When asked about the future of creativity, like a muscle memory creative response to a brief, I present two routes (pills) to choose from:

  • Route 01: Red pill
    It’s all about AI, the metaverse, the creator economy, idea decentralisation, and the like.
  • Route 02: Blue pill
    It’s all about going back to owning the big idea, mass media, craft, and storytelling.

You’ve probably already picked the route you like.

Everyone in the industry has a view on the status quo and the direction we’re heading, with creatives generally having the strongest and most negative opinions amongst them. Whether it’s the death of creativity, or the race to the bottom with short-term performance over long-term brand building, those that have invited the AI fox into the creative chicken house, to the rise of creators and their stranglehold on content and community. 

Obviously I’m not a creative, because none of this bothers me.

Why? Because we’ve been here before.

Rewind the last 20-ish years. The digital infancy: websites, emails, banners, Flash microsites, virals, apps, organic social, paid social. 

This stuff was cutting edge at the time, but not to most. However, the outsiders cared. Everyone else looked away because it wasn’t “real creative.”

The cool and innovative activities in these unloved spaces was where the fun happened (well, where the sweat, tears, late nights and discovering 14KB wasn’t enough file size to make your idea come to life, happened). It was a different type of craft filled with hacking platforms, resourcefulness, and curiosity.

Here, you learned that you and your work needed to constantly stay relevant and standout. No dining out with an A-list actor that appeared in your last ad, or anyone actually seeing your work. Let alone winning awards or getting budgets for flashy shoots, or leading to a job as a creative in a ‘real’ agency. 

Comfort zones were for people making telly ads at those agencies in Soho. 

But creative work shouldn’t be comfortable. It should drive us to reinvent what we do to create things: new ways, with new tools, in new places.

It always felt, and should always feel, exciting. And it still can if we retain this spirit when we approach AI, creators, Discord communities, and automation. But only if we are willing to find a fresh approach to them.

So it sounds like I'm pushing you all into route 01. 

But let’s look at the merits of route 02… 

Whilst all this newness is a guarantee of head-turning in our industry bubble, audiences aren’t as easily impressed, and need more than novel. 

Some of the best work I’ve seen recently still has that hacking energy I spoke of earlier. Take for example how Back Market used Apple’s AirDrop against them. Or how AR was used to subvert the British Museum’s artefact history by Vice. Or a shameless plug of the Webby-winning work for Amazon Prime, which saw Twitch streamers taking part in a live, IRL gaming experience.

These all required effort, as well as making sure it was entertaining and, most importantly, memorable.

The recent Hilton example of a 10 minute TikTok ad is another case in point. Yes, 10 minutes was novel, and using creators and TikTok was relevant. But the fact it was entertaining for 10 minutes was the reason it was good. 

When it comes to ChatGPT, Midjourney et al, their increasingly impressive visual outputs are only as good as the prompts they are given. The specificity, creativity and crafting of getting the input just right is the de facto dictator of a great output. Prompt poetry if you will. 

This isn’t a million miles away from the scripts creative teams have crafted over the years, to hand to the director they’ve entrusted to bring their vision to life. S.I.S.O. still applies.

Where the greater investment of marketing budget and audience engagement is required, the metaverse and web3 have to work harder. 

As we hover between the peak of inflated expectations and the slope of enlightenment on the hype cycle (when most people struggle with finding time in the actual universe to wander around aimlessly), metaverse ideas need to be a little more bettaverse (sorry), and create a true value exchange for audiences to earn their scarce time.

Whilst the days of a big TV spot campaign are over, what hasn’t changed is that creative needs an audience. Media and careful planning of distribution are key. In fact, the craft needed to get the ideas out there is even more important, nuanced and interesting than ever.

In short, all the craft and technology in the world can’t save a bad idea. But it can make it.

Embracing innovation will always be the future of creativity, but that embrace still needs craft and great ideas.  

Together, this powerful combination will be what constantly rewrites the expectations of what creativity and creatives in advertising can be.

So yeah, it’s route 03 for me. 

The client’s favourite ask: “Can we combine routes 01 and 02 please?”