Revisited: Creative Is A Pretentious Word

““Be original.” “Break new ground.” “Find new ways of doing things.” “Creativity.” That’s what advertising is about. It's what people with big reputations preach. It's what people with small reputations torture. It's what people in stiff agencies avoid. 
Yet it’s ironic, I know of no other business that produces so much sameness, but embraces creativity so passionately as advertising. 
The word bothers me. 
Creative is a pretentious word. Not by itself, but how it applies to advertising generally. 
I've been the Creative Director of the agency I helped co-found since we started. That was in 1962. Although that title serves the purpose of describing a long-established agency function, it nevertheless makes me feel uncomfortable at times. Particularly when I meet people who know little or nothing of advertising. Can you imagine certain job titles if the situations were reversed? “Hello, I'm Stella, Creative Anthropologist.” Or “Hi, my name's Ralph, Creative Proctology.” 
The advertising business is a business of communicating information. The wasteful part of advertising occurs when good solid information is taken and then so distorted no one understands what's being communicated. This is frequently referred to as the Creative Process. 
Creativity is too heavy a burden to place on creative people. It's unfair. Think of all the undue anxiety it causes us. I'm not even sure how you describe it. 
I'll settle for information. It's what I can understand. It's what people want. To be told something that's important to them about goods and services – specific, detailed, factual.
For example: is the construction of your radial tyre different from any other radials? Does it hold the road better or last longer? What's its performance like on wet surfaces versus biased ply tires? Is the extra cost worth the investment in terms of value, safety, peace of mind? If the departure and return of your vacation is in mid-week, will the air fare be cheaper? Where is the gas tank positioned in your car in the event of a rear-end collision? What's the nutritional value of your breakfast cereal? 
Dig for information. Ask questions. Become as expert on the product and the category as you can. Absorb. Tell the truth. If a product has bee around for any length of time, it must have some virtue. Find it. Explain it. Demonstrate it. If a product is new, why is it being introduced? To imitate other products previously launched with no particular advantage, or to produce its own special reason for being? Believe in what you do. If you don't believe it, how can you get other people to believe it? 
I'd be foolish to deny the creativity of this business. It exists certainly. In small measure certainly. 
But to my mind the real creative challenge of advertising begins before the ad is written. It's in the search, examination, and discovery of new information. Confronting the reality of things. Dealing with the controversy of things. Dismissing the anappropriate. Answering the most pertinent. And finally, deciding on what is the most persuasive and substantive statement you can make about whatever it is you're about to sell somebody.”
Amil Gargano
President/Creative Director
Ally & Gargano, Inc.
New York City

Hidden away in the preface to the 1979 American Showcase of Photography, Illustration and Graphic Design is this brilliant piece. Written by one the best admen ever, from one of the world's greatest ever ad agencies, it is a superb examination of the role of the creative person in advertising. I've written around this subject on this blog quite a bit, but Mr Gargano here nails it. 

It's amazing but true, that advertising is largely populated with creatives, even creative directors, who don't really know what their job is. Or refuse to accept it. A large number clearly see themselves as people who's job it is to jazz-up something, or to entertain, or just be creative

It's one of the reasons why the ad industry's output is declining in quality. It's one of the reasons why most ordinary people still see most advertising as annoying at best, offensive at worst. And it's one of the reasons why creative people rarely hold positions of power and influence in ad agencies any more. After all, who would give such responsibility to clowns?

First published on this blog 05.06.13


  1. I worked for Ally & Gargano, and Amil, in the early 90s. He was pretty tuned out by then having sold his agency to a hack shop and losing control. However once I wrote a radio commercial that he liked. The client killed it. He called the lead client on the phone and sold it. The high-point, 25 years later of my career.

    We had a simple mission at Ally.

    "Impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way."

    If only.

  2. Malcolm Gluck refused to describe work as ‘creative’ or not. He preferred to use the word ‘original’.


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