Advertising / Creativity

On the Origin of Ideas

Diversity is adland’s current cause célèbre. For an industry renowned for navel gazing, that’s no bad thing. But while advertising agencies are looking to broaden their overall mix of staff, they’re ignoring a pressing problem that already exists in creative departments across the country – they’re full of clones.

Not so long ago, advertising agency creative departments were renowned for being eclectic. Over the years I encountered a medieval historian, an architect and a classicist. Going further back, it was not unknown to see a one-time post-room boy, or even a former door-to-door Aga salesman knocking out a decent ad or two.

Then in the early 90s, creativity went mainstream. Instead of creative departments being a home for the eccentric, the odd, and those who could find no gainful employment elsewhere, it became an acceptable career choice. As such, it came to the attention of universities and colleges who saw it as a route into a previously untapped market. So along came a whole raft of ‘creative advertising’ courses. Where there used to be a smattering of institutions offering copywriting / art direction courses, such as the original School of Communication Arts and Watford College, there are now about 30. And as is the case with all courses, the quality varies considerably.

As these courses have come to prominence over the last 15 years or so, creative departments have been recruiting heavily from them. While there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it has led to less diverse creative departments. And by diversity I’m not talking about colour or creed. I’m talking about diversity of background, interests, skill sets and worldviews. And that’s the problem; the less ‘diverse’ creative departments become, the further they are from the people they are trying to influence with their work. If I were a client, that would worry me.

In the last 12 months I wonder how many junior copywriters or art directors came from a Russell Group university, let alone Oxford, Cambridge or UCL. And as for how many are straight from school, or are career switchers, I’d risk a tenner on less than a handful.

While it would be a stretch to claim that creative departments of 20 years ago were a truly representational cross-section of the British public, they were undoubtedly a lot more diverse than they are today. That’s good. Because the people they are paid to communicate with – consumers – are a very, very diverse lot.

So what does all this creative homogeneity actually mean? Think back to your school biology classes. Remember Charles Darwin, he of the beard and Beagle? Well Mr. Darwin was the first person to appreciate that in order for a species to evolve, ‘heritable variability’ needed to exist within that species. Or in plain English, it’s time to cast your recruitment net a bit wider. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you catch.

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