Is the advertising industry sailing in the right direction, or is it time to jump ship?

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about change in the industry due to a number of factors – the advent of new A.I. not least among them.

And that brings to mind a couple of stories (please bear with me here – there is a point. If it helps, maybe imagine me sitting on a rocking chair, wearing a cowboy hat while I peel a piece of fruit and eat the pieces straight off the knife).

Story 1: The Boat

A few years ago, my daughter took Philosophy as a subject at school. I was happy about that as it would teach her to contemplate and consider things – essentially, to ‘think’, rather than simply memorise and regurgitate information.

Anyway, she would sometimes share with me the content of a particular lesson or an anecdote the students had been given.

One such discussion was this:

Imagine you’re on a boat.

The boat leaves Port A, destined for Port B.

Throughout the journey, parts of the boat are replaced – a new plank of wood here, a new fitting there, a new sail and so forth.

Ultimately, we get to a stage where every single piece of that boat has been replaced. Every plank. Every fitting. Every sail.

The boat arrives at Port B.

Is the boat that arrived at Port B the same boat that departed from Port A?

It’s certainly something to consider.

Now, for shits and giggles, let’s call that boat ‘The advertising industry’.

While you ponder that, let’s continue.

Story 2: The Paper

In a previous life, prior to being an advertising creative, one of the jobs I had was working for a regional newspaper. That newspaper was owned by a media company that owned around 29 other newspapers, all based in different towns spread throughout the state.

Of course, the bean-counters at the parent company soon realised they could centralise their printing for all the different newspapers rather than maintain a number of costly printing presses. So, they did, and started to print all 30 mastheads at one location, using one printing press.

Now, there were people who used to work on the other 29 printing presses, so the parent company sought to find them other jobs within each location.

My particular location was not the one that now did all the printing, so I got to see firsthand people who had worked on the printing press now placed in jobs working as graphic designers, laying out ads by desktop publishing on a computer. This was quite a different role than working on the printing press and, with all respect to those people, graphic design was probably not their forte.

Sure, taking a very primitive view, one might say ‘both jobs involve pushing buttons with the aim of creating a printed item’, but beneath that, there’s a myriad of differences. Knowledge or skill in things like operating printing machinery, printing blocks, and print runs, does not translate into designing layouts, visual communication and artwork.

While the outcome is the same – a published ad – the job to get there is miles apart.

It’s kind of like someone who loves horses being approached by Henry Ford saying, ‘Hey, you work in transport. How about coming over to my factory and helping put car engines together?’

Why am I telling you this?

Well, I guess both these stories land in the same place, which is ‘at what point does something evolve so much that it becomes something completely new?’

There’s already been plenty written about A.I. platforms like Midjourney and ChatGPT.

Depending on where you read it, and who it’s written/promoted by, it ranges from point A to point C, below:

A) “Everyone’s job is f*cked”
Some think A.I. will make many people’s jobs redundant.
For example, is it really that difficult to envisage a world where ChatGPT writes a script which then progresses into a later version of Midjourney to produce a finished ad/film/TV show?

B) “This is a kick-ass tool”
Some think that A.I. will be a great ‘assistant’, effectively looking after the more tedious chores within a project so they can get on with the bigger thinking.

C) “A.I. produces crap”
Others think that there’s nothing to be worried about because the output of A.I. isn’t great (yet!). But let me ask you this, how many clients are actually buying ‘great’. Once reviewed by a committee and research, greatness is easily undone. In some cases, clients don’t even care for ‘good’. Often it just needs to be ‘good enough’. This is why there’s so much rubbish out there.

So, whichever school of thought you belong to – A, B, or C – the two stories above tell us three things:

Stand back and have a close look at how much your boat has changed. If you’re not on the boat that suits you, it might be worth jumping to a new one or, better yet, building your own.

Whether something is an evolution or a revolution comes down to your perspective.

There will always be a need to ponder and think. How that actually manifests itself or pays the bills in the future is up to you. Essentially, that’s your brief.

Oh, and speaking of briefs, if you have one, or a project you’d like me to work on with you, let’s chat.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 5)

Another one that never got published until now. I wrote this article back in 2014, in response to the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

For earlier posts, see Part 1: Matt Cumming, Part 2: Adam Hunt, Part 3: Billy Plummer and Part 4: Ben Nott.

Part 5: William* (real name withheld)
October 2014

I’d worked alongside William some years ago. I remembered his gentle manner and sharp eye for design. I tracked him down to see if I could get his story over lunch. He’d seen the ad industry unfold over a few decades, and I was keen to hear about how things had changed. The fact that he arrived at lunch on a Tuesday with a nice bottle of red showed that he believed there’s still room for enjoying yourself. Here’s his story:


As a young man growing up in London, I always loved advertising. I used to wallpaper my bedroom walls with great ads, like Chivas Regal and Benson & Hedges. I considered them art. In fact, I still have about six or seven hundred of them archived at home. They probably belong in a museum of advertising or something.

I thought advertising was interesting. I loved the idea of millions of people as my audience, that it was my job to influence or manipulate them.

At that time, London was the centre of world advertising and the best agency in the world, by any measure, was Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP). Its alumni would later read as a ‘who’s who’ of advertising and film – people like Sir Frank Lowe, Lord David Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Sir John Hegarty, Charles Saatchi and Ridley Scott.

Collett Dickenson Pearce

So, with a career in advertising set firmly as the goal, I attended New Hampton Art College. Then, within two weeks of completing the school, I saw an agency ad in Campaign magazine. It was targeting potential clients, but I wrote to them anyway, seeing if they had any jobs for me. The agency was called Brunnings Advertising, and they were probably the sixth or seventh largest agency in London at the time. They invited me in for an interview and gave me a job straight away. My portfolio wasn’t that great, but I guess they just liked me. The work that Brunnings did was fairly dull and boring but I was just pleased to get my first job.

Back then, the career progression was much more structured than it is now. Only the very senior people were ‘Art Directors’. There was a whole process to go through – learning about letter-setting, printing and visualising before you could earn that title.

The real challenge was moving from a shit agency to a good one. ‘Top tier’ agencies simply wouldn’t even look at you. There really was a class structure within the industry. So after seven or eight years in London, I decided that I needed to find another market so I could climb the career ladder.

I applied to go to South Africa, due to its proximity to London, but was rejected. After travelling through Thailand, I ended up in Australia. I quickly realised that saying ‘I’m and art director from London’ had some status. A headhunter told me that most jobs in Australia didn’t go via recruitment specialists, and that I should see Paul Jones, the CD at Clemenger. He gave me a job on the spot, and I was earning three times more than my salary back in London.

