What Creative Slump?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about an industrywide creative slump. During such adverse conditions, it only seems natural that advertising’s creative product would suffer. Right?

I’m not so sure. Conventional wisdom would tell us that the period we lived through not long ago, when budgets were plentiful and creative was allowed to run wild, provided optimal conditions for creative greatness. But how did that turn out? Occasional brilliance was vastly overshadowed by a myriad of entertaining but ineffective ads.

Here’s the thing: Historically, the real creative revolutions—not just in advertising but in all art forms—have often happened during times of adversity. Punk rock arose from strike-riddled Britain. Social conflicts in the ’60s inspired creative explosions in design, music and modern dance. And hip-hop certainly wasn’t the result of government grants and a receptive audience. In advertising, if you look at both creative excellence and effectiveness, then perhaps the real creative slump was during the supposed heyday that everyone is now mourning the death of, and the real creative opportunity is upon us.

Those who say the fun is now over sound a bit like the kids turned savages at the end of The Lord of the Flies, just after the adults arrived. If that’s your idea of fun, then they’re right. But it’s not mine. My idea of fun is doing advertising in a time when it has to be great because the bottom line is depending on it.

Are clients asking a few more questions before taking a risk? Yes. Does that mean they don’t want or won’t buy great work? Absolutely not. If you believe, as I do, that great creative will also deliver great results, then now is actually a wonderful time to be selling great work.

So, how are we faring during our time of adversity? Well, allow me to sidestep personal bias and leave Deutsch’s work out of the conversation. Let’s talk about the remarkably fresh Mini launch. Let’s talk about the medium-bending BMW Films work. Let’s talk about formerly conservative clients like Target and Sears suddenly banking on inventive campaigns. You would at least expect conservative financial work right now, but there’s Citibank, looking utterly unbanklike. And the world still seems safe for creative stalwarts like anti-smoking, Nike, Fox Sports and ESPN, all of which are doing some of their finest work in years.

And judging by the apparent stability of these accounts at their respective agencies, all this work is also getting the job done.

Now, there’s plenty of bad work around, too. But that’s always been the case. The presence of bad work doesn’t mean we’re all in a slump. Unfortunately, it just means we’re all still in advertising.

Saying we’re in a creative slump doesn’t inspire people to come in today and do the best work of their lives. It does little more than provide an excuse to lower expectations. Let’s not do that.

Emotional impact, humor and distinctiveness are not the perks of a good economy. They are essential elements of advertising that works. And advertising that works is part of what will get us out of a bad economy.