Is It Time to Phase Out the Creative Function?

For too long now, I (and I suspect you as well) have been troubled by the dearth (or death) of creativity in the industry. I’ve said it before, but “creativity sucks.” Well, it does.

What’s your favorite commercial of all time? Does it not trouble you that it’s from 1984 or earlier? How about the new marketing offerings online? Or as I like to call it these days, “traditional interactive.”

Legendary creative director Bill Bernbach was credited as the person who first paired a copywriter and art director together. It was cutting edge at the time. Innovative. Bold. Relevant.

But today, when it comes to methodologies and processes that attempt to surprise, delight, “tell stories” and, oh yes, sell stuff to people, not much has changed.

Bernbach would be turning in his grave at the state of the union right now. He’s the rebel who said, “Safe advertising is the riskiest advertising of all,” and for some reason, none of us are paying attention.

So where does the problem lie? It’s not within the spun-off media department. Rampant innovation (sometimes out of necessity) has resulted in thriving media agencies. But more importantly, we’ve seen the birth and growth of the media-neutral planner and the philosophy of communications planning. In both cases, it is the rise and dominance of the generalist that has prevailed over the myopic traditional specialist.

When I worked at TBWA\Chiat\Day, maverick interactive creative director Doug Jaeger created a new format for interactive: in addition to the copywriter and art director (20 percent technologist, 80 percent creative director), there was a wizard (80 percent technologist, 20 percent creative director). Brilliant. Ahead of its time. Lost on us.
The simple addition of a bit of imaginative science to the intangible and mystical art component became the ultimate counterbalance.

Anomaly aside, today’s creative industry is stuck in limbo, suffering an acute identity crisis that has one foot in Cannes and the other in Databases for Dummies. (Mark my words: A black-rimmed glasses-wearing nerd will win the Grand Prix for Best Database in 2012, perhaps even earlier.) There are still way too many agencies that are advising their clients to keep the URL off the 30-second spot because it “dirties the otherwise clean presentation and work product,” think Flash is a superhero and wouldn’t know a keyword if it came up and slapped them across the Face(book).

Part of the solution is to take a page out of media’s playbook and, in the ultimate form of flattery, imitate the same best-practice formula blow by blow: launch a creative-neutral discipline led by “creative generalists.”
The romantic in me thinks it would be as simple as that, but a little nagging voice wonders whether it is in fact too late to save the “advertising creative” as we knew him or her. The fact remains there’s just too much unlearning and relearning required in order to teach the old dogs new tricks. The new creativity is one in which every single person present at the party should be able to contribute — from the obvious or lowest-hanging media counterparts to account people to (gasp) clients. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of course I’m also referring to consumers — from consumer-generated content to co-creation to advanced crowd-sourcing programs.

Creativity is just way too important to be left to a single person, a dynamic duo or a department anymore. The world is too complex and fragmented for an oversimplified one-size-fits-all “story.”  The challenge is really how to overcome a one-two sucker punch of attitude and aptitude. The former will have decades of superiority, arrogance and separatist elitism to overcome, whereas the latter will need to focus on an entirely new set of rules and technical nuances.
I’d begin by losing the word “creative” from any job title and thus, any walking silo. Every — and I stress every — single person involved in the process of engaging, surprising, delighting, empowering and converting consumers has to be creative. Any less will just result in failure.

If truly great ideas do come from anyone and anywhere, isn’t it time we walked our talk and proved the power of listening, learning and collaborating accordingly?

My company, Crayon, is a strategic advisory group, where there are no individuals with the word “creative” in their titles. There will never be any people with the word “creative” in their titles. If we do end up hiring people who will naturally gravitate closer to the transformation of strategy into actionable solutions and/or represent a specific specialization, I’ll leave it up to them to come up with a title that rewards their imagination and tests their creativity. It can’t be worse than mine, chief interruptor.

Until then, think about: your organization and how it comes up with ideas; how much time is wasted by slowing down the process; how little time is actually spent collaborating with insiders and outsiders; how difficult it is to change course midstream or how much credence and influence are given to the public (consumers, customers, bloggers, etc.); how many different platforms or approaches were taken into account and to what extent every possibility was factored into the equation and the true potential of the ideas was realized.

Depressing, isn’t it? But it needn’t be.

The new creativity is a brilliantly blank canvas that demands complete immersion and representation by all parties, platforms, technologies and approaches. It’s ours for the taking, but it will not be accessible via incrementalist and siloed thinking.

Consider this your creative brief.

Joseph Jaffe is president and chief interruptor at Crayon and author of ‘Join the Conversation.’ He blogs at and can be reached at