I got to work with some nice brands. I helped launch Breville, the electrical appliance brand, in 1978. It became a household name and suddenly I became flavour of the month in Australia.

I ended up spending four years at Clemenger. It was an awesome department and I worked alongside people like Phil Atkinson, Rob Thomley, Terry Bunton, Greg Adler, Andrew West and Peter Cherry.

Then, one day I got a call from Dick Greenlaw. He had been the CD at Clemenger before I arrived and now ran his own agency, Phillips Horne Greenlaw. I joined them as a partner and over the next three and half years, helped build it into a good agency. Then Clemenger wanted to buy it, so after selling the agency to the BBDO network, I stayed on for a year before heading back to London.

In 1985, I joined J. Walter Thompson’s London office as Creative Group Head. At the time, they were probably in the top three or four agencies in London so my strategy to move to a foreign market so I could advance my career had worked.

Then, at the age of 38, I launched my own agency in London with two other partners. Our launch was on the front page of Campaign magazine. The only other agency that had launched on the front page was Saatchi & Saatchi.

In our first year, we picked clients like The Guardian, and part of the Lloyds Bank account. Every agency was becoming a public company in those days and that was our plan too – spend five years building the agency, then launch a prospectus, and float. But the stock market in 1987 didn’t agree with those plans. The crash saw things change very quickly. Lloyds stopped spending money on advertising as nobody wanted a mortgage. Financial duress then put strain on the relationship between the agency’s three partners.

One day, in the middle of an argument with the other partners, I took a phone call from a headhunter. They asked if I wanted a job in Spain. The timing was perfect. So, suddenly, I became the Executive Creative Director of Lintas, working in the Barcelona office. I thought it would be an interesting experience – my kids could learn Spanish, plus Barcelona was hosting the Olympics so there was a lot happening. It was lots of fun, but looking back, it was probably a mistake to go to Spain. I stayed there for two and half years before returning to Australia.

So in 1994, I reunited with Paul Jones at DDB’s Sydney office. Paul had built DDB into a strong agency and McDonald’s were doing lots of good work. It was great department and almost everyone there went on to be CDs and CEOs.

Paul moved to Ogilvy in 1995 as Executive Creative Director and Chairman, and I followed. I stayed there until the end of 1997, before joining Craig Davis at his agency, Doorley Abram Davis & Chapman. I spent about a year there before joining a friend at Samuelson Talbot. I then moved to M&C Saatchi, working out of both their Sydney and Melbourne offices on various projects and I also did a few stints in Singapore.

When I look at the industry these days, I think the advertising environment is changing dramatically. The skillsets and expectations are now very different. I’ve adapted over the years, teaching myself things like Photoshop and other tools of the trade. About thirteen years ago (2001), I realised that if I don’t move with the tide, you can easily be left behind. Many of my contemporaries aren’t really doing anything these days. I’ve seen the landscape shift from being all about ideas to being largely about technology. These days, I think Creative Directors tend to fill the role of curators and ‘presenters of ideas’.

I still work directly with corporate clients. I find that most of my new projects come via existing connections or referrals. I still enjoy the work.

‘Where did all the creatives go?’ (Part 4)

Okay, I wrote this article back in 2014 but never published it, until now. In it, I continue to explore the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

For earlier posts, see Part 1: Matt Cumming, Part 2: Adam Hunt, and Part 3: Billy Plummer.

Part 4: Ben Nott
10 October 2014

I caught up with Ben via Skype. After a few days in New York, he had just returned to his LA office in Venice Beach’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard. GQ Magazine calls it the ‘coolest block in America’ but Ben thinks that it could also be called ‘the most expensive rent in America’. He spins his laptop camera around, giving me a quick tour. Some of his father’s artwork adorns the office walls and the actor, Robert Downey Jnr. lives just across the road. He then takes me back to where it all started and how he ended up here:

Ben Nott

I always wanted to do something creative. My father was, and still is, a successful abstract artist. And my mother worked as a photo journalist with Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC. They didn’t really push me either way, however I saw the up-and-down nature of Dad’s life as an artist. He would have long periods of working with little income, then there would be an exhibition, and then the process would begin again. I wanted something with a more commercially-stable income.

From around the age of 12, I was a successful surfer and was sponsored, head to toe. But I wanted a career with greater longevity and security.

At 17, I began studying Communication at Sydney Technical College. I attended classes 5 nights per week, and it was a 3-year course. To enrol in that course, I was meant to be 21 years or older, but I lied. So in effect, I graduated before I was even meant to be doing the course.

At 18, to get into an ad agency, I applied for a job as the mail boy at Sydney’s Leo Burnett office. I quickly learned all the departments by delivering their mail and I did other things like moving the directors’ cars and purchasing the agency’s alcohol. John Newton was the CD there at that time and he was always nice to me. I did a year and a half there, before scoring a job as a junior writer at McNabb Willett & Donahue – a fairly small agency of around 30 people.

I did the Australian Writers and Art Directors (AWARD) School course on 3 separate occasions – once before I started working at Leo Burnett, once while I was there, and once when I was at McNabb. I kept doing it because I wanted to win it, but the best I ever did was 4th place. My friend, David Droga, had previously won it so I guess it was my competitive streak kicking in. Plus, AWARD School was a great place to meet other creatives and grow my network. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a copywriter or an art director, but then I made the decision that I wanted to do both. I loved both crafts.

I stayed at McNabb Willett & Donohue for about a year before moving to anther small agency called YPD. As is usually the case, moving to another agency saw me climb a level. So at YPD, I was probably considered a mid-weight creative. I had a female CD there, which was a nice change. There ended up being a mass round of retrenchments, of which I was one. But I had been planning on moving to DDB Sydney, so it actually worked out well. I stayed at DDB for about 3 or 4 years. For my first couple of years there, I tended to be teamed with senior art directors and I learned a lot very quickly. Adam Hunt then came to the agency to be my art director. I liked his rawness.

By then, I’d decided that I really wanted to get overseas. I’d previously done a 6-month stint at DDB’s New York office, off the back of an award win.

I saw the overseas markets as a bigger league – bigger clients, bigger budgets, and brand work that stood the test of time. Plus, you got to compete against really good teams.

New York still seemed to have that ‘Madmen vibe’, and a lot of the world’s really great work was coming out of London. Plus, there were a lot of poms (English) in Australia influencing the advertising landscape. So Adam and I decided to head for Europe as a team.

