Where has all the creativity gone?

by Guest Contributor Daren Poole | June 25, 2018

Author: Daren Poole

Daren Poole
Insights Division at Kantar
Global Head of Creative

In this blog post, Daren Poole, Global Head of Creative, Insights Division at Kantar, gives us his viewpoint on this year’s Cannes advertising festival.

Throughout the week at Cannes I have been pondering if the International Festival of Creativity needs to rebrand. The reason? I’ve not seen that much creative. I have, however, attended numerous sessions on AI, machine learning, VR, AR and eCommerce. In one such session it was declared that technology will be the savior of creativity.


It’s true that mobile tech and the pervasive nature of the internet has democratized creativity: everyone now has the tools to create and publish their own content. However, if I give you knives, saucepans and ingredients, that doesn’t necessarily make you a chef.

I have seen some amazing and worthy examples of tech used for good: to detect dyslexia in Spain, to reduce school drop-out rates; in Korea to check that elderly people living alone are well by detecting if they turn on their TV each day; by helping deaf and blind people to communicate through mobile phone haptic response. Creative, yes, but an idea for content, maybe not. I can’t help but think that in many cases, tech is being used as a crutch for creativity, in the absence of truly big ideas.

For a second year, there was plenty of talk of purpose. One session asked if advertising had lost its sense of humor as the growth of purposeful comms has driven a wave of ‘sadvertising’. As one creative director put it, it’s easy to put a slow-paced music track on top of some daunting images to make people cry. It’s much harder to make them laugh.

I am a fan of purpose, as a means of building lasting, meaningfully different impressions, but must agree with John Mescall (the man behind ‘Dumb ways to die’) that there are forces that are making purpose too serious. One is that in an agile marketing world, creative agencies are having to pump out content and so have less time to train people in the craft of writing truly funny work. Another is that some categories believe they can’t be funny, yet we’ve seen great examples from the likes of car insurance and health insurance.

I often say that the best creative comes from giving the agency a great brief and letting them do their job, and making sure that the brief starts with the job to be done, rather than with the leverage of the latest ad tech.

At the awards in Cannes, we saw that tech-free creativity is alive and has the power to make people laugh as well as give them good bumps. Let’s hope Cannes continues to inspire people to create and not just to invent.

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  1. Mark R., July 04, 2018

    Why do ads have to be funny to work? I know Millward Brown has data to show that funny ads perform better (than average?) But, I've always thought funny is a path to the weakest emotional connection ... a path of least resistance.

    The kind of emotions people most want to experience can be gleaned from the kind of entertainment they seek - when they will actually pay to have an emotional reaction. How many humor titles do you think are on the top-10 best-selling books of all time? Zero. The list starts with Don Quixote and gets to #10 with only one Harry Potter title (although sadly all of the Harry Potter titles are in the top-25). But no humor titles.

    And how about the biggest box-office movies of all time? Again, no humor titles in the top-10. The list starts with Avatar and Titanic, and gets to #16 before we see the first humor title ... Minions. I'm not sure if that was a funny movie because I was never compelled to see it, but otherwise the next funny movie on the top-25 is Toy Story 3 at #23. So not much of people's money is being spent on entertainment to make them laugh, rather, it is spent on entertainment that will make them feel something much deeper than funny. 

    I think this is because people seek a much deeper kind of emotional connection than humor. Even in real-life situations the funny stuff is secondary to stronger emotions. Think of the people you met at the last party you were at. There may have been a funny guy with a lampshade on his head, but there is more likely someone you met who told you a truly inspirational story, or a truly sad story, or something that made you happy in a much deeper way than a simple joke. That's the good stuff (in my humble opinion), and it's what we should be aiming for.

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