Creative Depression

If you’re fortunate enough to have a job during this economic downturn, or if you’ve watched TV during it, you may have observed one of the laws of advertising economics: When the economy heads south, so does the creative.

It happens with every depression. The budgets get tighter, brand managers get nervous, executives and bean counters get more involved in the day-to-day creative product (never a good thing) and everyone demands really hard-hitting (i.e. straightforward) advertising. You see TV spots with CEOs talking to camera. You see brands jumping through hoops to deliver a “value message,” (e.g. our paper towels cost a little more, but they last longer). And because clients become overly fearful of missteps, they rely more heavily on focus groups and testing to cover their butts (also never a good thing).

Yes, there are some clients who are brave enough to still put out good work, who see the competitor’s timidity as an opportunity. But for the most part, expect smaller budgets and smaller risks.


5 thoughts on “Creative Depression

  1. This is completely true. It’s very disheartening too. Just when things were looking up as far as creative coming our of our agency. The clients suddenly are all running scared too afraid to do anything that slightly stirs the pot. In theory you should want to stand out out now. But really the recession has an opposite affect.


  2. Keep pushing. Remind clients that everyone else shifting to a money-saving mindset can present an opportunity. For example, when every other airline started charging to check bags because they were so cash-strapped, Southwest advertised that they don’t charge a fee. Even a brand remaining true to itself rather than being about “value” can stand out right now. But mostly, my point in posting this was to say this is what always happens. It’s not fun, but it’s not new. So be patient, keep pushing for good work and remember that it will pass. And hang onto those ideas that the client doesn’t have the money or guts for right now. In a year, they could be golden.


  3. Every creative is going to find themselves in a situation where great creative is not an option the client is interested in. It might be due to the economy, the client roster, or the agency culture.

    But you can always find ways to do great creative pro bono. You can find a non-profit that would love your help. You can find a local business you love (just don’t make it too goofy – tattoo parlors and sex shops won’t get you any creative cred). Or ideally, you can do some pro-active work for your existing clients – stuff they haven’t asked for but they’d be crazy not to run (ambient, radio and web ideas are the big opportunities here).


  4. As it is for everyone around the world right now, this economy is freaking me out. It is scary being in the advertising industry and approaching my college graduation date. Should I avoid stepping into the “real world” and attend graduate school for the next two years? Or should I move home, get an unpaid internship, and establish myself with an ad agency?
    These questions are constantly running through my mind as well as thousands of students. During a recent interview with an ad agency, someone told me that these economic downturns are actually profitable in the end. Everyone is cut tight in terms of advertising dollars, but when we get out of this hole, there is going to be a huge increase in advertising. She told me that if her agency can prove the ability to create effective campaigns during this recession, think of what they could produce in the future. I had never thought of it that way, but it is so true. If an agency can make things work right now –the worst time in decades– it will be in high demand when companies are willing to put more money into their advertisements. That thought took a little weight off of my shoulders.


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