Natosha Benning

question of the week

How do we turbocharge British creativity?

We asked a number of creatives to gauge where they see British creativity today and how it can be boosted further

By Olivia Atkins

The UK enjoyed a relatively abundant year at Cannes Lions 2022, taking home 85 Lions, including five Grands Prix from the advertising festival.

AMV BBDO won two Grands Prix, the most of any UK company. this year. These were for “Hope Reef”, a living coral reef built by Mars petcare brand Sheba, across the Industry Craft and Media categories.

Channel 4’s in-house creative agency, 4Creative, won a Grand Prix in Film for its Tokyo 2020 Paralympic campaign “Super. Human.” The team also picked up three gold Lions for the spot in different Film Craft and a silver Entertainment Lions for Sport.

R/GA scored a Grand Prix for Nike’s NikeSync app in the Entertainment Lions for Sport category, while Engine won the Titanium Grand Prix for its work on the Kiyan Prince Foundation, EA Sports, QPR and Match Attax campaign, “Long Live the Prince”.

But the UK continues to face ever stiffer competition from around the world to remain the world’s leading global advertising hub. We have always taken pride in having an unmatched long-standing success in combining British business smarts and intelligence with the ability to make inspiring creative leaps. But how do we boost that to remain at the top of our game?

The UK, and London in particular, are unique hubs for commercial creativity - but what do we need to do collectively as an industry to reclaim the top position?

Felipe Serradourada Guimaraes, deputy ECD, BBH

The ad industry used to feel like rock and roll and now feels a little more like classical music. Over intellectualised, rational and quite a privileged place. We need to bring back a bit of the rule breaking anarchy that came with smashing hotel rooms and throwing TVs out the window. Someone said something to me about the ad industry that forever stuck with me: “We are getting rid of all the mavericks”. I think it is time to bring them back. The reason I say that is not to make it a lawless place with no ambition, it is about creating a world that attracts and draws out creative mavericks to be themselves. We can only do that if we create an industry that attracts them, accepts them and then sets the stage for them to express themselves and their creativity, in their truest form.

Lynsey Atkin, executive creative director, 4Creative

I suppose the clue is in the phrase itself, ‘British Creativity’, which is different from ‘being creative in Britain’. Historically our most successful and prized cultural and creative exports have been inherently British. Whether mini-skirts or Harry Potter, The Spice Girls or grime, we are at our best when we have something to say that is uniquely ours, when we don’t try and ape global culture but enrich it through our own eccentricities and by creatively responding to our own problems – and wow, don’t we have a lot of those currently.

The Grands Prix for "Long Live the Prince" and "Super.Human" both confront issues in British society, executed in a very British way. "Long Live the Prince" weaves together terrace and community culture in the most heartbreaking, galvanising and inclusive way (after all, footballers remain the one corner of British success stories not increasingly dominated by the privately educated). "Super.Human" employs dark humour and provocation that walks a very fine, knowing line. Yes, they are both for domestic audiences, but both spirit and balls are transferable. Spoiler: they even help sell stuff.

We forget that the UK is really quite an odd place and we are at our best when we are unashamed of embracing that. It’s something we try and do every day at 4Creative; how can it be funnier, punchier, stranger, deliberately imperfect; in essence, more British. We are not a culture built on platitudes and have-a-nice-days. We are built on chaos. Perhaps it would serve us to stop trying for the perfect polish of the global stage and remember we’re the country that gave the world Gogglebox.

Ian Heartfield, creative founder, New Commercial Arts

We need to hold our collective nerve, because we know the right way to do this. Let’s not get tempted to take the easy route, to take a short cut just to get something shiny on our shelves. Let other countries play that game.

The UK ad industry knows how to come up with big, organising brand ideas, and knows how to execute them in entertaining, original ways. Ways that real people see, love, and talk about. We’ve got the people with the muscle memory who know how to do it, and a new generation of creative talent that can execute in mindblowingly fresh ways. It’s a compelling combination that’s about to start paying off – our time is coming again.

But the worst thing we could do is sit down and work out how to win at Cannes. Let’s sit down and work out how to make work that sells, inspires and entertains. If that work then wins a prize, then great. It’s not easy, but it is our job.

Andy Jex, chief creative officer, TBWA\London

There has to be a will to make the work in the first place. It’s paramount that at the top of the agency there’s an unwavering desire and ability to make work that’s 100 per cent focussed on creativity providing the answer to business problems.

Because let’s face that’s not the case everywhere. Things like chasing money and doing what’s easy often divert focus.

It has to be a top down approach. Too many new people have come into our industry and been disillusioned and let down by leadership teams that can’t and won’t support them and their ideas.

The whole agency and process need to be invested in the output of the creative product. And the person responsible for overall creative output needs to be open to bring in new voices - that sometimes require more work on their own part to help shape, grow and develop these talents.

New people and creatives from a non traditional advertising background will think and create differently and not in the old ways we’re used to.

Sometimes their work can lack relevancy and a true brand role and this is where the creative leader’s expertise comes in. They need to help shape and make these idea work for clients, not just reject them.

We can’t expect creativity from new sources just to fit in and work seamlessly in our old ways. We need to adapt and learn to continue to make stuff that’s new, fresh and challenging.


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