Rankin on creativity: 'Consumers hunger for intelligent, humorous, self-effacing ideas'

The digital revolution means everyone now has the opportunity to be creative. This new reality may have led to a glorious free-for-all in the ad industry, says visionary photographer Rankin, but it's not going away - and good ideas still form the core of great campaigns.

What does it even mean to be "in advertising" these days? I hear a lot of moaning about the apparently dismal state of the industry and can never quite believe my ears. Being involved in advertising right now means being a part of what amounts to a fantastic mess. A glorious free-for-all. Anything goes – it’s the Wild West out there, and I can’t fathom anyone not wanting a bite of that.

Digital technology has emancipated so many creatives and consumers. I laugh when I hear young photographers being sentimental about the joys of shooting on film. Well, I did that for 20 years and it not only cost a fortune, it made taking photographs a more solitary, selfish pursuit. Film will always hold a special place in my heart, but now that I shoot digitally, I’m free to experiment and communicate more efficiently and directly. It’s quicker and, crucially, it’s a conversation – a dialogue, no longer a monologue. And that’s what advertising is now all about.

We live in a new golden age of creativity. Multiplatform ideas, social media, user-generated content; the industry is now led by the many creatives, not just the few executive directors at the top of the pile. Anyone with a bright idea can make an impact – and it can take as little as a quick snap on your cameraphone or 140 characters. That’s the kind of Wild West that makes me want to engage even more, and promote a bigger creative mess.

These days, creativity comes from the grass roots and filters upwards. There is a constant appetite for creating content – and that not only comes from those of us who earn our living in this industry, but is mirrored by consumers themselves, who hunger for intelligent, humorous, self-effacing ideas. It’s evident on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and blogs. It’s accessible to all – and this is where "our" advertising ideas fly or die.

Of course it irks me that everybody these days seems to think they are suddenly a great writer or a talented photographer. There’s certainly a lot of delusion out there, yet I can’t help but love that there is a universal excitement about communication. While I am bored stupid to see daft Instagram pictures of people’s hamsters or some rowdy night on the tiles, I am ultimately happy to accept that the good stuff always rises to the top. I welcome the competition.

OK, so maybe O2’s "Be more dog" slogan doesn’t exactly equate to phone contracts straight away, but it’s memorable, viral and got everyone talking – and isn’t that the essence of good advertising? Škoda’s "Grandma" ad, meanwhile, is a brilliant example of innovative visuals, a witty concept and smart voiceover; it’s one of my favourites of the year so far. A great example of modern advertising.

The thing with advertising now is, the mediums really do inform the messages. You have to be using these mediums yourself to really understand how to engage with the public on all different levels. Whether it’s all about the individual as a brand or the plethora of buzz ideas – experiential, ambient stunt, guerrilla or social media – you have to understand all the mediums and not be afraid of them.

Whether we like it or not, advertising, consumer recognition and social media now have to go hand-in-hand-in-hand: there’s simply no getting away from it.

#FFS, Google even tracks what you search in order to personalise advertisements to individual tastes – which means the research I was doing on some cheese follows me around like, well, a bad smell. Then there is Burberry, which has embedded RFID chips into its store loyalty cards – that stuff sounds like we’re in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report.

All of this feels a lot like Big Brother and I’m not sure whether it will work – people are savvier than that. Whether we like it or not, however, advertising, consumer recognition and social media now have to go hand-in-hand-in-hand: there’s simply no getting away from it.

For now, we are all trying to make sense of it – no one person or company has the ultimate answer, and that can be confusing. But get used to it – that baffling future is happening right now, and I don’t see it getting any less perplexing. The only answer is to engage with the developments.

So put aside your fears and jump in. The consumer isn’t a tiresome ball-and-chain for whom we have to water down good creative. They are the ultimate audience – respect them and engage with them through every innovation. Understand that you have to try things out to know how to make them work for you and, although some may be a waste of time, things change too fast to ignore them.

Contrary to what some of the old guard may think, the core hasn’t changed that much. The heart of advertising today is still about good ideas and capturing the public’s imagination. All that’s really changed is that the public can now bite back.


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