After a lap of Europe and lots of surfing, we started working at an agency in Amsterdam called PMSvW/Young & Rubicam. They seemed to be at the forefront of a new style of advertising that was happening – it was more visual, and I liked that. Paul Meijer was the Creative Director there and I knew that he directed a lot of his own work, which I also liked.

Adam and I had earlier sent Paul Meijer a piece of direct mail to help get our foot in the door (see Adam Hunt’s story).

We had a lot of fun working in Amsterdam. It was inspirational. Paul was a bit of a rock star in advertising circles around Europe and he wasn’t afraid to push his own style, which I admired.

It was during this time that I became the youngest person ever to win a Grand Prix at Cannes. It was for an ad that I had done back in Australia with Paul Bennell. we’d done a print ad for Kadu board shorts while at Siimon Reynolds‘ agency, Andromeda. It was a brash, aggressive style of ad for its time that used shocking imagery.

Cannes Grand Prix winner for Kadu board shorts

Off the back of that Grand Prix award, I received about 10 job offers from 4 different countries. Adam and I chose to go to Saatchi & Saatchi in London. James Lowther was the CD there.

While at Saatchis, we actually won another Cannes Grand Prix for an anti-racism ad. That would have been two in a row, however it was decided that the ad couldn’t claim Grand Prix because it was for a charity. It still won gold and silver lions. Plus, it ended up on lots of t-shirts. That felt nice as it was for a good cause.

We stayed at Saatchis for about 3 years. It was good. I was directing commercials and we were winning lots of awards. But I could see the same battles happening again and again. I found it a little predictable. I enjoy new things and learning, plus I wanted to get into directing more.

On the day that my contract with Saatchi & Saatchi expired, M&C Saatchi wanted me. I ended up doing a deal where I was a retained freelancer and would work at M&C for 1 week per month. That allowed me time to travel and direct projects for the rest of the time.

I also did short stints at a couple of other agencies in London. I found BBH to have a bit of a fear-based culture in trying to produce the work. Wieden+Kennedy London were looking for a new CD so I also filled in there for 2 or 3 months.

After 6 or 7 years of working in London agencies, I joined a great production company called Outsider. They’s just opened their doors. Saatchi & Saatchi would still get me to shoot stuff, and they had their own internal production department. I also did a few music videos too – for artists like Tom Jones, Talking Heads, The Cardigans, and some indie bands. I really enjoyed having more than 30 seconds to work with. I also got to travel a bit, to places like Dentsu in Japan.

I was enjoying that time, practising directing, judging some awards shows – just learning and extending myself. Creative teams knew that I was going to look after their idea. I love enhancing ideas, offering new ways, and making something the best it can be. I’m an eternal optimist and because I could make good money from advertising, I never felt any pressure to go against my beliefs or do something I didn’t really want to do.

However, America was calling. Just as had viewed London as the ‘top league’ of creating ads, I saw the USA as the place to be when it came to film. Plus, living on the west coast would mean I was close to the surf again.

After moving to the United States, I started developing screenplays and did some freelancing for ad agencies. It was a good time in the industry and the rates of pay were good. However, I still craved to do something longer than music videos and ads – I wanted to do feature films.

I met the CD of TBWA/Chiat Day, Chuck McBride. He also surfed and directed ads. He offered me a job I couldn’t refuse. It was good money and a great opportunity. Chuck understood my vision and the things I wanted to do. I ended up travelling around a bit in that role. I got to do some really nice work, and won more awards at Cannes and D&AD.

Lee Clow was my boss and he understood I wanted to do more surfing and work on other projects. He made a deal with me where he would pay me a full salary in return for 100 days’ work per year, and I could work from anywhere in the world. It worked well, and during that time I started to develop what would become my first feature film, Drift.

Around that time, Droga5 was starting up. David Droga had always been a good friend from our time at AWARD School and TAFE College in Sydney. We had always toyed with the idea of putting something together and doing it our own way. Honeyshed (Droga5’s founding project) was totally new. It was the Shopping Channel meets MTV, funded by Publicis. And after all, if it was more screen time that I wanted, here was an entire channel.

Honeyshed operated out of New York and LA and had a team of about 50 people. Looking back, it was probably ahead of its time and it never really got launched properly.

At the same time, we also did some more traditional ads through the holding company name, Droga5, and we won a ‘Best Creative Agency’ title.

I enjoyed my time at Droga5, working with good friends, and on some interesting projects in China. However, I’ve always liked to have lots of different opportunities on the go. From my time in London, I had operated my own little company called World Wide Mind. It had always involved little side projects and things like designing album covers. Now I began to do more work on Drift, with World Wide Mind being the company behind it.

From the initial stages of Drift to completion was a period of about 7 years. That involved script development and working with various partners. We got $12 million in funding, thanks largely to a grant given by the Australian Government in support of the arts. Drift has kept me busy for the past few years, as I’ve worn the hats of Co-producer and Co-director.

Drift. 7 years’ work.

Actually, at the time of this interview, I’m preparing to attend an event at the Australian Embassy here in Los Angeles. It’s called ‘Aussies Innovate in LA’ and is all about Aussie entrepreneurs in the U.S.

I currently have a TV series in development with FOX, and 3 other screenplays in development – some already have actors attached to them. Due to the long timelines involved with some of these projects, I still direct a few ads here and there. I’ve also been recently involved in the development of an app called BAM (Best anything Message). Put simply, it allows the user to send a video instead of an SMS.

I always enjoy collaborating and creating. I love anything that is at the intersection of advertising, entertainment and technology. I’m also currently doing some design work for Kelly Slater’s wave pool – that gives me the chance to combine surfing, creativity and advertising.

For me, it’s always been about bringing ideas to life and having fun doing it, whatever the medium. I’ve always followed the path of creativity and adventure rather than simply chasing the money. I love that moment when you have an idea and you tell someone and they smile. I love when they get the same joy from it that I had while coming up with it.

If it’s all sizzle and no sausage, you’ll go hungry.


Lipstick on pig t shirt

Pic courtesy of Adam Watson:

I’ve just completed reading Phil Knight‘s book, Shoe Dog, on how he built Nike from nothing to one of the most famous brands on the planet. It’s a good read.
Plenty has been written about Nike over the years. It’s often one of the most admired brands around and it’s always a staple in presentations and case studies about great brands.

However, Phil Knight has confirmed something that I guess I’ve always known. Great brands are built from within.

