moving at the speed
of business isn’t
creating a sweatshop
Many farms in Adland are still fruitful places for creativity to flourish. I hope yours is one of them.
Yet too many creative farmers find themselves bound to making drab content, blunting once sharp skills at writing and design in order to manufacture info-graphics and “tool kits” for evermore unappreciative clients posing as marketing sages.
“Branding is an old idea,” they decree. “Feed the funnel!” they demand.
These are not oracles, patrons, or partners. Yet, revenue-strapped agencies yield to their demands, turning to their strategists and creatives to spin gold from tin.
Not wanting to be kicked to the curb, the strategists and creatives do what they must to survive, reluctantly leaning into their computers, rendering slide after slide after slide of strategery and meeting fodder.
Alas! The sons and daughters of bohemia are now forging power points to satiate a box checker whose only mandate is appeasing his or her own pitiful boss.
“This is madness!” we whisper to ourselves and to those closest to us on the line. Oh, to be the brave one. To say back: “This is not creative. This is crap.” Yet speak up and you may not be heard from again. I know this from experience.
Can any creative deny the fantasy of being the great deliverer? It’s in our DNA. We want to make things that make things happen, to be able to point to our projects with pride; not bow our heads with apologies and excuses.
When friends and family ask what we do at work we want to be able to show them, to offer proof. “I wrote this film.” “I designed that logo.” “I created something cool – sick, badass, awesome… those bright, shiny objects that shape popular culture or even just a company’s culture.
But the wheel needs turning. And it needs pushers to turn it. The false oracles admonish the agency bosses, suggesting they are losing touch, not moving at the speed of business. Our leaders can become monsters, driven by fear. The shit in their pants runs downhill. Dripping into their agencies, turning them all into sweatshops.
Am I being cynical? Melodramatic?
If I am it’s because I have seen what better looks like.
Creative agencies aren’t lost utopias from an age before the Internet. They exist now, in pockets and in some places from one end of the building to the other. Big or small, what they all have in common are people who are open-minded to creativity, not frightened by it. Enthusiasm reigns over fear. Ideas invite new ideas. Criticism is constructive.
Combining art and commerce is always achievable, regardless of application. Any campaign, no matter how trivial, is made infinitely better by an organizing principle. New technologies and platforms, the proliferation of data, should aid and abet cross-pollination not hinder or usurp it.
The creative business idea isn’t the anachronism. If anything, the sweatshop is the old idea and it should be systemically eradicated to make room for something new.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A copywriter by trade, Steffan is perhaps best known for his provocative and iconic work on Altoids, The Curiously Strong Mints. Early into his long tenure at Leo Burnett, Steffan co-wrote “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” which (for better or worse) became a part of the lexicon.
Steffan currently provides creative leadership at Jumbo Shrimp, a San Francisco boutique responsible for elevating the creative product across a broad range of B2B and technology clients.
A one-time recipient of Crain’s prestigious “40 under 40,” Steffan is immersed in new media. His popular blog, Gods of Advertising was recently ranked top 20 by Business Insider.
He’s the recipient of advertising’s most prestigious awards, including numerous One Show Pencils, the Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America, and gold and silver Lions from Cannes.
Steffan has written three novels, all of which are available via online booksellers. His horror screenplay, Belzec: The Made Undead won Best Horror Screenplay at Action on Film, Chicago’s Horror Fest and several other festivals.