Jul 2019 04

If you’re a Creative Director in advertising and not fostering it, what are you even still doing in this business?

How do you ‘learn’ how to have an idea? And aren’t we all born with the ability to be creative, anyhow? And are ideas an endangered species in Canadian Advertising?

It was this week, many years ago, that I started my career in Canadian Advertising. After Canada Day I reported for duty for a summer long internship at the ad shop that had won Agency of the Year two years running. How I fluked that off is still a mystery, but I’m thankful someone saw something in that kid that arrived for his interview wearing a tie.

Five years in school but I had no idea my real education was about to begin.

And that summer I learned about ideas.

Yes, I learned, or re-learned, how to be creative.

For a lot of us, we lose the ability to be creative, to be silly, to have fun. Especially as a (gasp) job. That thinking is beaten out of us in school or at home when we’re told “Stop goofing around. Get serious or you’ll never amount to anything.”

For those months, I was mentored by some of the legends of Canadian Advertising, who were mentored by the same. The Creative Department was about 30 people strong of writers and art directors who didn’t just think creatively – they lived creatively. Going into work was actually fun. I had no idea what would and did happen everyday. And the weird thing was – the fun actually led to success.

Creativity in the advertising actually sold our clients products and services.

Of course, it was a different time in Advertising. Before social media. And it wasn’t such an on-demand world as well. We had time to hone our craft. To truly shape an idea. To really collaborate and get everyone excited about a thought, a ‘what if?’. And that led to our clients getting excited about it, and they would take more chances with us. In a way, they felt creative too. They wanted to be creative right along with us.

It was a self-renewing cycle of trust and magic.

A client once said “I have a simple way of judging whether I’ll buy the work my ad agency is showing. If I could have thought of it, I won’t buy it.”

I wonder if that time is gone. Canadian Advertising has become a lot of adapting work from other global markets. We’re not as distinct as we think we are, perhaps. Or we’re not protecting our own culture, perhaps.

And in a way, maybe the homogenization and decline of creative advertising is okay. The world doesn’t exactly need more people buying cars, or burgers, or the next phone they’ll throw away next year, or something packaged in more plastic than all the straws you would use in a year.

But I still believe in the power of an idea.

If anything in this world is worth doing, I believe it is worth doing creatively. And not just to sell burgers.

As a freelancer, I work in a lot of different ad agencies here in Toronto. And it’s the creative environments I remember.

The ones that celebrate creativity. The ones that have fun and remember it is our job to deliver a message in a powerful way – no one was ever bored senseless into buying something.

And that starts with the environment. The people at the top.

I’m lucky I grew up in Canadian Advertising in a Culture of Ideas.

We talked about work that inspired us. We supported each other. We shared our ideas to help make them better. We mentored the kids coming up and gave them the confidence to try and strive and fail and be better. Even if they left advertising, which a lot of them did, we told them to go out and live life and have fun and bring that back into your work. Ideas didn’t happen at their desks at 9 o’clock at night.

We took the time to build that Culture and the people at the top understood how vital is was to an ad agency. And for the people I knew back then that are still in this business, we remember that and we carry it with us and have tried to pass it on.

A culture of ideas.

If you’re a Creative Director and you’re not fostering it at your agency – I ask you, what are you even still doing in this business?

 

Thank you to the ones that fanned my fledgling spark that summer and saved me from a life of wearing collared shirts and hoofing the 9 to 5 and being 40 years old before I was ever 40.