Below the Fold

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On creativity—and creatives—despised

Written 9.22.2012 using Thimble

The world around us is filled with the results of creative individuals’ extremely hard work. From the books that fill our shelves to the newspapers that help us wile away our commutes and then litter the sidewalks to the graffiti that adorns urban walls, people are constantly creating.

But there’s one type of creative work that is viewed by most as little more than an irritating instrusion, a distraction from our lives rather than a useful addition to it.

It’s called advertising.

And like all the other creative work we encounter in this jam-packed world, it’s created by people. People who are called “creatives.”

Unfortunately for those who create it and those who consume it, it’s not marked as created by people. The individuals who create advertising, the copywriters and designers who bring it to life in combinations of words spoken or printed, images static or dynamic, are elided entirely, their identities subsumed by the brands for which they create it.

Why is this unfortunate?

It’s a good question. After all, most people probably consider it a fine thing that sales-focused creativity (which advertising always is, no matter how cause-focused it may occassionally seem) is clearly branded and utterly dehumanized. Nobody wants to see brand advertising and think, even for the barest moment, that it is a work of art, a product of purely human inventiveness. Brands aren’t human, no matter how hard they try to humanize themselves—they’re engines of commerce, more-or-less perfectly tuned machines designed for one singular purpose: to make money.

But who makes brands? Who engineers them to be money-making machines?

We do.

The business people. The copywriters. The designers. The marketing specialists. And all the others of varied roles and tasks who make a brand of whatever form work.

These are the people who are left “below the fold.” The people who, in their immaculate and self-engineered ellision, make brands into inhuman machines.

Human and brand: the indissoluable agon?

In the end, it is we human beings who make brands inhuman. Who try to distance ourselves from our own acquisitiveness by donning the cold, mechanical mask of the “brand.” (And then, in a double irony, attempt to “humanize” their brands in order to amplify their money-making power.)

The fact that marketing and advertising “creatives” pour their thought, passion, and talent into these advertising efforts—and then blithely, even heartily, accept the obliteration of self that occurs when a brand logo replaces our names, our responsibilities as creators—reflects a perhaps-ineradicable urge to make of human and brand an indisoluable agon.

What if we were to cancel out this agon? What if a brand logo could rest comfortably beside the names of the copywriters, editors, designers, and filmmakers who create brand advertising?

Would we then, as both creators and consumers of advertising, be forced into a different view of this perhaps most-ubiquitous form of creativity? Would consumers begin to see it as the art form the industry itself sometimes sees it as? Would the creators develop a new sense of responsibility for its content, messages, and role in others’ lives? At present, we creatives only take responsibility for our work when we stand to be rewarded for it: either in the form of new jobs gained via our portfolios or via awards granted by various industry organizations.

Would advertising become a whole new ballgame if it were the product not only of brands, but also of human beings?

Obviously, there’s no way for me to know. But I can’t help but be fascinated by the potentiality.

Then again, maybe the human-as-consumer needs brands to be something else—perhaps, something more—than human. Maybe there’s just no way for us to trust in a brand if it becomes too human.

Coda: a human being, a brand creative

Whatever the case may be, this is me, John Moore Williams, a brand creative, tacking my name to my work. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, can’t demand that my name be placed somewhere on the ads I write each day. But at least you can think, the next time a banner ad distracts you from the blog post or news article you meant to read, the next time a print ad or billboard catches a moment of your attention, that several human beings worked together to make it. And that they did their best, within the constraints they were given, to make it interesting, perhaps even artistic.

And, if we failed, we may even be a bit sorry about it.

But after all, we were only doing our jobs.

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The original post of Below the Fold: On creativity—and creatives—despised was made with Mozilla Thimble and the Google font API. Typeset in Paul D. Hunt’s Adobe Source Sans Pro.