The Mad Cow disease of the creative industry

The advertising business has a true problem on delivering creativity if you ask me. And, if its true, we should be out of business soon. Which we just might be. I have in my career been in meetings pitching ideas, using others peoples ideas , or even ads, to make my sale. And if not in the pitch meeting they turn up during the creative process. We are eating from our own ideas turning our own industry into a creative drain draft that might put us all out of business. This is my confession which I know I share with others. But it has to stop.
The reasons behind I believe is:
Clients seem to be more afraid of creative height in a time where more leverage is needed to break through and reach the market. Using other companies ads to make them feel safer creates a feeling of comfort.
Clients seems to have a hard time to know wether ideas are good or bad. Weak strategy makes it hard to judge quality and relevance.
And finally, when pitching ideas you want to show your inspiration. What lead up to it. And to many mad mens in our business other marketing ideas, ads and award winning work seems to be a main source of inspiration.


A year ago I attended Heidi Hackemer as she was invited by Swedish account planning group to make a talk at Berghs school of communication. She struck me as a brave, down to earth, talented planner with great integrity. At the time I didn’t know who she was. But I got to learn that, among other great work, she was in the team that did one of my tear jerker favorite ads of all time, Dear Sofie for Chrome by BBH agency.
Now, her talk was about how a planner should keep a distance to his or her own career in order to be a good planner.

You can see the Slideshare in full above. I won’t go through all of it here, but the part about Steve Jobs connecting the dots didn’t fully strike me until now, one year later. I mean, I have al ready lived my life in a impulsive gut instinct manner. Seeing how my choices sometimes only makes sense as times passes by. Thats the obvious part I fully understand. But how it relates to creativity is a different matter.
Here is a large chunk of quoting from the presentation that I want to stress.

”I had been living the linear, advertising life and was anxious because I wasn’t still on it but reading about dots made me question the linear”
”I became obsessed with this idea of “living the dots” + and its relationship to creativity. what I learned… creativity values space, exploration.
“Being able to step back and view things as an outsider, or from a slightly different angle, seems to promote creativity. This is why travel frequently seems to free the imagination, and why the young (who haven’t learned all sorts of rules) are often more innovative than their elders.”

Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into an idea for a printing machine capable of mass- producing words.
The Wright brothers used their knowledge of bicycle manufacturing to invent the airplane. (Their first flying craft was, in many respects, just a bicycle with wings.)
George de Mestral came up with Velcro after noticing burrs clinging to the fur of his dog.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the search algorithm behind Google by applying the ranking method used for academic articles to the sprawl of the World Wide Web; a hyperlink was like a citation.

net net
I don’t believe you can plan for breakthrough creative work if you don’t ruthlessly value creativity in yourself

this is scary
it’s scary to walk out of an ad agency at 6:00 (I do believe we call this the “half-day”)
it’s scary to stare at the ceiling or go for a walk
it’s scary to not take the next big, logical job
it’s scary to trust the work will come as a freelancer it’s scary to take off for a few months
it’s scary to not be one of us
I’m not advocating for everyone to quit their jobs, become a freelancer, buy a truck and travel around
I am advocating for more personal thoughtfulness:
what do you believe in?
why do you do this job?
are you creating the best conditions to make that happen?
your answer may involve being in an agency; that’s okay.

I hope it makes sense to you as it has to me. If the part about how creativity works is true, that the main part of it comes from crossing one field with another. And if it is true that our main source of inspiration is others marketing ideas. Then not only will there be no creativity. It actually makes for the Mad Cow disease of the creative business which means ideas are not just bad, but also insanely weak. Ill.
Somehing to think about if you consider yourself a nerd of advertising. And also something to think about if you’re an agency leader trying to prevent your employees from doing things that that can’t be charged for in the short term. And Googles 20% time off for own projects strategy makes even more sense to me now as well.
Now the big question is, to go along with Heidis finish in her presentation, what do you do that is different and you believe in? When do you have time to do it and how do plan to create more time for it and find new interests in the future?
I think the phrase Mad Cow disease is a great expression for this phenomena. It was introduced to me by my new colleague Adam Springfeldt at Acne advertising. Thank you Adam.

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