For those attending Ad Week Europe in London, April kicked off in a flurry of marketing buzzwords: programmatic, engagement, native advertising, data, storytelling, innovation, content, content, content. It was a slick, well-organised affair filled with enthusiastic attendees, but if you were there looking for an in-depth discussion on creativity in advertising, let alone on the current place of craft or design in the industry, it would be easy to feel that you’d rocked up at the wrong place.
Primarily AWE is an event focused on the business of advertising. This meant that while there was an awful lot of talk about the importance of content, those who actually create this content were, with a few exceptions, largely absent. The talks were instead a mix of at times baffling-sounding trend reports (‘Inside the Programmatic Ring’, anyone?) and big name celebrity draws, with Idris Elba, Jamie Redknapp, James Corden, and Steve Coogan all appearing.
There is nothing wrong with this in principle: advertising is big business, and events such as these always benefit from a bit of celebrity dazzle. But considering London is often touted as one of the most creative cities in the world, and advertising one of its biggest creative industries, it felt disappointing that this side of the industry was not more significantly represented.
This is not to say it was entirely absent. Stuart Murphy, director of entertainment channels at BSkyB gave an excellent insight into how to spot great creative ideas. While Murphy works in television programming rather than advertising – in his former job at BBC3 he commissioned the likes of Little Britain and Torchwood and at BSkyB launched Sky Atlantic – his description of how to nurture creative ideas, and in turn creative people, would likely please many an ad creative too: he spoke of the need for “kind environments” and a sense of empathy and attention, that the person with the best ideas may not always be “the loudest in the room”.
CR and our sister publication Design Week teamed up to present a talk with high-end cycling brand Rapha, where co-founder (and ex-brand consultant) Simon Mottram and chief marketing officer Slate Olson gave an insight into the company, and explained how central a part creativity and design plays (see p52). And representatives from some of Europe’s more creative agencies, including CP+B, Karmarama, 72andSunny and Droga5 also popped up on various panels, discussing their work, and how to nurture creativity.
Some of the celeb appearances, when the subject turned to the nuts and bolts of working in advertising, gave surprising insights too. Jamie Redknapp, in a discussion about the relationship between football and advertising, talked frankly about his lack of inclination to become a brand in the mould of David Beckham, saying he was “too lazy” for that. And he also explained his reasons for not currently being on Twitter, which according to Lee Clayton, head of sport at the Daily Mail (which Redknapp writes for), are largely due to his being “too sensitive” for the medium. This is in spite of Robin Clarke, head of sport at Starcom Mediavest, asserting that such a lack of social media presence might put brands off working with him (he seems to be doing OK so far, though).
James Corden gave a pretty brutal assessment of some of his experiences in advertising, saying that working on an ad for a Microsoft Windows phone was one of the “least creative things I’ve been part of”. Ouch. Twitter also came in for some criticism from Corden, who said, “It looks more powerful than it is. It’s mostly London, predominately left of centre and is still a small percentage of the world.”
If it was myth-puncturing that you were after though, the talk to attend was that of Bob Hoffman, aka The Ad Contrarian. Titled The Golden Age of Bullshit, Hoffman used his lecture to take apart some of the more outlandish proclamations about advertising’s future made over the last few years, most prominently the idea that ‘advertising is dead’ and ‘the future is social’. Armed with statistics, he took these theories apart with cold, hard facts, and ended by claiming that the way to be a successful brand today still lay in “really good products and really good advertising”. At the end of his talk, via a show of hands, Hoffman received affirmation that most present agreed that many claims made about advertising were nonsense. This either suggests that the audience was very eager to please or that many other talks at AWE (which offered the latest such predictions of adland’s future) were redundant.
There were many interesting ideas aired at this year’s AWE conference, but without the presence of the creatives (and the designers, photographers, filmmakers, and so on) that will bring some of them to life, it felt like the story of today’s advertising landscape was only half told. If the future of advertising is truly all about great content, as so many claimed, then more of the content makers should surely also be invited to join the conversation. 1