Advertising Is Losing Maverick Thinking - What's The Solution?

It's a well discussed topic that the advertising business is suffering from a lack of the maverick and challenging thinking that has traditionally given it it's edge.

You need the mavericks - they're the ones who ask the difficult questions, and who won't accept the lazy or easy answer.

"All progress depends on the unreasonable man" as George Bernard Shaw said.

You can point to a number of reasons why this might the case.

Within agencies, things like agencies increasing in size meaning they have become more like huge corporate structures, or the pressure of holding companies leading to a 'play-it-safe' mentality.

And bigger, societal factors like the economic pressures and a less buoyant jobs market meaning people are scared to risk their jobs or their income. But being outspoken and maverick in ad agencies used to be a positive quality. Why is it now seen as a bad thing? Why do people now feel at risk if they poke their head above the parapet and question the status quo?

Certainly most mainstream agencies are largely led these days by the boring wankers who greased their way up the pole without upsetting anyone over the last ten or fifteen years. And sometimes it's self-perpetuating – mavericks like and hire other mavericks – these civil-service types hire and promote other grey, smiley yes-men.

But advertising is a worse business for it. And the value to businesses is diminished as a result. Ad agencies used to be a kind of way of gently cradling the creative mavericks needed to get something great – businesses could access that thinking from people who they would never employ directly.

But now agency people are largely hard to distinguish from people in other businesses.

How does the ad agency break out of this cycle?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, dear readers.

My suggestion is the same for a lot of these problems: the good people should start their own agencies.


  1. An influx of people from somewhere other than London would be a start. Or perhaps, to flip the problem, more agencies based outside of London.

  2. Or, you know, you could just hire all the mavericks, make kick-ass advertising and bury the smiley yes-men under their pile of mediocre and uninspiring work. I volunteer as tribute!

  3. Yeah, it would have to be a new agency/agencies going independent and producing better, uncompromising work without the pressure of holding group's quarterly results. They would need ballsy clients to take the plunge with them and show that the risk pays off. Hopefully, more big time clients would want a piece of the fresh new action and move to the indy guys. Then they would either grow so big they become lame or get bought and blandified by WPP and we're back here asking the same question.


  4. Alas the situation is most likely even worse than that. Not only does the industry lack mavericks and their creativity, the industry is actually retreating from reason.

    And with this retreat from reason comes some Orwellian double speak.

    We have agencies that call themselves Brave and Dare.The latter were daring enough to copy someone else's idea for their site and the former says they de-risk brave commercial decision making.

    When did brave get redefined as de-risking? I am sure it will be the title of a conference very soon and we can all see how it fits in with being disruptive.

    Of course disruptive really means fitting in. It is the king of double speak at advertising conferences. Look out for it and stick it on you ad conference bullshit bingo card. It can replace engagement that is jumping the shark.

    We live in a world of precautionary principles and loss aversion and yet the talk is about risk taking and being courageous and innovation but the evidence is scant. Everyone is scared and it is contagious like a meme. So we cover it up with provado and screaming the right virtues, honest, transparency,bravery and of course humility. But alas the industry has no such virtues.

    And that fear spreads with self hatred & brings out the worse traits in people as they become victims.

    And so the race becomes who can publicly claim that they are the most victimised in ad land. Female CEOs come out in force to say it is them who are treated the worse. So HR get busy working on hitting their female quotas. Then HR notices that they are marginalising other groups - the working class man and ethnic minorities. And so award ceremonies are set up for best women in advertising. Could it be any more patronising? Or HR sets up an interview heuristic to employ more working class men by asking "when did you last go skiing?" As if working class men don't go skiing. Spare me you condescension.

    Whilst what the industry needs as we all know is creativity. But even that is under attack when in today's victim culture everyone is creative. Nobody must be excluded you see. In fact creativity is so old school brands start to crowd source their advertising.

    And then this week we saw conferences on why advertising is dead and next door how it is destroying the moral framework of society.

    We have conferences where marketers from big name brands talk about the need for innovation and brave work then sign up for their creative output to be censored or follow strict codes of conduct meaning any joyfulness gets squeezed out of commercials.

    Ironically the 1000th "Our Brand is about Joy!" brief lands in an agency. That ends up with a commercial starring a cat and a dog sat on a bench eating ham sandwiches by the seaside to advertise the latest family hatchback.

    We have the academic wing of the ad industry saying people are little more than emotionally led zombies whilst the digital wing tells us the consumer is king at last.

    Last week the CEO of Adam and Eve said in Campaign the marketing industry should take itself less seriously. I think it is doing brilliantly on that score James to be honest in fact it couldn't do better. It is like it is writing scripts for Charlie Booker.

  5. Give it up. We've lost. And it was our fault.

    1. Courage mon brave!

      Some of still have a little fight left

  6. All is not lost Anon. There is a little pocket of sanity here at Sell! Towers...