Farting and chewing gum: how creativity has lost its way

Has the bubble burst on creativity? Are our brains logging out as our computers are logging in? In a tee-up to the IPA’s upcoming Computational Creativity session, St Luke’s and Karmarama co-founder Dave Buonaguidi cuts to the quick.

Years ago when I was working at Chiat/Day, we were asked by a famous chewing gum brand with a W in their name, if we wanted to pitch on their business.

We said yes. They then sent us a five-page fax with the brief.

That’s right, a fax.

The ‘brief’ was one page of introductions, followed by four pages of mandatories.

It had to feature a boy and a girl. They had to part. Before the part they had to halve a stick of gum. They both keep a piece. Then meet up again. The join the two halves of gum.

Happy days.

In total there were thirty mandatories.

Number 28 was ‘The front loading appreciation shot.’

We had no idea what the hell that was.

So we asked them.

They told us it always happened at the end,  when the girl and boy met up and one of them would fold the stick of gum against their teeth as they put in their mouth, then smile in appreciation.

‘Front loading.’ Because it was through the mouth.

Not through the ear. Because that would be side loading.

‘Appreciation.’ They both love the taste.

We looked at the brief and declined to pitch.

They could get any director to shoot all 30 mandates and get an editor to cut them together in any order and they will have their ad.

That was 1993.

If I had listened to my gut, I would have left the business immediately and become a grave digger.

I’m not sure much has changed.

Creativity has lost its way.

It used to sit at the heart of everything we did.

It was once our most important asset.

It was once hugely valuable to us and our clients.

In most cases, creativity is a column on a spreadsheet.

The climate doesn’t help.

There’s no time, no money.

We have become slaves to data.

We are terrified of our customers.

We are terrified of social media.

We’ve dumbed down.

We’ve become lazy.

We are uninspired.

We are obsessed with creative awards.

We’ve created formulas for that too.

Everything looks the same.

Nobody thinks that is a problem.

In fact, if someone has done it before, even better.

Nobody is challenging the staus quo.

We create work for people in advertising first, real people second.

Education is too expensive, too exclusive and doesn’t prepare talent enough.

As a result we have a crippling talent drain.

So it’s no surprise that 90% of the work out there is lousy.

Back to the work...

With very few exceptions.

We know where it’s going to go.

We are told what to say.

We are told what to show.

We just do what we can, under difficult circumstances.

There is very little role for ‘creativity.’

I don’t even know what the word means anymore.

We don't create.

It’s just production.

With very few exceptions.

The ‘creation’ of advertising has almost become a colouring-in exercise.

We have created an algorithm to ‘create work’.

We have just become lazy analogue computers.

To be honest, computers could easily do what we do.

That Trivago poster.

Most content.

Most posters.

Most TV ads.

Look like they have been done by computers.

The McCanns robot creative director is a worry.

It’s only a matter of time before Mr Sorrell creates an army of ‘computer creatives.’

Cheaper. Faster. Lower maintenance. More reliable. Did I say cheaper?

It’s happening everywhere.

Look at movies.

Remake after remake after fucking remake.

Most are dreadful.

Some are good.

But they are good remakes.

Not good films in their own right.

Humans are lazy.

We are all succumbing to the ‘short-cuts’ in life.

Back to computers...

Computers are just amazing tools.

But we rely on them too much.

We have forgotten that we should use them like tools.

We need to use the best computer ever created.

The brain.

But I’m not sure that advertising is a good place to use our brains anymore.

Unless you get into an agency that cares.

That works with clients that care.

and there are very, very, very few of those.

Advertising now has a failsafe formula that has been refined over 6 decades.

But advertising is not everything.

Advertising is just one tiny dying star in an enormous universe of wonderful creative opportunities.

Our clients will always need smart minds to solve their problems.

99% of which are not advertising.

Let’s become real creative partners to our clients.

Let’s really understand their business beyond just marketing.

Let’s discover what ‘keeps them awake at night’, and then apply our creativity and our smarts to solve those problems.


Has creativity lost its way? Are the machines a threat or a thrill to creativity? Dave, Contagious’ Alex Jenkins, CHI’s Dave Bedwood battled it out at our Computational Creativity session and debate on Monday 2nd October. If you missed it, you can watch the livestream recording below. #MagicandtheMachines

Last updated 01 May 2024