And when it comes to great brands, the ones we think of most often all have that in common. For example,  Richard Branson‘s Virgin has it. Steve Jobs’ Apple has it.
But so many other brands don’t have it. So what exactly is ‘it’?

Well, ‘it’ is the very DNA and foundation of the business. It’s a belief. A cause. A drive.
As Simon Sinek would say, it’s the ‘why’. (see the video below)

But the problem I see far too often is that many businesses aren’t genuine about their ‘why’. I’ve seen many businesses try and apply this thinking without really wanting to deliver on it. They apply the ‘why’ as an after-thought – some sort of veneer that you can use to ‘dress up a business’, like a sprinkle of tinsel on a Christmas tree that’s missing a few branches. However, it simply doesn’t work that way.

If you proclaim to have a purpose, it has to be genuine. Otherwise it’s all sizzle and no sausage. And when that happens, hungry consumers will soon end up going elsewhere.

Advertising. Fawlty Towers and the art of prediction.

“Most successful pundits are selected for being opinionated, because it’s interesting, and the penalties for incorrect predictions are negligible. You can make predictions, and a year l…

Source: Advertising. Fawlty Towers and the art of prediction.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 3)

In this article, I continue to find answers to the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

For earlier posts, see Part 1: Matt Cumming and Part 2: Adam Hunt

Part 3: Billy Plummer
Friday, 1 August 2014

I met with Billy at an outdoor café. I hadn’t seen him for quite a while. Before we got too far into conversation, we were interrupted by a waitress pointing to a nearby sign and reminding Billy that this was a no smoking area.

So we moved outside the ‘no smoking perimeter’ so he could finish his cigarette. After fielding a call from his photography agent, sipping his cappuccino, and pestering me for some more agency contacts, Billy and I returned to the table to hear his story.
In an accent that wouldn’t be out of place in a Guy Ritchie film, he told me about his advertising career of more than 30 years:

Advertising creatives

Billy Plummer

Well, I actually wanted to be a fine artist – a painter. I was always good at drawing so after high school I went to St Martins, an art school in London. Advertising was never the goal.

St Martins had this exhibition, where all the students showed their final work and people from all different industries would come and take a look.

I’d been fucking around and left my work to the last minute, as the deadline loomed. One day, I’m walking down a street in Soho and I see these modern Japanese dolls in a shop window. So that’s what I did as my work. I completed a series of old school charcoal drawings of the super modern dolls.

After college, I travelled to India with a mate. I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but then I got a phone call from my mum. It turns out someone from Abbott Mead Vickers had attended the exhibition of final work and wanted to hire me. So I jumped on a plane and headed back to London to work there.

My job was as a scamper and storyboard artist for the creative department. I had no real ambitions of becoming an Art Director. I was just happy to be getting paid shitloads. The pay was a hell of a lot more than my mates, who were doing jobs like panel beating at auto workshops. I was getting about 50 quid a frame for my drawings, which was a lot of money back then.

One day, David Abbott came around and he was asking people what they wanted to do with their careers. All the other illustrators were saying they wanted to be an Art Director, so that’s what I said too. I didn’t really know – I just thought it was the right answer to give.

I regret not staying longer at AMV. David Abbott was a really nice man. But someone at a direct marketing agency offered me a job as a Junior Art Director on great money so I took it.

I became a Creative Director quite young, at an agency called Payne Stracey. They later became Tequila.

Then I went to a place called BHWG as Head of Art, and they became Proximity. Next was Evans Hunt Scott. That agency was an early adopter of the internet. They put Tesco online.

After that, I freelanced at places like Bates and TBWA, and also worked directly with clients. It was a good time. On Friday afternoons, there was this pub in Soho that would be full of creatives. A lot of freelance work was arranged and done there. By that stage, I’d forged a solid reputation as being quite good at DM. I’d won at Cannes and Caples, and some English award shows.

Then my copywriter, Guy Bolton, went on holiday to Australia. While there he got a job as CD at an agency called Lavender. He wanted me to join him. I was at Lowe at the time, but followed Guy. I don’t really know why I went. I just thought it would be a bit of an adventure.

So I ended up in Sydney as Head of Art at Lavender. Then I went to The Moult Agency. After a few years there, I headed to The Marketing Store as Creative Director.

I helped build The Marketing Store from an agency of 30 people to more than 80. There, I became joint Global Creative Director but got to a stage where I was just a bit bored. I probably just needed a new challenge.

So I left that job and focused on my photography for a year. I’d been working on my photography for years – even back in London.

Anyway, my time at The Marketing Store had opened up a few contacts and opportunities throughout Asia. So I ended up taking a job at Saatchi & Saatchi in China’s third largest city, Guangzhou. I was Creative Director for Proctor & Gamble. I had only planned to do it for a year but stayed for 2. I had a pretty good deal there, and with the low living costs it meant I came back to Australia with a fair amount of money saved.

At the moment, I have a flexible work week, where I do 3 or 4 days at Iris. I’m sort of a Head of Art/sage guy. The rest of my time is spent on photography projects, both commercial and personal.

I still love advertising – I’ve done it for so long, it’s part of my life. I still feel I’m an artist, and I currently have several art projects on the side.

I feel advertising keeps me young, on my toes, inspired, mentally-fit, competitive and bright-eyed. I think everything I do is as close as possible to something I’d do even if I wasn’t being paid for it.

If you look at all the interesting work these days, it’s not usually an advertising solution. Instead, it’s a business solution. Now I’m just trying to put some of that into practice for myself. Rather than concentrate solely on making money for advertising clients, I’m working on little projects of my own.

The world tends to be much broader than what you get used to seeing in advertising. Sometimes, you need to step outside of that bubble.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 2)

In this article, I continue to find answers to the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

If you’d like to read from the start, see Part 1: Matt Cumming

Part 2: Adam Hunt
Saturday, 30 August 2014
I’d been trying to catch up with Adam for a while. After a few emails back and forth, we found a time that suited us both. So, one Sunday morning I wandered into his restaurant, “Mamasan” (with his ensuite bar “Bad Mama” next door), in Sydney’s beachside suburb of Bondi.
It was mid-morning, and there was a slight lull between the breakfast crowd and the lunchtime diners. Adam took me on a tour of his restaurant, proudly showing the surroundings he designed and built with his partner Gemma, and explained how the business had tripled in size since opening just over 4 years ago.
And while it may sometimes be an industry joke to refer to advertising awards as ‘door stops’, during the tour I couldn’t help but notice a Cannes Gold Lion sitting on the floor to keep the bi-folding doors open.
Perhaps it was some sort of subconscious statement on where Adam sees his former advertising success – was it simply to hold the door open towards something else? I sit down to find out:

creative director dingo's breakfast

Adam Hunt

I didn’t always plan on a career in advertising. Who does?
Instead, I studied law. However, it soon became clear that I would spend a large amount of my career living in the shadow of my father, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Australia (a bit of a hard act to follow).

