Creative X Finds Redemption in the World of Social Media

Why Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare Are 'Punishment for Guilt-Free Excesses of Our Trade'

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As the year draws to a close and we have a new one on the horizon, I'd like to take a moment to apologize about the whole economic meltdown thing.

You see, back before the drama started, I did a campaign for a certain banking giant, perhaps at least indirectly contributing to the current debacle. Oh, I also barged into people's living rooms to promote an airline polluting the friendly skies; as well as a beer brand probably not completely unresponsible for someone getting their head stuck between banister rails; and shamelessly promoted camera lenses, undoubtedly causing the deaths of thousands of tiny grains of sand.

There's more.

I've exploited unrealistically beautiful women in the name of selling jeans, actively ensured diversity in my ads only because it was mandated the client, and, with the exception of once turning down freelance for an online gambling site, basically worked on everything just short of cigarettes and politicians.

And did my partners or I ever consider the implications of using our creative gifts to shill anything that landed on our desks? Did we once weigh the effects of our ideas as they extended beyond our award shelves? Nope. Quite frankly, like most creatives, we were too busy having fun and being flown around the world to care. No one I know works on cigarettes because we don't have to, and, aside from the occasional throwaway joke, you're unlikely to ever find one of us taking a stand against a client's misanthropy.

So when do we creatives get the punishment we deserve for the guilt-free excesses of our trade? We already have. It's called social media.

As a result of this proliferation of Facebook/Twitter/Whatever-Square-driven initiatives, our TV shoots in Buenos Aires have been sliced in half. There are no digital sales reps wining and dining us to cajole us into doing website coding. Rarely if ever again will we handle reprints of print ads on satisfyingly heavy stock. The joy we once took from crafting a beautiful ad is pretty much out the window -- not to mention all those tedious submission videos we now have to piece together in some stuffy editing suite just to explain our idea.

But that's not even the kicker. It turns out that, where consumers were once forced to look at whatever kooky thing we thought of, in the new "social engagement" game nobody will even give you the time of day unless there's something in it for them. And so, in spite of all those plucky optimists proclaiming "this is the best time to be a creative," the hackneyed old idea of the giveaway seems to be making its way back into our bag of tricks.

Like convicts forced to play Santa Claus, we're handing out everything from free Starbucks to Toyota Tacomas to get people to participate in our little social-media shenanigans. Whopper Sacrifice. Jay -Z "Decoded." Nike Livestrong. Fun Theory. Free games. Free apps. Free ego boosts.

We're nearly to the point where one can envision a planet where everything we do is the result of a glorified online coupon one of us dreamt up to stay relevant in a perverse form of de facto community service. But where traditional media offered us hedonistic perks and a level of artistry, maybe, just maybe, the new and largely incentive-based model gives us a new opportunity. A chance to pay penance for sins of the uninvited guests we sent into millions of magazines and living rooms. Or the subversive thrill of spending client budgets in ways that make someone's day or hour or minute a little more interesting.

Sure we're still peddling stuff, and not all of it is worthwhile. But at least now we have the chance to do it in a less annoying and intrusive way.

What do we give up? The thrill of a shoot, the satisfaction of a reprint in our hands. What do we gain? Maybe this evolving medium will be the thing that makes our karmic balance sheet a little more balanced. And maybe, just maybe, as we learn to become coercers as well as persuaders, we can even make strides to rehabilitate our professional reputations from antisocial miscreants, to slightly more social ones.

Whether giving away the store -- aka these constant giveaways and promotions -- actually works is the part none of us can say with any conviction. But in some cases, we honestly couldn't tell you if our traditional work did either. And TV and print will still be around in some form many years after I'm too old to haul my bones to L.A. or Buenos Aires to help inflate the next bubble.

Which, hopefully, won't be for a long, long time to come.

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