Technique vs. great ideas

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It’s not easy to do great work these days. Advertising creative has matured over the last four decades leaving less and less new ground in traditional advertising. The advertising world is not exactly the same either. Clients don’t trust agencies as they once did. We’re vendors to more clients than ever. Advertising is something that now has to have a measurable ROI on a timetable that isn’t years; it’s months, even weeks. Things aren’t exactly ideal for the risk-taking required to break old creative molds.

We’ve been here before. There have been other cycles of dry creative times. But today there is something different happening that worries me. If left unchecked advertising could fall into a dark ages of creativity.

During the dark ages if you thought the earth revolved around the sun you were burned at the stake. I’m sure there was others like Galileo who realized the earth revolved around the sun but kept their opinion to themselves. It wasn’t long before they forgot the truth all together. This is a fair comparison of how our industry is judging the creative we’re doing these days.

Years ago I remember reading the commentary of several creative leaders in an ad annual stating that the work of that year was not as good as it had been in the recent past. They admonished the industry to dig in and work through the hard time and find a way back to greatness. I’m not reading things like that today. In fact I haven’t heard anything that would suggest for several years now. I’ve heard some glowing appraisal for work that is nothing but technique. I believe we have lost our perspective. Brilliant technique does not mean brilliant conceptually.

Everyone worth his or her salt in the creative business knows technique doesn’t replace a great idea. Some of the greatest work in the history of our business had no technique. It was just a great idea without a fancy wrapper. We still have some great work like that happening today. But we also have a lot of work that we are calling great that is really just fancy. That’s not sending the right signal to those who are growing up in our business.

Spencer Tracy, one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, said he had no problem with acting as long as you never got caught doing it. That pretty much sums up the value of technique versus an idea.

I know that young creative people in our business are busting it every day to do something amazing. They deserve our best guidance to not get caught acting.
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