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Advertising Has a ‘Fear Culture’, Says Quiet Storm’s Trevor Robinson


Creative trailblazer encourages audience to take risks and look beyond awards, at D&AD Festival 2017

Advertising Has a ‘Fear Culture’, Says Quiet Storm’s Trevor Robinson
A culture of fear and a hankering for industry approval mean that creatives and clients have to really stick their neck out if they want to achieve truly brave work, Trevor Robinson OBE told audiences at D&AD today.

“One of the things that has struck me with my experience in advertising is that it’s a ‘fear culture’.  No one wants to make mistakes, no one wants to lose their job. I’ve been fired twice, I’ve been on the dole,” he said.

He also singled out a misplaced set of priorities as one of the industry’s weaknesses. “You’ve got creative directors looking at the industry as something they need to impress rather than themselves, their friends, their family,” he said. “One of the main thing we’re striving for is to be praised. That’s why we have D&AD and all those awards, but it does create another barrier to bravery.”

Looking back at his own career, the Quiet Storm founder said that fear was something he really had to fight against, particularly as someone who felt that he had come to the industry as an outsider.

“I always felt I was on borrowed time, always felt I was going to be kicked out, because I don’t come from this industry. I come from Clapham, which is a very different place now but used to be much… rougher.”

But that fear can also be an indicator that you’re on to something really exciting. The ad that launched Trevor’s career – and that of his creative partner Al Young – was the notorious Tango Slap ad that was copied in playgrounds up and down the UK on its launch. “We knew at the time that this ad was either going to make us famous and secure our future in the industry or get us fired. It was a real knife edge,” he told the audience.

In an admirable attempt to beat the record for most masturbation jokes told before lunch time, he shared examples of some of his riskiest work (an Apple Tango ad featuring a gimp suited man getting excited by a Tango porn film – a spot that also marked his directorial debut – and a protein shake spot with a provocatively onanistic bent). Both these projects would not have been possible without clients who were also willing to jump into the unknown and push boundaries.

This desire to take creativity to some weird places is something that has always been with Trevor. “I remember reading Naked Lunch when I was a kid and it blew my mind. I thought ‘that’s what I want to be’. I want to be more David Lynch and do things that even I don’t know what they’re meant to be… It’s a bit harder to do that when you’re doing ads,’ he said.

However, Trevor also shared that he felt there were several times in his career when he had not taken the bravest path or had failed to spot the genius in others’ great ideas. He suggested that, for creative directors, the biggest challenge was being able to spot those creative, risky ideas and support them.

“I’ve been there before. I’ve not seen great work because something inside made me nervous, made me uncomfortable,” he said, revealing the gut-punch feeling that comes from seeing an idea he hadn’t supported become a fantastic piece of work.

“The stuff that I’m really impressed with I also hate because I haven’t done it,” he laughed.

He wrapped up by showing a deliberately difficult and nauseating clip from the film Irreversible, a movie that represents the pinnacle of creative bravery for Trevor, and left the audience with some words of advice.

“Being brave is the most important thing in advertising but being disciplined enough to learn how to be brave is the hardest thing.”
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Quiet Storm, Wed, 26 Apr 2017 11:58:17 GMT