Australia is lacking in commercial creativity because ‘most marketers are crap’: MLA’s Andrew Howie

Australia is behind the rest of the world with its commercial creativity because “most marketers are crap” and scared, Andrew Howie, group marketing manager at Meat & Livestock Australia, said.

Speaking at a debate to launch the Outdoor Media Association’s Open3 book, on whether Australia is slipping behind the rest of the world, Howie said most marketers “just want get paid and go home and pay off their mortgage and spend time with their family and then go to work the next day”.

“Strategically marketers aren’t great here, we don’t spend enough time with world-class planners.

Howie: “Most marketers are crap”

“We change too often, we are not strategically led, we think that a great TV ad will solve our business problems,” Howie said at the OMA breakfast to launch its Open3 book, held in conjunction with Mumbrella.

The marketer who worked on the headline-grabbing ‘You never lamb alone’ Australia Day campaign made the analogy that marketers are like swimmers – they don’t want to swim outside the pack and get eaten by a shark.

“If you swim in a pack, or in the middle, you will probably get kicked in the face or in the leg, but you are not going to get eaten by a shark.

“But you are also stuck in a pack the whole time, but if you swim on the outsides or you swim out in front, then you’ve got some clear water and you can actually go places but you are more likely to get eaten by a shark.

“Most marketers don’t want to get eaten by a shark, they just want to get paid.

“We just have to make everyone swim a little bit faster in the middle of that pack and make a little bit more space, and that doesn’t come from winning awards or showing how many bloody awards we’ve won, what it comes from is trying to build a culture of that middle tier just being a little bit better.

“If we could make everyone just a little bit better, maybe that’s through craft and helping them understand the benefit of craft or coaching them on the benefit of time,” he said.

In order to produce the best creative work and catch up to the rest of the world, Howie also said CEOs and marketers should leave the creativity to the creatives and focus on the data, insight and strategy.

“CEOs aren’t always creative, most of them aren’t, and good ones will leave you alone and go ‘Tell me what the strategy is, help me understand why, the data, evidence strategy behind it and you draw a big line there and you trust they are going to deliver on that.

“If I can show that the data, insight and strategy has been achieved as a result of the work then that line stays there. As soon as I mess it up, they start coming below that line, so my job is to keep them above that line,” he said.

Carmen Bekker, owner of Wolverton Gardens and former partner of JWT London, simplified Howie’s point to say all marketers really need to have are the tools to be able to prove that creativity works.

Bekker has recently returned to Australia after nearly 20 years in London, where she was a partner at JWT

Meanwhile, the CEO of the Outdoor Media Association, Charmaine Moldrich said what is affecting our creative outcomes, and what marketers, agencies and brands are “sometimes forgetting” is the audience.

“Who are we making these ads for and what do we want to say to the people who are looking at these ads?”

Diversity was offered as a solution by Moldrich as she urged the industry to be more diverse in order to reach and reflect the real audience.

All of the stuff that is published in Mumbrella and in the trade press, all of the pictures are of blokes who are CMOs and creative directors, they are usually all white blokes.

“We really need, as an industry, to start looking at diversity and talking about diverse audiences,” she told the room.

Moldrich is the CEO of at Outdoor Media Association

Moldrich said once adland delves into the diversity topic and begins to accurately reflect the people in the industry and wider Australia, the work will start to flourish and correctly target audiences.

“If that power only sits with a percentage of the audience, you’re not going to get that full force of creativity.

“Australia is really stuck,” she exclaimed.

Alison Tilling, head of planning at BMF, concurred saying understating your audience and what they are going to respond to is a craft.

“You have got to get out of the bubble and interpret it a bit.

“People are still people and it still starts with the understanding of them,” said Tilling.

Tilling is the head of planning at BMF

Bravery was another topic addressed during the debate and another reason suggested for why Australia has fallen behind the rest of the world in commercial creativity.

OMA’s CEO Moldrich, said: “Work has improved in Australia but I think we are also really constrained by regulation in Australia.

“It is not just about money, it’s also about the idea, it’s about how brave the client is and it’s about how brave we are as a community.

“Because we’ve done the best work and the worst work, sometimes the regulators take over and you get this bland outcome. Don’t let the bland and the mediocre run us, let the brave idea run us – sometimes that is going to work and sometimes it isn’t,” Moldrich argued.

BMF’s Tilling was quick to agree, saying long-term relationships between agencies and brands is going to help clients be braver.

“When we have those long relationships between partner and agency, when we have campaigns in the advertising world that run for a while, when you really embrace that consistency that’s what gives you the confidence to be brave,” Tilling said.

With Collective’s creative director Simon Fowler disagreed with the statement that Australia was behind the rest of the world, citing storytelling, innovation and talent as areas where Australia is far from behind on its production of creativity.

Fowler is the associate creative director at With Collective

“People in our industry are disrupting the way our world is thinking about advertising and then inspiring them to do the same.

“If the work doesn’t speak for itself, the people do. We bolster some of the best creative talent in the world,” he said.

Moldrich disagreed: “The difference between Australia and the rest of the world, especially in Europe, is that the general work, the bread and butter work, the standard’s higher.

“In Australia, certainly in outdoor and television, the bread and butter work is pretty bland, it’s pretty low common denominator.”

“We need to raise the bar so that advertising and creating becomes the enemy of the mediocre and bland and embraces creativity in a way that’s at the heart of our clients’ success,” she said.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.