Although I got good grades in my first year of study, I often heard the remark, ‘Oh, you’re Hunt’s son’. I also decided that I didn’t really love it. It didn’t provide the spark I was looking for.

On the other hand, my girlfriend at the time was doing graphic design. That looked far more interesting. So I decided to do a graphic design course too.

From that, I end up with a job in a publishing company, working for a magazine called Pol International. I quite enjoyed the work, but got frustrated when I spent so much time making the magazine look beautiful, and then saw the ugly ads that were inserted into it. Plus, someone told me I could triple my salary by working in advertising.

Then I met Siimon Reynolds at a party. At the time, Siimon was a bit of an advertising god. Siimon told me that to get into advertising, I should do a course known as ‘EST’ or ‘The Forum’.

The Forum was the biggest thing in advertising circles during the late 80s and everybody was doing it. I went along to The Forum’s introductory lecture and quickly made the decision that if I needed to do that to work in advertising, then maybe I was better off doing something else. I thought The Forum was ‘psycho-babble, pyramid selling of the mind type stuff’.

So subsequently, I stayed another year in publishing before landing a job at a small agency called United Notions. I liked United Notions and learnt a lot, but one day managed to get an appointment with David Bourne. David was the coolest creative director around at that time. I had never shown my portfolio to anyone before that.

I walked into David Bourne’s office. Everything was black. Black carpet. Black walls. Black leather desk. David was even wearing black leather like a character out of The Matrix (but it was years before that film had been made).
A small light glowed on the desk. David quickly flicked through each page of my portfolio, turning each one over with a slam of conviction. Then he looked up at me and told me that all the work in my book was shit, I would never get a job in advertising and that I should give up.

After that meeting I cried. I sat in a nearby park and thought about what David Bourne had said. I then realised that he was right – my work was shit. So I threw my portfolio in the bin and decided to start again.

Starting again meant doing Australian Writers & Art Directors (AWARD) School. It was a short, but intense course that had been set up by the industry to foster new people who aspired to be advertising creatives.

My tutors for the course were Tom Moult and Simon Collins, who were the gun team at Sydney’s Saatchi & Saatchi office during that time. They were very good and they had lots of fun, which is something the industry seems to have lost these days.

Interestingly, another AWARD student in my class was Paul Hankinson. As the course neared completion, I asked Paul if he was ready to hand in his portfolio (which was soon due). Paul replied that he wasn’t actually submitting his portfolio at the end of the course because he wasn’t ‘officially’ an AWARD student. It turns out that Paul simply met Tom Moult and Simon Collins at the pub and they invited him to come along to their tutorials. It worked out well because Paul has since had a successful career as a copywriter.

That year, Oliver Devaris was judged as AWARD School’s top student. As is tradition at AWARD School, a selection of the best work was exhibited on the walls at graduation night. I didn’t get anything selected for the wall, but found the course very inspiring.

Following AWARD School, I met with a recruiter named Esther Clerehan.

She teamed me with a young copywriter named Russell Smyth. Russell was a former science high school teacher. He also dabbled in stand-up comedy and penned gags for Doug Mulray (an Australian Radio and TV personality).

Russell and I began work as a team at an agency called Kazoo, under creative director Fred Madderom. Kazoo was based in Balmain, on a wharf over Sydney Harbour. To this day, I still consider that office as the best one I worked in. It taught me that ‘environment is creativity’. I could hear the water lapping beneath my desk, and could quite literally cast a fishing line without even leaving my seat.

I enjoyed a three-year stint at Kazoo. A chap by the name of Steve Gray was my mentor there. Steve was a bit of a legendary figure, having achieved a lot of success previously at Sydney’s Mojo agency.

While at Kazoo, I won a few awards – my very first being a 3D bus-side promoting SBS’s television coverage of the Italian World Cup.

From Kazoo, I was headhunted to be teamed alongside Ben Nott at DDB’s Sydney office, working under creative director Paul Jones.
Ben Nott is a genius. He’s highly motivated, driven and focused. He can talk the talk, but walk it also.
Ben had a career plan and had carefully thought about where he was headed and how he was going to get there. I reflect on Ben’s outlook as a huge, defining moment in my own career.

After 18 months at DDB and some more awards success, Ben and I decided it was time to make our way to Europe. We had seen an article in Lürzer’s Archive magazine featuring an interview with Paul Meijer of Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam.

At that time, Paul Meijer was the creative director behind a lot of award-winning work at Cannes. We decided to send him something to introduce ourselves. So we sent him a pizza box. Inside the box, we put one of our best print ads, a photo of ourselves dressed as a married couple, and a 3D rolling bloodshot eyeball with a note to ‘Keep an eye out for us’ (a shocking pun, really!).

Dingos breakfast advertising

Ben Nott and Adam Hunt

When we departed for Europe we didn’t have visas or work permits or anything organised. Pretty much all we had was our surfboards and our portfolio. The plan was to buy a Kombi van and do a surfing tour of Europe.

After a stay in Greece, enjoying the sun and holidaying with David Droga (who was good friends with Ben), we found ourselves in Amsterdam.

One day I was looking for a Kombi to buy and I needed to refer to my map for directions. I didn’t want to look like a tourist by pulling a map out in the street, so I walked into a nearby bar and sat at a table to read it.

I then looked up and realised that there was a person sitting across from me and, in a masterstroke of fate, it was Paul Meijer. As it turned out, the Young & Rubicam office was next door and that bar was a favourite of the Y&R staff.

I said, ‘Excuse me, are you Paul Meijer?’

He was an imposing figure and looked back at me, slightly puzzled, before replying, ‘Yes.’

I then explained I had sent him a pizza box from Australia, about a month earlier. He studied me for a moment, before he exclaimed, ‘You’re the one in the dress!’ He obviously remembered the wedding photo.

That chance meeting ultimately saw Ben and I offered a job at Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam. So after a 6-month tour of Europe, that’s where we began working.

After 18 enjoyable months working at Young & Rubicam in Amsterdam, we were headhunted to join London’s Saatchi & Saatchi office.

