Does advertising lack originality?

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They say Christmas is a time for giving. But first it’s a time for watching all the big brand ads so we can decide what to give and where to spend our money. And with the bulk of this year’s spots now released, what do they say about the state of creativity in 2019?

Every year, agencies need to contend with not only their competitors, but the standard they’ve set for themselves the previous year. The challenge is to once again engage consumers with new ideas, concepts and often emotional tales to warm our hearts.

But have we reached the point of peak creativity in the UK where everything has been done before? Surely not, but there’s a case to say that some of the ideas being signed off are starting to feel a bit tired.

Take this year’s John Lewis (and Waitrose) ad by adam&eveDDB; Excitable Edgar launched after many of the retailer’s rivals and was praised by the trade press and public on social media. But how original is the idea it's centred on?



The ad’s concept feels suspiciously like a Doritos spot from AMV BBDO a few years ago created to launch the brand’s Heatwave flavour. Both star a youthful, energetic dragon with clumsy fire-breathing skills but because one is a lot higher profile, launched at a certain time of year, and the other has had its time in the spotlight, maybe that’s okay.

According to one creative who made the connection between the ads, their similarities suggests a drop in creative standards. “This systematic lack of originality across advertising is not good news for anybody,” says freelance creative director and writer-director Damon Hutson-Flynn. “It just staggers me that a lot more people don’t question or challenge such a low standard, rather than just going along with things. That type of complacency got Trump in office.”



Whether or not the creatives behind the John Lewis ad were inspired by Doritos’ 2017 spot is anyone’s guess, but Hutson-Flynn remembers a time when the bar was a lot higher in agencies.

“When I came into advertising in the 90s, creativity and the goal to be more original was top of the mountain. I would literally be told to ‘fuck off and do it again’ by group heads and ECDs if my idea for a campaign or ad was not completely original, which included within art, cinema and TV formats,” he adds.

“Agencies would even fire clients back then if they weren’t being more original and creative. That’s not the case now as even companies like BBH have become very client servicing with their output. But new ideas are always possible.” BBH's Christmas spot for Tesco this year sees a time-travelling delivery van celebrate the brand's centenary in different decades.



The theory that every idea has been done is nothing new. For years, people have considered that there are no new ideas and everything is inspired by something that came before it. But, getting a creative spark of inspiration from something in the world and letting it feed your own imagination or simply repackaging an existing idea are two different things.

The John Lewis ad isn't the only one that Hutson-Flynn suggests has been fuelled by something that came before it in 2019. According to the creative director, Argos’ The Book of Dreams by The&Partnership, which sees a father and daughter going hell for leather on a drum kit, seems awfully familiar to a certain iconic Cadbury ad.



“I read from another professional creative on LinkedIn recently that the Argos ad (in their view) was the best of Christmas with a good idea and great strategy,” he explains. “But how? What? No disrespect to this particular individual, as the entire industry thinks the ad is great when really it is just a bastard amalgamation of Cadbury’s Gorilla [from Fallon] and what Sainsbury’s did last Christmas themselves [with The Big Night by Wieden+Kennedy].”

But what’s to blame for this apparent decline in original creative ideas, especially at Christmas time? Hutson-Flynn believes the last few recessions are a good place to start. When an agency's finances are hit, senior and middleweight creatives are the first to be made redundant. That, in turn, leaves junior people left with extremely senior creative bosses who are busy in meetings and a gulf opens between the two.



“What’s missing out of all of this is any type of quality control of creative, any development of young talent and any challenge to what can always be better work and ideas. So shit starts rolling out the door accordingly,” adds the CD.

Often, the conversations at festivals and thought pieces in the trade press can tend to point the finger at brands’ lack of bravery when considering the standard of work being produced. But Hutson-Flynn is reluctant to blame clients for any sign of a slump in creative excellence. Instead, he whole heartedly believes it’s a problem that resides in agencies because of financial reasons and the fact that they can’t afford to lose one client because of overheads today.

There’s also an argument to say audiences aren’t hungry enough for new ideas and the demand for fresh creativity isn’t there due to the age we live in. Maybe the evolution of devices, apps and technology catering to more media platforms is a factor. But the fact is, there is always room for new ideas and originality to thrive. Things are being invented every day and innovation is there if you want to seek it out enough.


IKEA opted for a unique approach to the usual festive feel in 2019 through creative agency Mother

“It is often put to me professionally the concept that there might not be new ideas anymore. This is total bullshit. The same could be said of music otherwise, which is clearly not true as new sounds are eminently achievable,” considers Hutson-Flynn.

“Music is also a good example however of how what is familiar can be ever more marketable sadly. This is true in TV formats, cinema (which is rife with remakes of older more original ideas) and indeed advertising.”

Nostalgia has certainly become a comfort blanket for audiences in recent years but the message is to be brave and bold in order to be memorable and stand out for the right reasons. Only then can you achieve success, both in terms of both launching fresh ideas and exceeding client business targets.

“If we want some great new advertising campaigns that are truly creative and original, we need some new balls please,” concludes Hutson-Flynn.


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