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Why Advertising Needs to Sort Out Its Image Problem

London, UK
Laura Swinton on Create UK raising the profile of creative industries and why it's important
Creativity is good for business. It’s one of those ideas held as a self-evident truth to those of us working in advertising, production and design and viewed with scepticism by many on the outside. Much like the idea that migrating to the South of France for a week every summer is ‘work’. This year however the ‘creative industries’ around the world have been busy making the economic argument for their existence. So can we convince the outside world that there’s more to professional creativity than the whisky-swilling antics of Don Draper and Roger Sterling or the objectionable hipsters of Nathan Barley? And does it really matter?

The most recent attempt at rebranding the creative industries as a grown up and important part of the economy has come from the Creative Industries Council in the UK. The Create UK campaign, which has been spearheaded by Karmarama, has been designed to highlight the impact everything from game design to advertising has on the UK economy and also tout the UK as a leading creative force to the rest of the world. 

It’s not just creative business in the UK that’s trying to galvanise recognition – in March Australia’s Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC) released a video called ‘What do you actually do for a living?’ to underline the symbiotic relationship between creativity and the wider economy. The video follows last year’s report ‘Valuing Australia’s Creative Industries’. In the US, Americans for the Arts are busy detailing the impact of creative business in every state. What’s more, in January the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the British Council totted up the value of ‘creative exports’ from the Americas.

The economic impact of creativity is a solid, if dry, argument. It may not capture creativity’s role in the generation and spread of ideas, the influence it can have on our psychological wellbeing or its potential to transform human society. However, it’s probably the most effective way to get through to those with a scarcity of art in their soul. I really hope that these reports and campaigns will have a wider cultural impact. While it’s the non-profit arts organisations that are under the most immediate threat from budget cuts, ignorance of the value and importance of art and imaginative problem solving poses a threat to the most profitable aspects of the creative industries. If schools, governments and parents don’t understand the careers and opportunities open to creatively skilled people, arts education suffers and the talent pool all but shrivels and dies. Raising the profile of the creative industries is going to be key to tackling the diversity issues that plague arts and advertising. 

In recent years, education policymakers have been obsessed with STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and understandably so, but with any luck these awareness-raising projects might persuade them to make a little more room for art. Swapping ‘STEM’ for ‘STEAM’ wouldn’t just result in more broadly rounded little people, it would create a younger generation of innovators who can fuse tech and science with creativity and art. And wouldn’t that be the perfect outcome for ad agencies, post houses and digital studios on the hunt for vibrant new blood?
It’s one of those amusing ironies that advertising is an industry that is all about brand management and persuasion, and yet it has often failed to address its own tarnished image. Be honest. How many times has someone said to you, ‘I hate advertising’? Run out of fingers and toes yet? According to one poll last year, it’s one of the most hated industries in America. I’m being naïve, I know I am, but I really do hope that Create UK and all of the other global initiatives make a difference.

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