Is Creativity Better Celebrated or Incubated?


Thoughts on how to decide between Cannes and SXSW

Many lifetimes ago I was a Group Creative Director at McCann in Toronto. For my sins I was assigned a small project for the agency's anniversary that lead me to some research. Deep in the agency archives I found an all-staff memo from agency founder Jack MacLaren dated c1935. It read;

"... I expect each and every one of you to have interests outside of work. You must know the culture to reflect the culture. Go to the ballet, see a play, try to make art"

This dusty yellow stained memo has defined my philosophy on this business ever since. Curiosity, courage and creativity are at the heart of what we do as an industry. Look beyond the business to source your inspiration. If you don't, you are doing it wrong. Advertising is not a culture maker, it is a culture reflector. That is why we derive creative from the insights routed deep in the culture of our "target". For me to think of it any other way would be disingenuous since that day.

This is why I love SXSW. Because if you get off the couches of the Driskill, attend sessions beyond the convention center's main halls, and have lunch with panelists from an industry you know nothing about rather than celebrity gazing on the Four Seasons patio, you may find inspiration. Passion is contagious and it drives curiosity.

Passion is SXSW. If you don't feel it, the least you can do is let someone who does have your room. SXSW is not about what you can directly take away, it teaches you how to think about what is important. SXSW has never been about the gadgets, the gimmicks, the internet or especially the awards. It is about looking ahead. Participation and idea expansion are the order of the day. Ask questions, engage, and expand your thinking and your mind! SXSW fuels curiosity. Curiosity is the engine of creativity.

If SXSW is about what's next, Cannes is about what was.

Cannes is a celebration of last year's thinking. I'm not down on it. I'm no fool. From my experience, thinking that the "Celebration of Creativity" inspires creativity is just the opposite.

If 500 hours of ads are created every year, this is how we celebrate the best 10 minutes of the fresh thinking that somehow made it past the thousand stabs of client, consumer and executive revision

Good for us, right? How clever we can be! Look at our ideas! Now let's drink ourselves to oblivion at the "Gutter Bar" and bask in this one last flash of our original thought to be extinguished for all time.

Ask any of them where they found their inspiration for creativity. How many do you think would say they ripped off an idea from Cannes?

No creative team worth their Moscots would derive their concepts from Cannes. For they fear being labeled a hack from others but mostly from themselves. The Festival of Creativity frowns on ideas that expand on previous ones. But often celebrates stealing an idea from any other source of art in culture.

Cannes is where ideas go to triumphantly and gloriously die. It is the end of the line of the best of the best of the best in advertising. We celebrate it, because, with love to creative colleagues, it serves ego, but we ought not be inspired by it.

If you can swing it, do both. But if you are deciding where you should spend your money, ask yourself what you want to get out of it.

Jack MacLaren's memo concluded;

" not let the ads be your inspiration for advertising or you will not be relevant..."

Truth Well Told.

(originally published on LinkedIn)