Creativity needs to be less like a wet weekend in Skegness and more like Dunkirk

Alex Grieve
Alex Grieve

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's joint ECD is less than impressed with the ads he saw at the cinema.

Here's a story.

Many, many years ago, when I had just started in advertising, I was walking down the street with my brother. Suddenly, mid-conversation, I stopped and pointed out a poster to him. I can’t remember what the poster was. Or who it was for. I vaguely recall it had won a minor award at some show. 

It wasn’t good; it wasn’t bad.

"What", I said, "Do you think of that?"

My brother, who doesn’t work in advertising, looked at me with genuine bemusement.

"Alex", he replied, "I don’t think anything about it at all".

And right there I learnt one of the most valuable lessons of my career.

It is the nature of our business that we obsess.

We spend hours arguing over the placement of a comma.

Days can disappear agonising over whether the magenta is too magenta-ey.

Weeks fly by experimenting with the pace of a cut or the placement of a sound effect or the weight of a typeface or the size of a logo.

This, in many ways, is a good thing.

God is in the details. 

Now more than ever we need craft. 

But as our gaze is dragged to all the little pictures we lose sight of the big one.

Which is – will the idea cut through?

Will it move people? Will it make them think?

Because that’s the job. The only job.

If you’re not aiming to do that you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Clients. Consumers. Your own.

The world doesn’t need more vanilla.

It needs raspberry ripple with an espresso twist and ground pistachio nuts.

Last week I saw Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

Just. Wow.

But before I watched the film I had to sit through the ads.

There I was, a captive member of the audience, waiting to be entertained.

Hoping to feel proud of the industry I work in.

And the ads weren’t just bad – they were shittier than a wet weekend in Skegness.

They made me want to retreat from the cinema.

What’s going on?

Don’t we realise that the competition for our eyeballs is Dunkirk?

In our own way we need to be as brilliant as that.

As the bar gets ever higher, our response cannot be to go lower.

My brother loves me but he doesn’t love what I do.

He is not interested in advertising.

Indeed he goes out of his way to avoid it.

He is most people.

So now and always I imagine this.

I’m walking with my brother.

I stop and point out some work I have done.

"What", I say, "Do you think of that?"

"Yeah, not bad", he replies, "I think it’s pretty good".

That’s the test. 

That’s my approach to creativity.

Alex Grieve is the joint executive creative director of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and a lead judge at this year's Campaign Big Awards

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