I reflect on my time in London as ‘magic’. It was London in the mid-90s, we were winning lots of awards and stuff. Charles Saatchi held up our Silk Cut ad and said one word: ”Brilliant”.

It was at the dawn of the internet, so there were still big-budget TV ads – we once went to Nepal on a 6-week shoot for BT. That was a £1 million budget, in 1996!

However, after almost 5 years there, it was time for a change. Ben had been directing some of our TV commercials and wanted to focus more on directing. And I wanted to give New York a try.

So I moved to New York’s Saatchi office, where I was teamed with a great Australian copywriter, Tim Brown.

I loved New York, but found the advertising scene there over-burdened with politics and agendas. After being there for 6 months and not getting a single ad produced, I reluctantly decided to leave Saatchi’s. That’s one of the few career decisions I really regret.

I began work at another agency in New York, but it’s here that my story turns a little dark. Friends noticed that I was losing my sense of humour and that I was often angry. I look back and laugh when I think about the different cultural approach Australians and Americans took when offering me ‘an intervention’.

My Australian friends who were based in New York took me to a bar. They sat me down at a table, plonked a beer in front of me and said, ‘Adam, why are you being such a c*nt?’

On the other hand, my American friends who were also concerned about my behaviour, called me into an office and asked me if I had heard of Prozac!

After a series of dizzy spells, forgetfulness, and mood swings, I was convinced that I had a brain tumour so I saw a doctor. The doctor thought the problem was something else, but I insisted on a scan. A few days later, I received a phone call confirming that, unfortunately, I was correct.

The tumour was the size of a scorched almond, located on the frontal lobe of my brain – close to my optic nerve and main blood supply to the brain. They said it was inoperable; no doctor wanted to touch it. Even if I survived an operation, there was a good chance I would wake up blind or a quadriplegic. I asked how long I would live without an operation. They said that I probably had until the end of the year. They gave me that news on December 10th.

So given the news that I had about 20 days to live, I told them I wanted the operation. It was a success. Afterwards, I spent a few months in hospital, learning to use my body again – an operation like that can mess you up a bit.

Then I returned to work to save some money, and I resigned 4 months later.

After the tumour, I re-evaluated a lot of things in life. I bought a van and spent 12 months travelling around the United States. Hang-gliding was one of my passions so I spent more time pursuing that.

Eventually, I returned to Australia, and was hired as Associate Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson in Sydney. However, the CEO who hired me, Wayne Kingston, left the company 2 weeks later.

As is often the case with senior management changes, a hire made by someone who is no longer with the company can be seen in a negative light. It carries the stigma of being ‘the previous guy’s hire’. This came to fruition when the new MD took it upon himself to write some TV scripts one day. He wanted me to present them to the client but I felt that they were off-brief and, quite frankly, just weren’t good enough. I was fired that same day.

Then came a stint at another agency called Fame, and various freelance gigs. I knew Mike Boswell from my time working in London and ran into him at a pub in the inner-Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. I was looking to team up with a writer. Mike was looking to team up with an art director. So we started freelancing together as a team. An agency called Host was just starting up and we stayed there for 3 years. Through that period, Host grew considerably.

Mike and I then ended up taking the role of Co-Creative Directors at an agency in Sydney called Belgiovane Williams Mackay (BWM). It was a good era for that agency, with a strong record of new business wins and some nice work. We hired the young team responsible for writing the much-loved ‘Rabbits’ TV commercial for Telstra BigPond.

The Telstra 'Rabbits' TVC

The Telstra ‘Rabbits’ TVC

During that time, I learnt to be a creative director and that the key to that role was being a nurturer and defender of ideas. Great ideas are easily killed, so it’s the CD’s job to help them survive and thrive.

However, after 4 and a half years at BWM I got the tap on the shoulder that most creative directors get at some stage during their career. Mike had already left on his own accord 12 months earlier, and I was happy to follow.

Then came some more freelance work before I took a job as the Creative Director of a small agency called The Foundry. They lost their largest client within a month but the pivotal point for me was when the agency was approached to appear on the TV program, The Gruen Transfer.

The Gruen Transfer is a show on the ABC (Australia’s national, non-commercial broadcaster) that takes a look at advertising. Within that show is a segment called ‘The Pitch’ where two agencies are given a brief to respond to. The brief we were given was to take a stand against shape discrimination.

It was the day before I had to send our response in, and we hadn’t really cracked it. I was at a pub with a mate, relaxing over a game of pool. Anyway, I was taking a sip of my beer as a large woman walked by. My mate quietly uttered a fat chick joke and I laughed into my beer, spraying it all over my face.

Then it hit me. That was shape discrimination. I had just partaken in it.

So that was the idea. Shape discrimination was no less offensive than other types of discrimination. It wasn’t a joke. It was offensive. Plain and simple.

So the ad I submitted to The Gruen Transfer brought that idea to life. It compared shape discrimination with other types of discrimination. The execution was to show different people speaking directly to camera. The first person tells an offensive racial joke. The second person tells an offensive homophobic joke. The third person tells an offensive anti-semitic joke. Then, the fourth person tells a fat chick joke.

I wanted to show that the fourth joke was just as offensive and socially unacceptable as the other three.

The ABC had the ad banned, however Andrew Denton (the show’s Executive Producer and popular Australian media identity) liked the ad. He saw that it took the brief seriously, unlike some of the other ads in The Pitch segment. The show’s host, Wil Anderson, is an Australian comedian and he said that the ad certainly made him reconsider telling another fat chick joke.

Although the ad was banned from being broadcast on TV, Denton called me in and we did an interview about it. That was hosted online.

Adam on The Gruen Transfer

Adam on The Gruen Transfer

After that, I was labelled by many in the industry as too much of a wildcard.
I was 44 years old and the way I saw it, I had two choices: I could tone things down and do less impactful work and please clients with ‘trash for cash’, or I could do something different.
I thought there was enough boring work already out there so, after a career encouraging clients to take risks, I took one myself.

My Taiwanese/Japanese partner already owned a restaurant and, after spending so much time in bars myself, I chose to jump sides and start a business with her. It was to be an experiential idea for customers.

We opened a small place with a Japanese-influence and we wanted to focus on the locals of Bondi rather than the tourists. Somewhat ironically, we’ve never run an ad and we’ve more than tripled in size.

Dingos breakfast

Adam’s bar and restaurant in Bondi

I still do a little bit of freelance and consultancy work, either through agencies or working directly with clients. I don’t miss the full-time stuff – the politics and people pretending that advertising is a science.

