Op-Ed: Most of the Time, Advertising Isn’t Creative

By The Advert 

There’s a fundamental misnomer in advertising that it is a creative industry. In fact it is not that creative; rather, agencies leverage the idea of creativity as a way to define work, but a closer look at what we do reveals the truth. Most of the time advertising is not a creative industry.

Webster’s definition of create: to make or bring into existence something new. Creativity is the state or quality of being creative. Being creative is having the power to create. Since we’re all on the same page about how creativity is defined, I will now explain how although advertising agencies hire creative people, in the end, the business is only partially creative thanks to a million factors that end up limiting the final product like human nature, clients, and process.

A simile: You buy a car because it has a big engine that can go fast, and you want to go fast. You pull out of the dealership, hit the gas, and get pulled over for going too fast. Despite owning a car that can go fast, you’re limited to the rules of the road.

Human Nature:

Agencies hire people whose work falls into the creative category, which include: copywriters, designers, developers, art directors, strategists and a smattering of others. These people spend their time creating ideas, art, rapid prototypes and other things that previously didn’t exist. However, they’re only creative on their best days. The rest of the time they’re busy doing other things, until that glorious moment when creativity strikes. Woo hoo!


And then there’s the meetings, research, wandering aimlessly through SoHo to find inspiration, and whatever else takes up the creative’s day. At best, he or she is probably creative for 5% of their professional work time.

The creative’s colleagues, which include everyone from the new business team to account directors, buyers, producers, all have different goals to achieve. Whether it’s landing the business or getting the job done on scope or setting up the perfect media plan (this may need to go up with the creative jobs), the non-creative has a fundamentally different set of goals — most of which aren’t ‘achieving creativity’. They’re business goals, or some amalgamation of that notion.

Let’s not forget the whole creative approval process, which winnows ideas down based on a million subjective things that end up guiding the process. And egos get in the way, etc.


And then there’s clients, who despite what they say in those creative meetings are at the end of the day responsible for what their brand says to people. That sense of responsibility goes a long way to curtail good work (and bolster it). So even though creativity is often discussed, it’s not often produced.


The PR industry is going through a definition change right now, and although the outcome has so far been abysmal, it is admittedly difficult to understand what public relations amounts to. This simple question quickly becomes perplexing, whether it’s being asked of PR or advertising people.

Boiled down, advertising is about communicating a message with the intended purpose of persuading the receiver(s) that something is true. There are many ways to achieve this goal, but few are as effective as we’d like, and that’s where creativity comes in, to guide the message through the sea of other messages in a way that stands out. Yes, creativity helps get the message across, but it’s not the whole game.

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