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Is advertising dead? Uncommon’s Nils Leonard thinks so

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By Nils Leonard, chief creative officer

June 8, 2023 | 6 min read

The agency boss questions where the game-changers have gone and muses why the word ‘creativity’ doesn’t mean much anymore.

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Nils Leonard / Uncommon

Is advertising dead?

Is it dead?

Or is what you loved about it dead?

Is that the same thing?

I can tell you that three-quarters of brands could disappear from shelves and no one would care, I could tell you that we have reached peak stuff, I could tell you that people are paying actual money to avoid what we spend our lives making.

If you wanted to check the vitals the clue would be in a button that the world has in order to bypass our entire industry.

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The clue would be in this quote from our most prominent artist Banksy.

“People are taking the piss out of you every day. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.”

The real clue is in the endless search for talent, the dangerous ones, the game changers. Where have they gone?

The question isn’t whether advertising is dead, the question is who killed it?

Well, it’s easy to blame the people with the button.

But soldiers don’t actually start wars, leaders do.

If you were looking for the murderer you need look no further than this industry. We killed advertising.

We killed it when we invented the word client services.

We killed with when we prioritized selling time, cost and speed over our most precious gift.

We killed it when we stopped asking why clients had really come to see us.

The word creativity has become weak. Like the word kindness. Or hope. A word unattached to money. A word clients roll their eyes at. An indulgence.

Time, logistics, consistency, data, synergy, integration, 360 thinking, deliverables, content, social assets, trend, machine learning, insight and collaboration are all for sale here.

Don’t be angry if your client doesn’t come to you for your creativity. You don’t sell it.

The evidence of our beliefs is our work.

The last factory to close was the cheapest.

Despair is easy. Doom is sweet. We can just go to work. We don’t really have to matter, that shit is scary.

Well, this is it. One last chance to get off easy.

Except we don’t.

Because the world has sent us an assassin far deadlier than us. AI.

AI can do it quicker.

AI can do the shit stuff better.

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It will churn out content. It will be faster, and cheaper than your integration solutions and anything Martin has up his sleeve.

AI will hack and slay the most average parts of our industry while we sit on beanbags eating mediocre sushi.

It will remove everything apart from the part it can’t do.

The part we forgot to sell.

The part that the world needs most.

Creativity.

Gilbert and George said: “Make the world believe in you and to pay heavily for the privilege.”

The value of a company is the sum of the problems it solves.

The same is true of an industry.

Advertising is dead.

Long live creativity.

Read our interview with Nils Leonard about his life, career and inspirations.

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