It’s bullshit that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
When we started building the restaurant, I didn’t know which end of a hammer to hold. Now I own an angle grinder & I’m not afraid to use it!

I loved my time in advertising, but a good life involves risk. Fate is great mate.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 1)

Many years ago, while I was at university, one of my friends (also studying communication / advertising) remarked, ‘I wonder where all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older. You don’t see many in ad agencies.’ However, we didn’t spend too much time pondering (it was Bar Night at uni and we were in a hurry to get to $1 Drinks).
Many years later, that question still seems largely unanswered.

Look at the creative departments of ad agencies – they’re all stacked with people in their 20s and 30s. But where are the older creatives? You know, the ones you once showed your book to and gained mentorship from. Surely they haven’t put enough cash aside to retire at 40? Where do they go for the second half of their careers?

Some might start their own agencies. Maybe others find variations of their job, using their skill set outside of the hectic pace of ad agency life. And perhaps there would be those who walk away from the advertising business altogether.

Some time ago, I set out to find the answers…

Part 1: Matt Cumming
Thursday, 31 July 2014
I met with Matt at a café in North Sydney. I hadn’t seen him for a few years. He looked well. He was in Sydney working on a project but later that day, boarded a plane and returned to his rural home on the far north coast of New South Wales.
So, how does an advertising creative end up living on a coastal farm? This is his story:

Matt Cumming

Matt Cumming

I entered the industry as an AFA (Advertising Federation of Australia) trainee in 1985. The traineeship required me to spend time within different departments of an ad agency, but when I got to the Creative Department I simply stayed there.

The agency was Dancer Fitzgerald Sample – a US-based agency that held the global Toyota account. They had set up an office in Sydney to service the Australian market for Toyota.

At that stage, my time in the Creative Department was spent primarily using my illustration skills to create storyboards.

To progress my career as an art director, I then did AWARD School. That course had only been running for a few years and was set up by the industry to help foster aspiring art directors and copywriters. It’s still the most popular way for people to get a job in the creative department of an Australian agency.

After AWARD School I teamed up with a young writer named Danny Ginges.
(Incidentally, at the time of our meeting Danny was in New York, where he’s operating a successful musical called Atomic.)

Dancer Fitzgerald was then bought by Saatchi & Saatchi. Saatchis seemed to be buying everything at the time and, in this case, they essentially bought the Toyota account. By that time, Danny and I had earned a reputation at the agency as being a fairly good team, and our new bosses – Bob Isherwood and Ron Mather – kept us on.

It was a good creative department with plenty of people who would go on to accomplish many things in the ad industry. I was working alongside people like Matt McGrath, Paul Fishlock, Tom Moult and others. I stayed there for around 5 years, and then the recession hit.

The recession meant retrenchments right across the industry, of which I was one. However, because of all the retrenchments there was plenty of freelance work around.

Anyway, I used the payout Saatchis gave me to produce a play. It was a fun thing to do, although it was fairly stressful and I didn’t make any great profits from it.

My next stint was at The Ball Partnership. Tom Moult had become the CD there, and I stayed there for another 5 years before taking 6 months off to go travelling.

When I returned from my travels, The Ball Partnership had been bought by Euro RSCG. Tom Moult was still the CD, and the internet was in its infancy.

Tom said, ‘You like the internet. I’ll give you a room, a computer and a year.’
That was the birth of their Digital Department. After a year, enough was happening with it to justify its existence. I had poached Brendan Tansey from our print studio, and we were good at just jumping in and getting stuff done rather than sitting around talking about it.

My role with Euro’s Digital Department continued for a few more years, until Tom left. Then they gave me his job as Executive Creative Director.

The agency was doing well but it was challenging. Volvo kept changing Marketing Directors, and subsequently pitching. After the third pitch, I left to go surfing.

Leaving Euro felt good. It was quite brave to leave a big salary and not know what I was going to do.

After 6 months of surfing I got bored. I came back to Sydney and wrote a list of 6 agencies I’d like to work for. It comprised 3 agencies who I respected due to the work they did, and 3 agencies included on the basis of ‘they’d probably pay shitloads’.

I then created a direct mail pack to send to all 6 agencies, informing them that I was back, I was excited about one-to-one marketing (both digital and direct), and that I’d like to work for them.

The mailing got a 100% response rate with replies from all 6 recipients, and interviews with senior people at 5 of those agencies. There were job offers from 3 of them.

I chose M&C Saatchi. I respected their work and Andy Pontin, the MD, was fairly impressive. They also had a good IT infrastructure in place. From my time at Euro, I knew I’d need that help and support to grow the agency’s digital capabilities.

The M&C Saatchi bosses, Tom McFarlane and Tom Dery, were wary of digital as they’d been burnt before by people who over-promised and under-delivered. However, clients were starting to grow into the digital space and were willing to pay for the services of a Digital Creative Director.

After 6 years at M&C Saatchi, I left to go surfing once again. By then, my wife and I had a house in Bronte (Sydney’s eastern suburbs) and a holiday house at Sussex Inlet (on the New South Wales south coast). We decided to rent out our Bronte home and try living at Sussex Inlet for a while.

We lived in Sussex Inlet for 8 months. Our kids went to school down there. I joined the sailing club. Living in a town of only 3,500 people was a lot different from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.

We returned to Sydney and I worked at a place called Bienalto – a digital analytics and solutions company. They felt like a family business. You had lots of freedom and client contact and no agency politics. I stayed there for about 18 months before a headhunter approached me for a job at another ad agency – Lavender.

I stayed at Lavender for 6 months but it just wasn’t for me, and by now I was looking for a bigger break. By that stage my wife and I had a block of land at Byron Bay (the far north coast of New South Wales). We were looking at selling it to fund our life in Sydney, but instead chose to sell our Sydney home and live at Byron Bay, downsizing my commitment to advertising.

I’ve been in Byron Bay for 2 years now. We live on a 2-acre block of land but share 80 acres with our neighbours. It’s not a commune – more like a gated community in a rural setting.

Within that community there are different jobs, and one of my roles is to keep the lawn mowed. When you have 80 acres, mowing the lawn means having cows. So my job is to move the cows around. Every year the cows have calves that are then sold to offset some of the community’s maintenance costs. But cattle farming isn’t the reason for having them, lawn mowing is.

It’s a much easier life up there. So far, we’ve built our house and I help look after the kids. My wife is a hair and make-up artist, so she’s often travelling around the country for work.


