The future of the creative industry may lie in independent stores and boutiques, says Ian Haworth, former chief creative officer of Wunderman Thompson.
I love making TV commercials. There will always be a place for them. But today, creativity has developed into a complex and exciting world. It powers a whole gamut of fast-paced, repetitive content to feed the digital ecosystem – S4 Capital tells me the story in 1.7 seconds – through a creative-driven experience, service or solution to someone’s everyday problem and everything in between. Creative response doesn’t have to be part of communication anymore, and for people like me, that’s both scary and liberating.
The lens through which we see creativity, and how we channel our ideas, has changed. We remind ourselves that creativity isn’t about doing, it’s original thinking, the big idea that builds value. And it’s more important than ever in a world where there are so many channels and iterations of that great idea that flies at amazing speed. He’s the star that guides us when we try to balance agility and focus, without getting too crazy.
We are in a world where some customers threaten to walk if they are presented with another TV-led approach – “Show differently or I’ll go home.” But as they stay away from television, some are risking thinking in terms of purely social strategies. Wherever they find themselves in this spectrum, you can be sure that they are looking in new places for their creative solutions.
In some cases, global brands are betting on small, agile teams or groups that demystify the creative process, delivering a big idea quickly, rather than retreating to an ivory tower for a month. They pay these experts for thought – no timelines involved – and then hire actors to do it, choosing the right kind of store to deliver anything from a quick production to a beautifully designed movie. Faster, better, and cheaper are applied to the big idea process as well as creative execution.
The creative race has begun. For legacy groups, the problem is getting data and technology to run fast enough to feed the solutions customers demand. This is a tough cultural and structural challenge, but if we look at it positively, it’s a really exciting journey. Strong leadership responds constructively to resistance from within, framing today’s environment as an opportunity rather than a threat to creativity. Networks have capabilities in container payloads; It’s more about getting them to work closely enough together to highlight the transition. I am sure many of them will do so in due course.
It’s not just Sir Martin Sorrell’s purpose-built S4 Capital that is setting the new agenda. I think no one is in a better position than Dave Droga to put a creative heartbeat at Accenture Interactive without turning it into an ad agency. I suspect we’ll see him and his team create a show that will set the paradigm for years to come, while harnessing data and technology as a catalyst for creativity. Their relationships with senior clients and the salaries they can pay – Adland simply can’t match them – make them a fearsome competitor. Market value also provides them with plenty of resources to purchase the right types of creative work.
I’ve previously mentioned that a creative response can take the form of a life-changing service or solution that a brand develops to a physical or emotional problem it identifies, and is propelled via exceptional film. And while this is the main area of management consulting, I see a real shift in Adland as agency startups are configured with expertise design at their heart. Their default is to explore the experiences they will create on behalf of brands, as opposed to what brands will tell people. New Commercial Arts is a great example, co-founded by former colleague Rob Curran, a customer experience expert.
All this might seem like a challenge too far, a world in which traditional craft skills have been forgotten. But I simply don’t think that’s true. Yes, digital first agencies are increasingly looking to build creative solutions that work across all channels, following the fastest, best, and cheapest mantra, but I see a real opportunity for independent agencies and all kinds of professionals. Digital advertising may have (only) overtaken traditional media spending, but there are still many of the latter.
This means that there is plenty of room for stores that choose to focus on TV, cinema, radio, podcasts, gaming, purpose, DEI, or anything else, to produce a creative cultural work. Digital isn’t the only game in town and traditional media can still play Blender – Christmas ads always remind us of that at this time of year.
Overall, I think it’s a great time to work as a creator.
Ian Haworth is the founder and creative director of Haworth House. Previously, he was Creative Director for UK, EMEA at Wunderman Thompson, ECD and WPP Team GSK.