Crazy creativity

by Rob Horning

18 May 2006


Prepare yourself to see something really crazy. I mean, something absolutely psycho. Are you ready? Click here. Look! It’s the craziest ad guys in America! Oh my God, those guys are wearing blue jeans! And a couple of them don’t even have their shirts tucked in!! And the one on the far right, the guy with the radically long hair who’s flipping a Madison Avenue gang sign, he’s not wearing any shoes! They’re crazy!!!

It’s a cliche to portray ad men as wild, nutty “creative” types in the business press, guys who “think outside the box” and “reinvent” brands and devise campaigns that are really original or more unique. Sometimes they are depicted as bordering on subversive in the way they challenge management to question all their assumptions about their business and how to reach customers. But it hardly needs to be said that advertising is never subversive; its goals are always in the service of business, always for hire, always about selling more and grabbing market share. (Often when ads are extra wacky, it’s because the product itself is extra shoddy, or haunted by some scandals regarding quality, as is the case with VW, a primary client of those kookoo nutcases on the cover. If the ad obscures the product, it seems safe to assume the product is junk and you’ll be expected to continue to consume the ideas of the ad instead of the product.) Maybe we want to temper the contempt and manipulation inherent in advertising by lauding its cleverness; it makes us seem less vulnerable and gullible in our reaction to it. And that’s not to say ad guys aren’t actually creative, it’s just that they aren’t that much more creative than any sales person. There’s not much separating an ad man from a used car salesman, particularly when you view then from the perspective of their mutual goals. They have to get your attention, they have to disorient you so that you forget what you thought you wanted and then smoothly introduce new ideas into your head that you’ll mistake for your own. Used car salemen are on the front lines; they are the foot soldiers in the sales war that ad men are allowed to conduct on high from their executive suites in Midtown.

It seems at first that depicting advertisers are zany and creative is an attempt to redeem them of their explicitly commercial motives, make excuses for them, but really it seems an attempt to harness all creativity to entrepreneurship, buisness expansion and customer management. In our culture, creativity is measured in sales, and we are constantly reminded that the drive to increase sales is what inspires the most truly authentic creative acts. It’s become harder and harder to imagine creative acts outside of the business paradigm; that is, the impulse to create and the impulse to earn are blurred together. They seem synonymous. The growth economy’s insatiable demand for novelty absorbs all creativy to itself, and makes it seem as though creativity is merely the invention of something novel rather than the primordial act of making itself.

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