Creative director at TBWA\Melbourne explains why he feels privileged to be able to impact someone’s day positively with his work and why he believes creativity is so much more than artistic ability
According to creativity researchers, there are four sides to creativity. Person (personality, habits, thoughts), product (the thing that results from creative activity), process (how you work), and press (environment factors, education and other external factors) all play a part. So, we figured, let’s follow the science to understand the art of creativity. Creativity Squared is a brand new LBB feature that aims to build a more well-rounded profile of creative people.
Up next is TBWA\Melbourne’s Scott Canning, creative director at the agency where he’s been for the last eight years. His path to advertising is an interesting one that saw him originally enrol in a finance degree before switching to advertising and then a stint at AWARD School in Melbourne. He’s been a part of some huge campaigns in his career from the launch of the Nissan Juke to GAYTM for Mardi Gras Sydney.
Check out his approach to creativity below.
I would describe myself as politely passionate. There’s a lot of challenges facing the world, but I believe the future's still bright. You’ve just got to sift a bit harder to find the good stuff.
With everything that’s occurred over the last 18 months, I feel privileged knowing that the work I produce might brighten someone’s day, make them laugh a little or see their world in a more positive light.
When looking at creativity as being innate or something you learn for me, it’s a combination of both. There are signs at early ages of an aptitude for creativity. But how an individual’s creativity develops is determined by so many factors. I think too many people believe that they’re not creative because they can’t draw or paint, but creativity is so much more than artistic ability.
In my mind it boils down to how you approach a problem and whether you’re willing to settle for the first solution that you think of, or whether you’ll keep going until you’ve found a more interesting answer. It’s definitely a process that can be learned and will get better with practice.
Outside of work I’m extroverted. Not off the charts, maybe 7/10. At work, I’ll flip modes when I need to. Sometimes I like getting quiet on a problem. Letting it run around in my brain for a while, with pen and paper on hand. The silence in the room doesn’t make me anxious, because I know the solution is in there somewhere.
There’s a few habits which I try to keep up, because I know they’re helpful in my life - eat well, exercise often, read a few books and sleep as best I can. But the notion of forming a “routine” is a bit too much pressure for me. I like dipping in and out of things, when I feel like it. And try not to get too hard on myself if I let something slip for a bit.
I like to explore. Right now, I’m really inspired by music podcasts like Song Exploder. The ways in which tracks come together are so varied and so individual. Some are happy accidents, others are meticulously planned. There’s no right or wrong way to create popular music. The same goes for any creative pursuit. You have to find your own way that works.
I believe that truly creative work starts with human understanding. An insight into why people behave, or think, a certain way.
A lecturer at Award School told us that the best comedians make the audience not only laugh, but nod in approval at the same time. It’s not that the best creative always makes people laugh. It’s that it affects people in an emotional way. Ideally immediately.
Once you’ve discovered that insight and formulated an idea around it, it has to be executed to the highest possible standard that the restraints of time and budget will allow.
Two campaigns stand out for me - ANZ ‘Holdtight’ and Deakin ‘Opportunity’.
‘Holdtight’, formed part of ANZ’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras sponsorship. At the time, and even today, although so much progress has been made for LGBTIQ+ rights, the most simple gesture of affection - holding hands - is incredibly uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for many in the community. Through the campaign, we turned that simple gesture of affection into a global conversation about equality.
‘Opportunity’ is the first big brand campaign that we’ve created for Deakin University Australia. Watching the news and doom-scrolling through social media, you’d be excused for thinking the future is bleak. So when the creative team presented ‘Opportunity’, a poem written by Barton Braley over 100 years ago, we knew we were onto something. It seemed as if the words had been written exactly for this moment and Deakin.
Dani Pearce and Revolver films did a wonderful job of bringing the concept to life. The casting, direction and cinematography was excellent. I’ve created a lot of narrative-based commercials in the past. To create something that mixed artistic performance with metaphorical visuals, made it an energizing and memorable project to be part of.
Looking at the industry’s creative output right now, the rebalancing of marketing budgets away from performance campaigns and towards brand advertising is exciting to see. Because of this, I feel like the trend of depicting ‘real-life customer stories’ or documentary-esque style advertising is starting to subside too. It can be great, but it is becoming ubiquitous.
