And, in defense of Creative Silos.
PRE-NOTE: Every August, I get very sick of reviewing ads—it’s my birthday month. (Yes, I’m a typical selfish Leo.) Instead, I wrote a lot of words (over 900), something I don’t like doing.
Below is the first “metaphorical” Getty image that comes up when you search “brainstorm”. It is of course lame, but it is also incorrect. Brainstorming between more than a couple of people never leads to ONE glowing light bulb of an idea. It leads to a burned out or broken light bulb.
When I say ‘AGAINST BRAINSTORMING” I mean I am against creative brainstorming, against creative collaboration. This has become a bigger issue in the digital age because digital “gurus” think that, since they are digital “experts”, that by-turn makes them digital creative experts. Which they most certainly are fucking not.
Marketers now want creatives — copywriters, art directors, designers, directors — to join them in the big whiteboard conference room with a half dozen or so marketing/digital/tech types and collectively “co-create” that video brand ad. If two heads are better than one, why not 15 heads? They say “Let’s gangbang it!” “Let’s have a jam session!” The result? Creatives’ good simple ideas are killed, mutilated, or blocked — replaced with Frankenstein-ed monstrosities.
I’ve been in more than a few of these co-create-by-committee jerk-off sessions. And the resultant work has never been good. NOT. ONCE.
Which brings us to why we need creative silos. 99.99999% (or so) of the greatest creative ads ever created have been created by creative silos. As original Mad Man and Advertising Hall Of Famer George Lois says (and has been saying for many years): “Reject group grope. Teamwork might work when building an Amish barn. But it can’t create a big idea.”
Or, as John Steinbeck wrote in East Of Eden:
“Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything.”
Or, as Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein said in a Guardian interview in 2019: “Making work by consensus…is the worst way to make art. It lacks a point of view.”
And yes, advertising is art. As the great creative silo Bill Bernbach said: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”
“Silo” is not a new corporate term. A business “silo” is defined as: “a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others…This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.”
OK. But creative silos are, have always been, and always will be essential to good advertising.
You may be asking: What exactly the fuck is a Creative Silo (CS)? 1 — Any traditional creative department is a CS. 2 — A CS within this CS can also be any creative individual or team. A team is a combo of two-maybe-three (not ten) copywriters, art directors, creative directors, director-directors, graphic designers. 3 — Freelancing Individual creatives and teams are also CSs; I am currently a freelancing CS.
Digital marketing folk have latched onto the sides of creative silos like lampreys, sucking the life out of the ad industry. Some of them are calling this “creative disruption” — like it’s a good thing. It’s not. It’s already very obviously having a negative effect on the quality of ad work worldwide.
Above is a headline from a 2018 AdAge article. (No, I’m not linking to it. It’s poppycock.) It may save marketing (jobs), but it is killing creativity. “Break down creative silos!” has become a rallying cry of digital marketers and “cagency” consultants, almost all of whom have never made, or have even attempted to make, a creative ad in their buzzwordy lives.
Of course they want to break down something they can’t wrap their MBA heads around, something they simply can’t do. Making creative ads is a learned practice, learned by repetition. You have to “disrupt” (heh) your brain by doing it over and over (and over) again. This is the “secret” activity that goes on inside creative silos: It is called the “creative process”. It’s not just about writing “clever” headlines. If it was that simple, any smug Ivy League journalist could be a copywriter. And it’s not just about making cRaZy GIFs and memes; that doesn’t qualify you as an ad art director, digital native Millennial.
And non-creatives don’t just want to get inside silos, they want the launch codes. That’s why so many of them are adding “content creator” or “storyteller” to their titles and bios. Go ahead, use the meaningless first one. But you are definitely not the second one.
This “creative disruption” movement is here to stay. And as tech continues to get “tech-ier”, advertising will continue to get tech-ier — which wouldn’t be a problem if the digital/tech people stuck to the tech and didn’t stick their noses into the creative. Because in advertising, “tech” is never a big idea. It’s always just a technique.
So protect your silos, creatives! If marketing/tech/account types try to hover while you ideate, stop ideation immediately. If they want you to “share” your concepts before internal presentations, tell them “we ain’t got nothin’ yet” or “the stuff’s too rough to share right now”. Or, just kindly tell them to fuck off.
Shout it out loud with me, creatives: COLLABORATION = DEFECATION! Go ahead, put it on t-shirts, sell it. Please send me my cut (50%).
POST-NOTE: Our creative department did occasionally gang-bang. But: only after midnight before the presentation, out of panicky desperation.