In 1756 Edward Burke described the “sublime” as coming from something “capable of exciting pain or danger”.
And just the other day, France’s ex-justice minister Rachida Dati told Canal Plus: “I see some [foreign investment funds] looking for returns of 20 or 25% at a time when fellatio is close to zero.”
I think those two quotes sum up the state of the nation right now.
(Incidentally, some commentators think the French politician meant to say “inflation”, but I’m not convinced.)
Or let’s approach this from another angle.
How many geniuses have you met in advertising ?
And what are they doing now ?
I remember reading a piece in Campaign once, about the late Geoff Seymour, a guy who at one stage seemed to epitomise everything that was cool and glamorous about advertising. He’d written the line “The World’s Favourite Airline” for British Airways; he wrote the original Hovis ads and “Reassuringly expensive” for Stella, and tons of other brilliant stuff. He was also the first copywriter to earn a salary of £100,000 pa – a feat which meant that his name passed into common usage as adfolk told you they were on “three-quarters of a Seymour”.
He was good-looking and super-confident, but in a “Where are they now ?” article from a few years ago, he was portrayed as a sad loser, with a permanent residency on a bar-stool at the Chelsea Arts Club.
Now I’m not saying he was a genius, but he was clearly a very gifted creative. However, like a lot of creatives, he didn’t manage the route to his pension very well.
Now this isn’t a plea for some kind of home for retired advertising creatives – that exists already, and it’s called the local pub.
But it is a question – which is, how seriously does advertising take its core resource of creative talent ?
I was talking to a creative the other day who is working at Fallon. We both raved about what that agency had created in its short London history.
For me, there aren’t many transcendent moments in marketing, but arguably Fallon came up with three – the Skoda cake, Sony balls and the Cadbury gorilla.
And I can tell you, because HHCL had a similar track record in the previous decade, that peaks like this don’t come about as flukes. They don’t come out of thin air, or because you make a lucky hiring. They come out of an agency that builds its creative vision consistently and persistently.
They come out of a vision that is adhered to through thick and thin, through often painful years of growth and fighting.
If the people at the top of advertising, the big holding company swinging dicks, really cared about this industry, they’d be asking – what factors led Fallon and HHCL and CDP to create decade-defining work ?
But all they’re thinking is – let’s hope those buggers fail, it makes a flatter field for the rest of us.
And right now I don’t see many agencies that put creativity first, that will defend and stand up for their creative work … that – ultimately – even believe it’s important.
I see a massive over-supply of agencies of all descriptions, who will tip up and show a client a bunch of ideas and, when those are blown out, will say “fine, see you next Tuesday, we’ll bring some new ones.”
That kind of approach doesn’t add value to anybody or anything – and isn’t sustainable.
Anyway – I’m off to chat to a bunch of students at Bucks College to see if they’ve got any answers.
The first question I’m going to ask them is – why are you joining this industry ?
Speaking for myself, I love the intersection of business and creativity.
But I want to hear what they say.