PICA #057

A withered flower.

Malignant mediocrity.

It used to be a coveted and exciting job, is a career as an advertising creative still as desirable?

I recently experienced one of those moments when you realise something you already know but have not yet articulated when I was asked the question, “If you had to start all over again would you still choose to work in advertising?”
My answer saddened and slightly surprised me, “If I could start all over again in the 1980s absolutely yes. If I had to start all over again in 2019, no thanks.”

I began working in advertising in July 1983, realising an early ambition of mine - I wanted to be in advertising, I wanted to be a creative. Looking back there were many reasons for my choice of career but a predominant reason was the quality of the advertising I was exposed to. With no prompting, I can today clearly remember numerous outdoor, print and TV campaigns from before I joined the advertising workforce - work that was intelligent, surprising, funny, exciting. Of that 80’s advertising I can recall not just the creativity but also the brands. I wanted to make work like that, for clients but also for myself.

One reason there was less bad advertising back then is that there was less advertising in general but in all honesty, much advertising was as bad then as it is today, what was different was the quantity and quality of the best advertising. I am aware that great advertising is still being made today but it drowns in the sea of crass, mediocrity and banality that is the mass-mess of today’s advertising output. There is more of it, it’s very pervasiveness is counterproductive - to survive we blank ads out. Advertising is increasingly seen as an obnoxious, toxic nuisance. Justifiably so.

Now, what does that make the people who make it? The answer to that question lies at the heart of the problem. When the creative arm of the advertising industry acquires a bad image in society it no longer attracts the best talent. Without the best talent, the work gets worse which tarnishes the image of the industry and so on in a death spiral. Attracting and nurturing great talent must be an industry priority. Unfortunately, all I see are investments in technology. To use a metaphor, we have increasingly sophisticated fire hoses but for the most part, they are pumping sludge.

Every piece of advertising is an advert for advertising itself. It follows that giving potential new talent a better standard of work to aspire to is crucial for recruiting the best people. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, “The customer is not a moron. She's your next creative director.”