Opinion

Has the advertising industry finally lost its soul?

In the flurry to embrace technology, many creatives have lost sense of their identities and become just great salesmen of machines, writes Havas' Valerie Madon

When I was five, I was most happy when I got to draw and paint with my grandmother.

When I was 14, I was most happy during still-life art class staring at an eggplant trying to capture the light on its curves.

When I was 21, I was most happy when I quit university to join art school, disappointing every member in my family.

When I graduated from art school, I was happy even if I thought I would be designing greeting cards for the rest of my life.

Till today, I never doubt that this is who I am and what I was meant to do.

I believe many people in our industry would feel the same.

Like musicians, we are the lucky few in the world that get to make a living from just being who we are and doing what we love. We may not be the next Michelangelo but we have the gift of creativity, which not everyone gets to hone. We have this special ability to solve problems with a heart.

As our industry advanced to find solutions more efficiently with programmatic, machine-learning and more, we stood by and watched with ignorance for a long time. Until today, we live in uncertainty and fear that we will be replaced.

It is more important than ever to remind ourselves of why we are in our roles today, the gift we have and the value we bring. We cannot and should not ignore the role of technology. But if brands need to speak to people, only humans can do that best because:

Machines have data. But we have feelings.

Machines will predict. But we have instincts.

Machines will repeat. But we surprise.

Machines can make moving images. But we create films.

Machines mix sound. But we create songs.

Machines perform jobs. But we build relationships.

Technology is here to enhance our lives, not replace it. But more often these days, we’ve become just great ‘salesmen’ of machines. In the flurry to embrace technology, we’ve completely lost ourselves.

We over-promote the products of others and forget our own business of talent. There’s a surge of ‘consultants’ only because we have stopped being partners to our clients. In a bid to be everyone – digital, social, shopper etc, we risk becoming no one. Instead of leading our clients, we have become followers. Followers of the mighty establishments like Google and Facebook, only because we have forgotten who we are and what we are capable of.

This is not a debate about creativity versus technology because it’s irrelevant and futile. This is a reminder to myself and for everyone who still gets excited when they encounter a great campaign or experience a genius creative solution. If brands need us and clients have not given up on us, have we given up on ourselves?

Fortunately for us, our creative talent is a timeless ability and we need to leverage it now more than ever to get back into the game. If we want to lead again, we cannot be crippled by complacency.

We have to catch up and train the younger ones in the business. We have to leave our arrogance of ‘know-it-all’ behind and live in the spirit of curiosity to ‘learn-it-all’, a humbling quote from the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, who turned his giant business around.

All the headlines today paint a gloomy picture of what our industry has become – struggling to meet numbers, loss of talent, lack of leadership and the list goes on. It’s not untrue and everyone in this business is trying to find the way forward.

In trying to do so, it is important to ask ourselves what we do best that no one else can do as well. A product or service that machines cannot replicate. And that is our creative gift – our one unique talent and reason we are still in this business.

Valerie Madon is the chief creative officer for Havas South East Asia

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