No Excuses

Looking at the state of creativity in advertising today, I can’t help but think of my cat, Eve. She’s a stray I picked up at the pound, and she’s forever troubled, pacing the house, meowing, mourning some inscrutable loss. “Whatever it is, it’s gone,” I tell her. “It’s gone.”

Eve would have found a few kindred spirits at the creative seminar Adweek sponsored recently at a desert lake resort outside Las Vegas. Judging from the talk in the hallways, many creatives are still beleaguered by the lost “creative revolution” of the late ’90s, the era when things supposedly were fun. There’s melancholy in their voices. But, really, it’s just an excuse.

The past year has been full of excuses. The economy, the economy, the economy. Clients are too conser vative. There’s no money to spend. It’s harder to sell work. Everything is overscrutinized. Briefs are crammed with demands. It’s creation by committee rather than by solid teamwork.

Mike Hughes, president and creative director of The Martin Agency, talked about excuses on the opening morning of the seminar. In a pep talk titled “The Coming Revolution (Boy, Do We Need It Now),” he shared some personal triumphs and disappointments, offered encouragement and, notably, stressed the difference between “living in times that suck and being people who suck.”

He said “heart” is what built the creative culture at his Richmond, Va., agency, and he urged his audience to elevate pop culture with their work by sticking to the principles that underpin all good advertising: “Take full responsibility,” he said. “Don’t allow yourself any excuses.”

Undoubtedly, the last two years, particularly post-9/11, have been challenging. Budgets have been slashed. Agency staffs have been gutted. The spirit of creativity has been battered. But it’s not broken.

Sure, it’s tough to come up with breakthrough work when there’s less advertising being made in general. But it was tough before. How often do you find a brilliant ad, one that truly offers a “new” perspective, in any given year? It’s rare and always will be. Still, there is plenty of exciting work being done.

Who would have thought Wieden + Kennedy’s bizarro Presto campaign would get produced in this “conser vative” climate? Or that Saturn would let Goodby, Silverstein & Partners introduce its L-series with a commercial that doesn’t show the vehicles until the last frame? Even packaged-goods clients are taking a few courageous steps (see “Some Like It Hot” on page 18.)

The excuses for poor work are the same as they’ve always been. They may ring a bit truer today, but it’s always easier to do business when times are good. Too many agencies and clients reacted to the downturn by going on the defensive, working from a position of fear rather than confidence and strength. And that perpetuates mediocre work. And dampens creative spirits.

It is in these times that the ad business can truly test its skills. The constraints can produce smarter creative directors, art directors and copywriters who will be better prepared when the tide turns.

So quit mourning. It may be too late for Eve. It’s not too late for you.