The building of Matt’s house at Byron Bay.

I’m currently working on writing and directing a music video for a local artist. Byron Bay is a good place. There are lots of smart people there, lots of retired business people, good food and entertainment. I still work in advertising. I usually work remotely and come to Sydney or Melbourne when I have to, for things like presentations and the like.

I take most briefs via phone or email, with work increasingly from clients directly rather than via agencies. They’re mostly people who have heard of me through someone else and require the services of a consultant.

Looking back, I realise I resigned every 5 to 6 years, just to refresh and recharge rather than jump straight into another job. As a creative, you’re ‘always on’ and I don’t think anyone can maintain that over an extended time. There’s always a deadline or a live brief that’s ticking over in your mind. You can’t love the work if it’s month upon month of tight deadlines and working weekends.

It’s important to ‘jump out’ every once in a while to refresh. That’s why I would go surfing or travelling. I hadn’t saved heaps of money, but I had enough so I wasn’t stressed about it. I wasn’t overburdened by the mortgage. I just needed time out.

This last ‘time out’ has been my biggest. I don’t have the energy I did when I was 30. I wouldn’t come back to a full-time position right now, but that’s not to rule it out in the future. I’m enjoying the bits and pieces I do now as a consultant. I still get excited about the work.

I think this is the new form of retirement. I think people chose to ‘taper down’ and shift to a more reasonable work/life situation. That way, they can continue it for a longer time. I’m still only 53, and with the younger of my 2 kids still in the early years of primary school, I plan on being around for a while yet. I’m just going to pace the rest of my life better.

Matt Cumming Advertising

Matt and his wife Annette at their Byron Bay house.

I think the absence of older people in the creative departments of ad agencies is because we’re all commercial artists. At some point, we say to ourselves, ‘I want to do more art’. We find ways to apply our ideas and thinking without it necessarily being through advertising.

Note: Matt has remained true to his ‘time out to recharge’ ethos, and since the time of writing, has leased his Byron home and returned to Sydney with his family.

Has the Age of the Amateur arrived?

Sound of MusicAs a young backpacker many years ago, I found myself at the Yoho Hostel in Salzburg, Austria. After perhaps enjoying one too many european beers, I woke the next morning to discover that I’d agreed to go on The Sound of Music tour with some other backpackers who I’d met.

Anyway, apart from visiting sites from the film, singing the odd Julie Andrews song and twirling across clover-covered meadows, we pulled into a beautiful village called St. Gilgen on the shores of the lake Wolfgangsee.

The guide explained that many carpenters lived in the village. As such, many of the homes featured amazing carvings and ornate woodwork. The craftsmanship was amazing but, sadly, it’s something that’s often missing from today’s world.

This lack of craftsmanship is pandemic across many industries. That’s because craft takes time, plus using a professional can be expensive – two things that many now view as being poisonous.
So we’re left with a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach. People have become immune to mediocrity. In rushing to ‘get stuff out’, we’ve lost sight of the fact that  it’s a waste of time if it’s actually the wrong stuff, or if the stuff is crap.

We simply don’t appreciate professional skill sets anymore. Ones that have been learned and honed with experience and time.
Watching a few episodes of MasterChef and knowing what a Croquembouche is, doesn’t make you a chef.
Being able to Google ‘How to fix a leaking tap’ doesn’t make me a plumber.

But perhaps the age of expertise is a thing of the past.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a former boss. He recalled when he was a Junior Art Director in London. Back then, once you chose a Director to work on your TV commercial, it was ‘hands off’. The Director would take complete control of the project.
He then said, “But these days, everyone’s a Director. Everyone carries a camera around in their pocket, so they think they can direct.”

So, as mentioned, we’ve devalued expertise because it takes time and it can be expensive. But perhaps even worse, is that many people can’t even identify quality anymore.
A house in St Gilgen may as well be a DIY project for anyone who can pick up a hammer. And the result just isn’t the same.

Are ad agencies and creativity getting a divorce?

I look at the advertising industry these days and it often looks like the side of a spanner is being used as a hammer. Or to put it simply, it’s not the right tool for the job, but we’re trying to make it work.
But before we discuss that, it’s probably worth a quick look at how we got here (but if you want to skip the history lesson, just scroll down):

1841 – A chap named Volney B. Palmer sets up what is believed to be the first ad agency in Philadelphia. His clients create the ads and he places them in newspapers. (So these days, we’d probably refer to him as a Media Agency).
Ultimately, it was this media placing that gave birth to  a commission-based remuneration model for the advertising world.

Early 1900s – The Industrial Age arrives and with it comes mass-produced products. With mass production, manufacturers began to differentiate their products through branding and packaging.

1922 – Broadcast radio realises that it can fund its existence through advertising.

1929 – The Stock Market crash puts greater pressure on advertising to prove its effectiveness, so research becomes a player.

1938 – Radio ad revenue surpasses that of magazines.

1941 – The first TV commercial for Bulova Clocks airs. At this stage there are only 4,000 television sets, but by 1954 CBS becomes the largest advertising medium in the world.

1960 – The creative team of Copywriter and Art Director is born at DDB.

The 1980s – Personal computers make desktop publishing easier.

2000 – The Internet has 400 million users, making it the fastest growing medium ever.

So history shows that ad agencies were born to allow marketers to communicate with their customers. They did this through interrupting media that the customers were already reading/watching / listening to. To negate this ‘interruption’, creativity was engaged to make the message seem more informative or more emotive, or a point of difference.

However for many marketers, the relationship with creativity has always been an uneasy one. That’s because, understandably, marketers seek certainty. Creativity, by its very nature, isn’t certain. Creativity is unpredictable. At times, it can be erratic and wild.

And sometimes, creativity simply isn’t the answer.
Just recently I had lunch with a friend who left the agency world a few years ago to go client-side. He’s now National Head of Managing Something Or Other. He said that with a lot of the work they do, creativity just tends to get in the way.

This kind of thinking is happening in a lot of places.

It also reminded me of a recent article about former advertising creative, Yanni Pounartzis. In that article, Yanni suggests that creatives won’t exist in agencies in the near future.
I’ve seen this first hand. There are agencies out there that simply don’t have a creative department or ‘creatives’. In many ways, it does seem that ‘advertising’, as we know it, will simply become the management of data.

I do think creativity will live on. That’s what it does. It will find a new home.
But if you were unencumbered by history and were building a business today for the purpose of communicating with customers, I doubt that an ‘ad agency’ is what you would end up with.