Kneejerk negativity is ruining this creative industry’s big thinking

cathie mcginn reading roomIn a guest post inspired by yesterday’s Battle of Big Thinking, Cathie McGinn argues that the industry needs to find ways of making criticism more constructive and less destructive.

Sitting in the audience at yesterday’s Battle of Big Thinking, one of the most extraordinary things was the accompanying conversation on Twitter. It was free from the usual slights, snarky remarks and bitching – people responded to new ideas with enthusiasm, and a desire to share them. But sadly that’s not how the industry usually is.

A criticism levelled at Australian advertising is that it often lacks creativity. There are, of course, significant exceptions to this, but I think it’s fair to say we produce more than our share of “safe” work.

You could argue that there are complex reasons for this: agencies who don’t challenge a brief, clients who don’t go for bold ideas, or, as Darren Woolley suggests in a recent post, marketers simply don’t value creativity, allocating a mere 5-7% of a total budget to the creation of the “big idea”

My small idea, inspired by the day, is that the industry should make a conscious commitment to become an environment that cherishes ideas and responds positively to creativity. Perhaps the reason for the lack of courage in creative is that the Australian industry is so hostile, quicker to tear down than build up.

How often do you see a piece of work that made you look twice, tell your friends, remember the product and, just maybe actually buy it?

And how many times have you seen a new campaign ridiculed and savaged in the comment threads of publications like this one.

Constructive criticism and debate are hallmarks of a robust and healthy industry; kneejerk negativity, criticism without rationale and personal vilification are not.

I’m all for good-natured ribbing: satire is an effective and much-needed puncture to the over-inflated egos one can encounter in this business, but the endless comments that offer only the view that “it sucks” and “this is shit” are frankly pathetic.

I don’t have any issue with the idea that we’re a highly critical lot. It goes with the territory. Understanding how the device works means we’re less sympathetic to a poor use of a medium. And that’s a great opportunity to drive the standard of execution up.  Challenging bad ideas and lazy execution is a good way to encourage people to lift their game, but the counterpoint has to be a generous celebration of the good and the brave.

I don’t see that happening. Of course I’m not suggesting that the only reason Australia isn’t a global creative leader is because people bitch too much in the trade press, but I am saying that it – we – don’t work to create an atmosphere that encourages and rewards creativity.

It is our industry and we are responsible for the way we communicate within it, whether we treat our peers with respect, whether we give praise where it’s merited – regardless of whether or not the work comes from our rivals.

I know for a fact that there are plenty of people who don’t like talking about their work because they know they’re just opening themselves up a kicking from the trolls.

What that means in practice is that no one learns. The standard response to a campaign launch seems to be something like “New campaign, eh? I expect I won’t like it. Nah, it’s crap. Better leave an anonymous comment saying so.”

What a waste of everyone’s time.

Imagine a scenario in which on the day a campaign launches, industry social networks and platforms were abuzz with questions and opinions about the execution, where an insight came from, what might have worked better, the strategic decisions that lay behind it, perhaps a response from the team responsible.  That’s a community I want to be a part of.

After a day at the Circus festival of commercial creativity listening to ideas being shared in an open and progressive space, I left full of optimism. I think we can make it work.

If you need me, I’ll be being ripped to pieces in this comment thread.


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