January 04, 2011

Creativity Without Talent

Someone once asked me about a copywriter who had worked for me. "Is he creative?" the person asked. "Very" I replied, "and it's a shame because he's not very talented."
I, too, am burdened with this frustrating affliction -- more creativity than talent.

I spend an inordinate amount of time writing and playing musical instruments. I love doing these things. But, alas, I'm just not very good at them.

I have written some decent ads, some pretty good blog posts, and some passable songs. But no one would accuse me of being terribly talented.

But this post isn't about me, it's about advertising.

We are often confronted with the lament that advertising isn't very good. This is true, and one of the reasons it's true is that the ad industry is chock full of people like me.

I've seen them from all sides. As a copywriter, I've worked alongside them. As a creative director I've supervised them. As an agency head, I've recruited them.

They are hard-working, diligent, and well-meaning. Unfortunately, they're not very talented. By definition, the average creative person is, well, average.

We often blame the absence of excellence in advertising on tin-eared clients, unimaginative strategies, or weak-kneed account work. The truth, however, is a little more complicated.

Talent is a rare and precious thing. Every now and then I'll see a spot and it will blow me away, "Oh, so that's how you do it."

It's not that we don't want to do great work. It's not that we don't try to do great work. It's just that great work is really, really difficult to do. It takes exceptional talent, and sadly, exceptional talent is the exception.

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