Why today’s creative industry is better than that of ‘the good old days’

When you can make feature film content, why would you want to stick to 30-second ads?

In my last piece, I wrote about the old days. In some ways they were better.

More money meant more time, and creative and media worked together to find solutions.

The work was more likeable. Or put it this way – people didn’t hate advertising quite so much.

But in many ways, it is so much better being a creative person today. Because…

1. There’s less snobbery

Not that long ago, the same class divisions that bedevil Britain could be found in ad land.

If you specialised in TV advertising, you were upper class. If you worked in digital, you were emerging middle class. And if you worked in direct marketing, you were a peasant.

Now, thanks to digital, direct marketers have risen like cream; they understand numbers and they like measurement. A direct marketing creative is currently chief creative officer of the Ogilvy Group in the UK and another is the chief creative officer of Cheil. (They're both women, by the way).

2. There is a real desire for diversity

Finally, it seems the testosterone levels are coming down within ad agency creative departments. The number of people of colour within them could be going up too.

The Creative Circle has just opened the doors of its free ad school, where 20 students a year will be trained. The end game is to increase the number of BAME people working in the industry from an embarrassing 9.9%. Elsewhere, the learnings of the Great British Diversity Experiment have been widely shared. It seems clear that more diverse teams “produce more compelling, engaging work”. Bring it on.

3. Fewer rules

I was a copywriter by trade. Back then, if I wrote a TV commercial that worked perfectly in 33 seconds, tough – it had to be 30, because the media owners sold time in precise quantities. Newspaper ads had to be of an exact size too.

By and large, media owners were not open to creativity. For British Gas, we tried to run a pipeline from the front page of The Times all the way through the paper to the back page. But nope – they wouldn’t have it.

Now, of course, media owners are more open to ideas. And then there is digital. The old rules have been blown away by the winds of change, and if the idea is good enough, people will stick with it.

Rather than a 30-second ad, you can write a three-and-a-half minute documentary like Clairol’s ‘Real Color Stories with Tracey Norman’.

You can set up ten minutes of ‘candid camera’ moments as Ogilvy Singapore did hilariously for Alliance Française.

You can write a 17-minute film like Santander did in ‘Beyond Money’.

You can write a 90-minute film such as ‘The Lego Movie’, which took more than $450m at the box office.

Or you can write two hours of content with a reality games show like ‘Brawny Academy’.

The latter is 10 years old but still genius.

4. More opportunities

As the media world fragments, every fragment is an opportunity. Consider the students of the School of Communication Art (SCA): under the inspiring tutelage of the dean, Marc Lewis, recent students have found work at Metro, the BBC and Channel 4.

Tom is currently designing VR experiences and Bex is a copywriter for an online travel website, Jack has had millions of downloads of his games and consults within an accelerator, while Katy started her own shoe brand. Imogen’s startup is going like a train and Ross is reckoned to be a multi-millionaire.

5. Making the world a better place

The SCA class of 2016 spent much of their year applying technology in creative ways to solve real-life problems. They chose to focus on mental health and learning difficulties.

Who knows where they will take their ideas. Some will end up in agencies, certainly, but many will land in, or start, not just new businesses but new kinds of business.

And that’s why it’s better now.

Damn, I wish I was just starting out.

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Patrick Collister

Patrick Collister was the ECD of Ogilvy & Mather for seven years, where he set up the first digital creative unit of any ad agency in London. In 2007, he launched Directory magazine, showcasing innovative ideas in communications. In April 2013 he became Google EMEA’s oldest employee as head of design, and is now its creative lead in The Zoo EMEA.

All by Patrick