News & Views

Opinion / Advertising’s Next Golden Age

by Contagious Contributor

Brian Cooper, chief creative officer of Oliver on why the new age of creativity will rely on the polymath

Creativity brings together two seemingly unconnected thoughts to give birth to something new. It’s the clichéd light-bulb moment, and the bread and butter on which creatives in adland thrive, on which any outstanding execution has been built – and the ethos that’s currently at risk of being silently but surely eroded. Today, we’re being pushed into a world of filter bubbles, whether of our own making or edited by another entity. In an age of data, automation and artificial intelligence, how can we battle against it? How can we resist the echo chamber and move towards what could be the next golden age of advertising?

For me, the answer lies in embracing the old-fashioned mindset of the polymath – being well-versed enough in a spread of topics to speak fluently about them, while not necessarily being an expert in any one thing. That’s not to say I shun technical know-how; I’ve learned that creatives who don’t know how algorithms work, or the ways in which their agency employs them, find themselves in dangerous territory and struggling to stay relevant. They lack the knowledge to deal with a problem so they default to what they do know, and in the process make uninformed, sometimes disastrous, decisions.

Polymaths, on the other hand, make excellent troubleshooters. Their spread of knowledge means they can navigate the complexities of being creative in a technological age, without losing the balance that core human insight brings to all successful creative executions. Extrapolate that beyond one person and into an all-agency environment, and the pickings become much richer.

Building an environment where the polymathic can thrive is easier said than done – but
one way to achieve this is by building teams which contain a diverse range of disciplines and backgrounds. If uniformity kills creativity, then it’s vital we fight against it all costs to deliver originality. It’s a formula that works – in fact, history has shown that groups that come together from disparate places are the most innovative. Take the Bauhaus, which saw craft and fine art converge in a tremendously fruitful way, as just one case in point.

As more agencies commit to making their organisations a broad church, we’ll see new ways of doing business take hold. Take the ever-mutating agency model, which in recent years has broken down the old client/agency boundaries in favour of something more adaptable and streamlined. Right now, as new agency models take hold, we’re reaching a stage where creative outfits are more able to tweak their offering to suit the client. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a niche, but a key requisite of modern marketing is dealing with a client’s various and shifting concerns. Moving forward, agencies that focus on one specific channel, like TV for instance, are going to struggle to be versatile. The alternative, where agencies shape themselves around the client, is a safer bet.

This shift towards to new, more open-minded agency thinking couldn’t have come at a better time. Younger generations, surrounded by a multiplicity of influences and technologies, are growing up in a space where a cross-fertilisation of ideas is valued. We’re seeing our industry give a wider range of disciplines the respect they deserve too. And as the old hierarchies of academia continue to be toppled, agencies and clients alike will reap the rewards.

C.P. Snow, the novelist/scientist who famously warned of the danger of separating the humanities and the sciences into silos, would be delighted. But we’re not all the way there yet. Though we have plenty of bright, multi-skilled upstarts entering our ranks, this new breed don’t necessary have every base covered. The old guard are far stronger when it comes to traditional “craft skills” like copywriting, honed through many years of sweat and hard graft. It’s one thing to enter the creative industries as naturally computer literate, but if you can’t write a striking tagline you’ll only go so far.

Ultimately, as the next generation of creative emerges, capable of balancing tech with creativity, the advertising industry could enter its next golden age. But it will be a delicate transition. If we get it right, and build a genuine mélange of skills into our agency offerings, these diverse influences will coalesce to create something entirely new.