Can great ads come out of difficult times?

With recession and an ongoing pandemic, we are living in fearful times. But, argues our advertising correspondent Ben Kay, these pressures may just result in some outstanding creative work

“Flowers grow best in the sunshine.” That was David Abbott’s philosophy when it came to producing great work. Happy employees with good salaries and plenty of time and support surely create wonderful advertising on a regular basis.

As a former employee of his, I can attest to the late-90s AMV being bathed in said sunshine. From the snooker table and the company car to the subsidised bar and the overall understanding that the creative was in charge, life in his department was very pleasant indeed.

And of course the work was consistently brilliant. One team after another produced legendary classics for a wide range of clients, proving David’s theory correct.

Then again, plenty of less accommodating creative directors have managed to inspire great advertising by using the stick rather than the carrot: Tim Delaney (“If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday”), Colin Millward of golden-era Collett Dickenson Pearce (“What’s wrong with this ad? You figure it out”), John Hegarty (“An ad a day keeps the sack away”), and others tended to provide more clouds than sunshine. And this ethos extended to entire agencies, with nicknames such as GBH, Weekend and Kennedy, and 72 and Sunday.

So which is it: skipping through the daisies to make brilliant ads, or being horsewhipped like a galley slave to make equally brilliant ads?