Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eight Reasons For The Lack Of Creativity In Advertising Today

When was the last time you saw a great commercial or ad on-line or off-line?  One which made you want to try the product or made you think differently about it?  One which made you really laugh or smile.  There is so much bland work out there.  Every year I look forward to Super Bowl commercials and every year, like most people, I am disappointed, although this year there were a few good spots.

Much has been written about the lack of creativity in advertising.  I thought I would take a look at it from a different point of view.  Some of what I have written may be a surprise to you.

1      1)     The Holding Companies Preclude Movement Among Them
Because each of the holding companies owns dozens of communications firms, movement between them is limited.  An employee of one WPP agency cannot easily move to another WPP Company.  This means that someone at Grey cannot move to JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R or any of their digital or PR agencies.

And while each of the holding companies has HR departments which can, with the permission of the existing company, move someone to another WPP firm, it is rare (and dangerous) for an employee to request a transfer.  Those HR people exist mostly to recruit senior people from other agencies not in their networks; they also have a minor function of moving network out of work people within the network, although, in my observation, there are few successful placements like that.

As a result the choice of new employees is ultimately limited.

2     2)    Creative Talent Has Migrated Elsewhere
Long hours and relatively low pay combined with clients who say no have driven many creatives into other businesses.  I know many creatives (including account people and strategists) who have become freelancers, opened their own business or channeled their talent elsewhere.  The consultancies are loaded with ex-advertising people.  So is Hollywood and publishing.

3     3)    Agencies Don’t Fight For The Work
There is a famous story about George Lois opening a window and threatening to climb on a ledge unless a client bought an ad.  Or Bill Bernbach’s famous retort when a client told him the copy was too long and that only 10% of the people who saw the ad would read the copy, “Then, the copy is for the ten per cent who will read it.” 

Today, agencies are afraid of the retribution from their holding company if it loses and account over creative differences. So if the client murmurs, the agency gives in quickly.  This even happens in new business presentations when agencies should be at their best and strongest. Agency creative people figure, why do cutting-edge work, it won’t get sold, anyway.

The result is the blandness we see in every medium.

4     4)    Clients Believe That One Size Fits All
Agency consolidation has seriously impeded creativity.  In order to save money, advertisers like to run the same work everywhere in the world.  However, something that works in Paris, New York or Buenos Aires may not work in Mexico or Sri Lanka.  I remember being told by a British candidate that he had a huge fight with both his English client and his agency because they wanted to run a campaign in England with a famous U.S. celebrity who was totally unknown in the United Kingdom; believe it or not, it was a major fight, ultimately won by the British agency. 

I see lots of inept commercials which were obviously made for Europeans and adapted to the United States, but make absolutely no sense here.

5     5)    Creative People Still In Silo[P1] s
Just because the people from different disciplines at related agencies show up for meetings does not mean they work well together or can even agree; worse, I hear that many of them merely show up, but obviously don’t even know each other.  Evidence is that they attend meetings and then just return to their agencies and do what they want to do anyway.  The only way agencies can be integrated is that they are all under one roof with the same reporting structure. 

Ad Agencies have been wrestling with this problem for two decades.  I just read that Publicis is mandating that its various agencies work together. LOL.

6     6)    The Consultancies Now Have A Foothold In Advertising Strategy and Execution
Execution needs to be in the hand of creative experts.  Consultants are good with paper and pen, but rarely have the ability to execute.  Most people now in the business are not old enough to remember when Marketing Corporation of America (MCA) purchased Ally & Gargano, one of the great creative ad agencies.  It was a disaster.  In fact, Tom Messner, Barry Vetere, Ron Berger, who were creative directors of that agency, all left that agency to start MVBMS, now (several mergers and name changes later) HAVAS. They just couldn’t work for the strategists who did not understand good and effective creative.

7     7)    Broadcast Production Has Been Dumbed Down
Procurement has forced the cost of production(s) to be cut and agencies have gone along with it.  The result is that agencies and clients rarely are able to pay the day rates of the best directors. And those directors can rarely afford to take the time or afford to go to foreign countries to shoot ads and commercials (done to save on talent costs).  There is very little original music and a lot of editing is being often executed in-house.

Most of you remember or have seen, “Where’s the beef?).  That came about because the agency used the esteemed director, Joe Sedelmeir. 

Commercials are a medium by themselves.  Skimping on production is penny wise and, often, pound foolish.

 8)  There Is No Longer a Star System
Once upon a time there were real creative superstars.  The whole business knew who they were.  Agencies prided themselves on these people.  They were paid well and became the faces of the agencies they worked for.  The advent of the holding companies changed the star system.  It is unfortunate, but a fact of life in advertising today.





  1. Hi,
    All points are correct. I would add to the list, the removal of all the mentors and experienced storytellers who helped train the up and coming talents. Without mentors, I would never have succeeded. The holding companies ripped them out of their agencies under the guise of cost cutting. But it was also age discrimination.
    With the mentors gone, we also lost a sense of history. Many people have no knowledge of the best advertising ever created.
    -Lee Garfinkel

    1. Thanks, Lee. I hadn't thought about the lack of mentors and you are totally right. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I almost always agree with my friend Lee Garfinkel, and in this case he hits the nail right on the head once again with his commentary … Mentoring is dead! But I’m a bit confused by the opening of this article. Is it about recruiting, creative, policy, or process? I’ve been talking about the agency “Brain Drain” for several years and nobody seems to care about it except certain CLIENTS, who are equally challenged within their own ranks. A clear divide between “traditional” and “digital”, where NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET at the rate or way we’re going now. Out with the old and in with the new, I guess.

  3. Some great points Paul, thanks. I also think that the sound-bite society we live in has had an impact. The way people gather information and the time they're willing to spend looking at a message has forced creative in a more straight-forward direction.

  4. P.S. Or, as an agency CFO or company accountant might say ... FIFO (First In, First Out)

  5. It’s probably a subset of #3, but the demise of the Account Management department is another factor. Great account people defended the strategy and the creative work it inspired—they sold (at least the great ones did). The advent of the modern-day planning department turned AE’s into order takers and project managers. Who’s teaching people how to sell creative work in agencies any more?

    1. Tony, Good point. All true. A client recently told me that no one sells. His agencies regularly present multiple campaigns without a recommendation. They wait for the client to approve one or another and then, basically, just agree. Sad.


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