From my earliest days in this business, I was taught to look at the masters like Ogilvy, Bernbach, et al, for the key to effective creative. The award books owe their existence to armies of creatives, perusing other creatives’ successes, while on a quest for their own. The fact is, we’re all thieves, to a greater or lesser extent, appropriating techniques, riffs, snippets, styles, and even (gasp) ideas, which we load into the giant Mixmaster that is our brain, in hopes of creating a concoction that at least looks and feels different, and at the very best, might be called “breakthrough.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just because there’s no new rock and roll doesn’t mean there’s nothing good to listen to. Sometimes, even, the emulator has far more popular appeal than does the emulated. Witness: the New York Dolls.
Thing is, advertising has changed, as have all communications. (Though, “is changing” is probably a better choice of words — it seems as if the process is going to be perpetual, or at the very least, seriously protracted.) Traditional agencies want to become more digital — and have done so, with varying success. Digital shops see, and seize, traditional opportunities — again, with varying success. Click-throughs tell you whether an ad is working, but not much about the emotional impact of the brand message. None of this is news.
What it has created, though, is an interesting dynamic in that part of the building we call the creative department. Because now, two very different types of creatives frequently coexist under the same agency roof. And just as frequently, each group looks for inspiration to people the other group has never even heard of. There are very different definitions of “good.” Sometimes, it gets downright snippy. Managing it is hard.
The idea of media neutrality sounds great. In practice, though, it’s a difficult thing to deliver. Especially when an agency, or better yet, an industry, is in transition. Because nobody is really neutral.
I sit in a kind of Cat Bird’s seat on this. I’m old enough to have a firm grounding in traditional media. Young enough to have creds in digital. I straddle both departments. My job, explicitly, is to build a bridge between the two. And from where I sit, I see folks in agencies everywhere looking in opposite directions for inspiration, and validation.
Traditional creatives are taught to learn from the masters. Sometimes that translates into a reverence for Ogilvy. But just as likely, it translates into a quest to become the next Alex, or simply to make better ads than your boss. Regardless, it’s a view that puts a premium on things that have worked in the past, if even the very recent past. The idea, then, is to reinvent those things for the now. It works very, very well.