Will the agency creative role go extinct?

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John Butler
ECD, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners


This whole consumer-generated stuff has gotten way out of hand. It's being used as a marketing tactic as opposed to something that should be indelibly linked to the brand persona. This sort of abuse has led to mishaps like the Chevy Tahoe incident—simply put, if consumers don't have a personal relationship with the brand, you can't create that by giving them the keys to the marketing kingdom. They will tell you precisely what they think, and that might not be something you want to hear.

I think that the web has changed how us creative guys need to look at communicating much more than the blip that is consumer-generated content. Here we have a medium where consumers can easily interact with the brand one to one, and that has bigger implications than consumers creating marketing messages themselves. I think YouTube and MySpace and similar community-based web properties have probably opened up a can of worms for all of us as well. There's just too much stuff out there. I am officially overwhelmed. Every day I get sent a few dozen or more really interesting creative ideas floating out in the ether of the web, some probably consumer-generated, others probably not. I long for the time when a band would release an album and you would listen to it for six months, or when movies actually stuck around more than a week at the box office.

That in and of itself is going to define how our business works moving into the future. We're going to have to be nimble, we're going to have to adopt the same "quick hit" mentality that the web and our attention-deficient society have created. But someone is still going to have to write the stuff. TV didn't replace radio, nor will the web replace TV. At some point, they will indeed merge. How we communicate is going to keep evolving as new technologies emerge. But the role of agency creative isn't going to be handed over to some pimply-faced kid in Omaha anytime soon.

Mike Byrne
ECD, Anomaly


The role of agency creative director, according to me, should be thought of like Robin Williams' character, John Keating, in Dead Poet's Society. He took students from traditional backgrounds with traditional mindsets and set them free. So, based on his character, this is how I think of the role of creative director:

You set people free by creating an environment that allows them to command total belief in themselves. You give them ownership of projects, and by doing that you give them the chance to fail. You remind them some day they will be "food for worms" and now is the time to make their lives extraordinary, and they can do that with one idea. You remember there is a little creative child in all of us, and that child has to be awarded from time to time. You encourage them to break shit, to let loose, to embarrass themselves. You remind them to have a life outside of this business, because it will make them that much better at this business. You hire people who inspire you. You also hire inventors, entrepreneurs, comedians, filmmakers and dreamers. (most of us were this person before we found advertising—and this is the same person who is leading this business into the future). You don't have an ego. You have a mission (refer to Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions.) You have them read Designing for People by Henry Dreyfuss. And you really try to feed them anything that inspires you and encourage them to do the same. You make them not use e-mail for a week. You give them all the support they need to be creative—whatever their idea, they can package it, develop it and sell it. You encourage them to have an opinion and to be able to articulate that opinion. You fight for their ideas.

Nick Law
Chief Creative Officer-North America, R/GA


The traditional variety of "agency creative" will not exist in 10 years. I mean the kind who fetishizes TV spots, doesn't recognize an idea unless it has a punchline, thinks in tortuously complicated metaphors and measures an idea by how many smirks it gets from fellow creatives. This way of thinking is encouraged by awards show judges who ignore the potential of interactive media, rewarding instead the gimmicks and shallow narratives that most resemble "advertising."

For 50 years, creatives have been guided by a culture of subtractive thinking. They've been creating essential messages and then launching them into the ether. "Less is more" has been the mantra. There is still a place for this kind of thinking, but it fits into a larger additive process; a process of adding value to an experience with features and functionality. The days of relying on a copywriter and art director to emerge from a corner office with all the answers are over, especially if they think their job is done having delivered a tagline or a 30-second spot. The new agency creative will understand that most people find interruptive advertising annoying, and he or she will respond by creating experiences so compelling they will be sought out. These experiences won't just be narratives; they will be informative and useful and will enable participation.

Perhaps most importantly, the new creative will stop treating technology partners like geeky vendors. They will embrace the collaboration between art and science and be open to creative ideas from technology. Agency creatives will exist in 10 years' time; they will, however, be unrecognizable to the old school
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