Cannes is a place of creative extremes. The light sparkles and renders all our work transparent and on display, ready to be praised or panned by our peers. The best of what we see will exemplify what philosopher Gabriel Marcel called, “creative fidelity,” which reduces barriers between creator and receiver and brings people closer together. Such creative work thrives in transparency, springs from hopeful motives and is for the good of those who receive it. It is, after all, for others.
But there is another side of creativity. It relies on false charisma and charming manipulation, the artifice of celebrity and manufactured “authenticity.” Prestige is promised and that leads to the addiction of relentless aggrandizement of the individual self as hero. This darker side of creativity is not intended for the good of those who receive it. Rather it seeks to enhance the power of its creators. It exploits weakness, furnishes mistrust and raises division. It is for the self.
The struggle between light—for the other—and dark—for the self—abounds in this annual festival. These two extremes lie at the heart of the creative craft, and they suggest the broader conflict facing advertising.
The going has been tough for the advertising industry these past few years. Stressed business models, difficult procurement, price erosion, weak growth, employee turnover, compensation pressures —all of them point to an industry struggling to thrive. Economic forces are turning creative communities into advertising sweat shops at the very moment that their employees are in search of what Dan Pink, in his book Drive nicely summarized as “autonomy, mastery and purpose.” Yet the iconoclasts of rugged individualism cling to that oft-muttered phrase, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” But to “get going” in this business means to create, to discover, to explore new ideas. And so Pervasive Creativity stands like a beacon of hope amidst the mounting stresses of globalized competition.
Inexorably, consumers and employees alike are pushing business to serve a greater good – a higher purpose – than simple profit for a select group of shareholders, or worse, day traders. Our industry—architects of purpose brands and therefore midwives of meaning—is helping to bring this movement to life. The consumer and employee demands for purpose and meaning and authenticity are all quite familiar to any astute agency, and they are shifting the social contracts of the agencies themselves.
The creative contract is shifting as well. Creative work—or at least the work we honor—must be done for the other. Creativity for its own sake has marginal value; when it focuses inward, glorifying its creators (or their clients) above all else, it rings hollow. Far better is when it serves another.
And for this reason, advertising finds itself at a crossroad. With its creative work, work that pursues “creative fidelity,” it can serve not just the client, but also that vast number of others who encounter the creative content through today’s myriad communication channels. This is surely our calling, for to create for the sake of another is uniquely human and in “creative fidelity” we express our human birthright, for we are made for relationship with one another. Creativity that can be brought into the light breaks down dividing walls and urges us on to collaborations to solve cultural, social and global problems. That sort of creativity doesn’t spring from the pressure cooker of a profit engine. It comes from the heart of clear purpose. Creativity of this sort, that serves another, is creativity at its most stirring and significant. We can (and, indeed, must) choose this way—for ourselves and our businesses.