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Creativity is an old man's game

The advertising world has much to gain from the experience and knowledge of more mature creatives, Paul Burke writes.

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Twas the night before Christmas…

Actually, it wasn’t. I had better things to do on Christmas Eve than read Campaign [I find that unlikely – ed]. It was, in fact, several days before Christmas when I found myself on the Tube, reading Campaign’s 2013 Annual. Like anyone who labours under the slightly self-regarding title of "creative", I turned straight to the "best ads of the year" section to see whose work had been lauded and applauded.

I was delighted to see a lot of names I recognised. Mike Hannett, Phil Martin, Colin Jones, Sean Doyle, Mike Boles, Jerry Hollens, David White, Richard Connor, Jay Pond-Jones, Simon Blaxland, Jonathan John, David Mackersey, Mike McKenna, John Lloyd… and so it goes on.

I’ve known these people for years. I’ve worked with most of them, which is why I can tell you that they’re good. Really good. I can also tell you that they’re all the "wrong" side of 40. Some are the "wrong" side of 50. They’re not the executive creative directors or the commercials directors, whom you expect to be a bit older. No, these are the people who created the ads. I think this marks an important turning point for our industry because the talent of its more mature creative practitioners is being recognised as never before.

Advertising was traditionally viewed as a "young man’s game" and we all know what used to happen: unless their talents were more political, writers and art directors often reached a certain age and were told: "Look, here’s the gun, there’s the library – you know what to do." Yet there was rarely a good reason for this. In practically every walk of life, people tend to get better as they get older, and creative people are no exception.

No-one thinks pensioners such as Stephen Frears or Martin Scorsese are too old to make a movie. Nobody suggests that an increase in their age means a decrease in their edge. Painters, playwrights and novelists of a similar vintage are also revered. They’re free to harness creativity, wisdom and life experience to produce what is often their finest work. Time doesn’t tarnish an enquiring mind. If anything, it tends to enhance creative ability. Age does not preclude anyone from devouring the latest films, plays and exhibitions. It just allows them to add to their already enormous internal-reference libraries.

Creatives are often derided for turning too frequently to YouTube for ideas, but the older ones are using this to great advantage. They have been alive for longer, so it stands to reason that, compared with their younger counterparts, they will have heard more music, seen more films and enjoyed more TV programmes. Thanks to YouTube, they can now call it all up in an instant.

When presented with problems, they’re often similar to ones they’ve seen and solved many times before. They can embrace new technology as easily as a scientist can embrace new developments in his field. The latest media platforms do not faze them because they know that what’s always required is a good idea. Their knowledge and experience mean they can quickly distinguish good from bad.

I know from first-hand experience that the people above truly understand their craft. They entered the business at a time when it wasn’t considered good enough to be an indistinct half of a "creative team". They really had to know how to write or to art direct, and those skills have not deserted them. What has evidently not deserted them either is their enthusiasm. They’ve never lost their love for what they do. They don’t necessarily want to manage – they want to play and they’re still playing out of their skins.

I think this bodes well for 2014 – agencies have started to wake up to the great wealth of mature talent. Advertising should always be a young and vibrant business. Without fresh creative blood, the industry cannot survive. But, to ensure its future success, it increasingly needs this vital sprinkling of seasoned, keen-as-mustard pros. People actually doing the ads who are the "right" side of 40 or 50.

Especially that bloke who produced Campaign’s third-favourite radio ad.

Paul Burke is a writer and producer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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