It is encouraging to see more metaphorical work coming out. And work that incorporates mixed mediums.
What I’m really liking to see in Australian work lately, is levity. Australian culture is inherently light-hearted. However, for some time there, the majority of the output was of a serious tone.
When tackling big briefs, I prefer to start working on it straight away so that I can get all the bad ideas out of my head. That way I’ll quickly know if the brief is clear or not. If it’s not clear, even the bad ideas will be a struggle.
By starting, it doesn’t necessarily mean ideating straight away. Sometimes you have to fill in the knowledge gaps by conducting your own research, or speaking to someone who has experience. For example, we worked on a digital campaign for Beyond Blue related to perinatal depression and anxiety. My creative partner and I don’t have kids, so speaking with our colleagues who are parents was a vital first step in that creative process.
For ideating, I honestly can’t go past pen and paper. Just filling the page with anything and everything that pops into my mind. At Award School we were taught ‘the box method’ - draw 50 boxes on the page and don’t stop until every box has something in it. It still works.
I’ve got a google doc of my favourite work that I keep adding to, sporadically. It’s called ‘Yep’. It’s inspiration on tap. The flow of great work is endless and very hard to keep up with. I'm bound to forget about an obscure piece of work if I rely on memory alone, so whenever I stumble across something I really like, I just file it away.
It’s always a team effort. I do appreciate a bit of alone time, usually at the beginning of a project, to digest it.
Once the idea is cracked though, it’s wonderful to hand it over to the specialists. Watching a whole crew rally around something that you wrote down on paper many months ago, is an aspect of the job that I absolutely admire and will never take for granted.
When I get stumped on a project taking my mind off it genuinely helps. A simple walk around the block usually does the trick. Changing the environment does too. When we’ve been cooped up in a room and we’re spiralling, wondering why we got into the industry, it’s definitely the room’s fault not ours!
I was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Perth, Western Australia. My mum has always been crafty. Ceramics, knitting and sewing. Always making things. I think this led to me wanting to make things too. And just being curious about how things worked. I’d love taking stuff apart and then reassembling it. I was always drawing as a kid too.
This continued through school. If a class involved making stuff, I wanted in. Woodwork, metal shop, technical drawing, art. All of the above. I left school knowing that I didn’t want to work in a boardroom. I wanted to work with my hands. So I naturally thought about a trade.
Shortly after school we moved to Brisbane and the idea of attending university started to appeal to me. Like a lot of school leavers, I had no idea what I wanted from it. I was pretty keen on Architecture, but didn’t have the marks to get in. So I enrolled in the bachelor of business, Advertising course at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
It was at QUT that I first learned about copywriting and the idea of being an advertising “creative”. It’s so clichéd, but as soon as I knew about it, I knew that’s what I wanted to be.
I completed AWARD School in 2012, in Melbourne. An intense, 12 week course run by the Australian writers and art directors, not-for-profit. It’s almost a prerequisite for advertising creatives in Australia and New Zealand. It’s focus is entirely on ideating. No Macs, no Photoshop, just pen and paper. All work has to be hand drawn.
After attending AWARD School and landing a full-time job as an art director, I studied Graphic Design at Shillington College. I know it sounds backwards. And I was sure someone - a CD, or an ECD, would figure me out and send me packing. But they were thankfully very kind and supportive of my development.
Clarity is really important for me. If a brief can be boiled down to ‘this is what we need to say. And this is why we need to say it’ I feel like the ideas flow more easily. When it’s not clear, that’s when we spiral the most.
Advertising is a reductive process. Half the battle is boiling all the information and data down into a single-minded objective or task. If you can assist your agency in this part of the battle, the solutions will be stronger and they’ll be arrived at more quickly. My advice to young creatives is to nerd out on any work that catches your eye. And talk about it with everyone in the agency, not just the creatives. There’s a good chance that those discussions will inspire a project in the future.
Investing in creative leadership is key. The jump from creative to creative director is tough. Good agencies understand that these roles are vastly different and will support their staff in making this transition. Creative leaders are there to create an environment in which other’s creativity can flourish. An environment that is void of any ego. And is based upon a healthy balance of challenge and support, rather than fear of failure.