the controller of the client's purse strings. In those circumstances, how often can an agency be expected to push an inventive or unusual idea when there's a real risk of jeopardising the account and its income? Generally speaking, clients no longer come to an agency primarily for imaginative thought, but for value for money and rapid, reactive work.
In his interview, Hegarty flags up the insistence on speed as being intensely damaging to creative quality - the 'don't get it right, get it done' principle. He has a point, but he may be overemphasising it.
The advertising sectors in which I have spent most of my career have always been driven by tight deadlines. Indeed, my job has usually demanded a combination of creative ability AND efficient haste. Taking more time over a brief doesn't necessarily guarantee a more creatively satisfying outcome. That largely depends on approach and priority. Unfortunately, the current prevailing attitude on both sides of the relationship, is one of compromise and box-ticking - however quickly the campaign is produced.
All that said, we must not surrender to a counsel of despair. There is still a wealth of exceptional conceptual thought in the industry, some of which actually goes live. The recent Aldi campaign has been reliably witty, warm, engaging and smart. And just look at this brave and wonderfully simple piece from Adidas: http://creatimes.tumblr.com/post/41700747475/adidassandals. Surely advertising at its best.
However, if there is a malaise can it be fixed? Almost certainly, but we need to spot where the barriers really lie and strive to overturn them. A few years ago I worked for a worldwide advertising business where a very senior person told me that she hated creativity. As far as she was concerned, it was an inconvenience to be overcome in order to send the client a bill. If that depressingly cynical mindset has become the norm, then John Heggarty is right to be critical. The challenge, therefore, is to re-introduce our clients to the excitement, necessity and joy of creativity. Reassure them that inspiration costs no more than mundanity - and is actually more cost effective. Don't be precious, share the ownership of the idea with everyone involved. Make it fun. Get the client to push the agency, to push the creatives.
Otherwise, we're all in the 'sh*t'.
Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant