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Seven Things I Learned at D&AD 2016

London, UK
Laura Swinton reflects on insights from Paul Smith, Nils Leonard, Sally Campbell and more
Creativity and craft. They’re the reason I love this job, writing about the advertising industry. Meeting the big thinkers, the ingenious inventors and getting nerdy with the craftspeople who code, colour and construct the world-changing ideas. But creativity and craft are two quite simple concepts that can get lost among the brain-drying onslaught of marketing buzzwords. If I sit through another talk from a programmatic buying platform that thinks it's the forefront of exciting technology, I might be forced to go full Michael-Douglas-in-Falling-Down. Thank goodness, then, for last week’s D&AD Festival. A welcome and, dare I say soul-nourishing, tribute to pure design and advertising brilliance. I left the inaugural three-day event in London’s East End buzzing, inspired on a professional and a personal level. 

Diversity: Not Another Panel Discussion
It’s pretty indisputable that advertising has a diversity problem. It also, I’d argue, has a diversity panel problem. Lots of people talking, wringing their hands and, finally, patting themselves on their back about how open-minded they are. It’s something D&AD openly acknowledged in their diversity event and, refreshingly, the discussion and Q&A session went deeper than usual, tackling solutions such as apprenticeships and addressing issues that are often overlooked, such as disability. Even better, this week D&AD announced their New Blood Shift programme, a free night school for people who have not been to university and who don’t have connections with the advertising industry. It’s practical. It’s pragmatic. 

Paul Smith is My New Hero
Not being terribly au fait with menswear, Paul Smith isn’t someone who has ever loomed particularly large on my creative radar. No more. His headline talk on Friday covered his journey from being a young shop assistant being taught how to make clothes by his fashion student girlfriend to a worldwide mega brand. It was, though, also packed with practical advice for ambitious young people keen to make their mark with a creative business. Cordon off time to devote to your own creative projects, but balance that with a job to pay the bills and learn ancillary skills. Keep up-to-date with technology but develop traditional ‘hand skills’. Don’t assume. I don’t know about anyone else at the packed-out talk, but I left all fired up about ‘that novel’ idea that I hadn’t touched in three years.

Tool Up
With a captive audience of students hanging onto his every word, Grey London CCO Nils Leonard took the opportunity to tackle what he sees as the most worrying trend in the business: de-skilling. The further up the career chain creatives go, he argues, the fewer skills they need to work. That, in turn, means that as they get older creatives can actually make less. The eagerness to hive off designing or coding or Photoshop to other departments makes modern creatives overly dependent and less dynamic. And while it was a useful kick up the bum, it also had some interesting repercussions for the agency business model as it goes through what is an, err, challenging transition. Pointing to a recent app for biscuit brand McVitie's, Nils explained that a new ‘virtual kitten’ AR project had been built entirely in-house. Grey London owns the platform and wireframes for the kitten and is simply licensing it to the client for a year – that ability to ‘make’ gives creatives and agencies more ability to ‘own’ what they do. 

Family Friendly Festivals: The Way Forward
On the Friday of D&AD 2016, this year's D&AD president Andy Sandoz was rarely seen (on stage or off) without a small child in his arms. It was, quite frankly, adorable. And, more importantly, it gave the event an endearing authenticity and the ramshackle community vibe of music festivals like Latitude. Also, as the industry continues to debate its family-friendly policies and attitude towards working mums and dads, it was pretty cool to see. A little thing, but thumbs up.

Beyond the 60-Second Ad
Nothing warms my cold little heart more than a panel of smart, capable women talking about something other than being women. Somesuch’s Sally Campbell, documentary filmmaker Sophie Robinson and the riotously funny Hollie Newton of the Sunshine Agency discussed the future of film advertising with refreshing frankness. They tackled the pre-roll (“you’re often watching an ad before another ad, especially in this world,” came Sally Campbell’s pithy observation), how ad blockers mean that, more than ever agencies and production companies need to make film content people genuinely want to see, and how client insecurities and shrinking budgets are having a knock-on effect on bravery. There were positives – namely that the online boom had resulted in more opportunities and that even big commercial directors were keen to shoot non-TV commercials. 
Oh, and Hollie banned the word content. And replaced it with ‘cuntent’. Which was also good. 

We All Really Need to Watch ‘Lo and Behold’

This January at Sundance, Werner Herzog and agency Pereira & O’Dell premiered a documentary on internet security for client Netscout. According to the Branded Entertainment jury, the film ‘sets the very, very highest bar for what Branded Entertainment is today’ and so if I had to place a bet, I can see it doing *pretty well* at the D&AD Ceremony in May and probably during the rest of the award season… 

Made of More
Creative Review editor Patrick Burgoyne chaired a panel on Guinness that ended up being a brilliant case study for how powerful (and empowering) a client can be when they ‘get’ their own brand and ‘get’ creativity. The panel, including AMV BBDO’s Martin Loraine and Diageo’s Head of Beer, delved into the brand’s heritage and the relationship between Guinness and its creative partners. In fact, as Design Bridge’s Graham Shearsby revealed, the high bar for Guinness advertising has been set for hundreds of years. One of Arthur Guinness’s descendants, Rupert, was initially reluctant for Guinness to do any advertising at all. Eventually, his arm twisted, he relented. “Well, as long as the advertising is as good as the beer.”
How’s that for something to aim for?

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