I don’t know a damn thing about your agency, but I bet you a tenner that you’re not more than 10 feet away from a novelty item. By which I mean a plastic figurine, a remote controlled helicopter, a singing fish, a skateboard, a drum kit, hell, there’s probably a room just down the corridor where the walls are covered in living meadow grass and the seating consists of three 1976 Space Hoppers and a Louis xv queening stool.
It’s ok, put your wallet away, that was just a rhetorical flourish. But let’s just reflect for a minute – presumably your agency is staffed by adults; why then is it full of toys?
What Walter Benjamin called the ‘physiognomy’ of an environment, must reflect the culture that exists in it. Clearly there is a tension in advertising between the need for exuberance and the need for professionalism. Agencies have to look fun, because paradoxically it’s good for business. Clients pay their agencies to show them ‘at play’. Any brand advertising brief can be roughly summed up as follows: ‘here, take this bag of money and show our customers how good we would be at doing art films, or sketch comedy, if only we weren’t lumbered with making tvs or chocolate bars. Then maybe they’ll like us for who we really are.’
The agency office then, must reflect this sense of ‘play’. Clients pay for originality, for joyful excess, but, impossibly, they also want value for money. They abhor waste. This puzzle is symbolised by the agency pool table. The client wants to see it, but the md would flip out if anyone was using it as the tour went by.
There’s another idea at work here, which is that creative people are by nature unhygienic. Not just that they’re the children who wouldn’t tidy their rooms, but that they don’t respect boundaries. They don’t know the difference between home and work, between art and business. Their creativity springs from this disorder – the ability to bring insights from one area into the other. Therefore, the argument goes, no creative person could ever accept a working environment that was merely a working environment, and anyone who would is not truly a creative person. The changing meaning of the word ‘studio’ may also be significant: originally an artist’s workshop, then a tiny flat, and latterly, a room full of football casuals who are really good at Photoshop.
Still, there’s a distinct possibility that all this crap is just crap. Creativity can occur in the harshest conditions, perhaps even because of those conditions. Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita, one of the most imaginative books of the 20th Century, in a Stalinist flat, in the full knowledge that he would never see it published, not least because he was both dying and going blind. No iced latte in the soft area for him.
I’m not suggesting you burn down the agency ping-pong pavilion, but can I at least bagsy the queening stool for the next PPM?
‘Gordon Comstock’ is a creative in London and blogs at notvoodoo.blogspot.com