Same, same. Not different.
‘Twas the day after Boxing Day and my Dad and I were walking around Albert Park Lake, in St. Kilda. We couldn’t be more Melbourne. I was worrying about what to write about. Dad tried to be advertising-hip and recommended I write about “the” social media. I argued that everyone was writing about social media, that I didn’t want to perpetuate the reputation my generation has about being obsessed with digital. (I would probably write about social media).
We got talking about South Africa, our home before Melbourne. Something terrible is happening, something that would never happen here on our fair Australian shores. On November 21, 2011 the Secrecy Bill was passed making any reference to the South African Government in press media, and ultimately online, illegal lest authors expose “state secrets”.
Punishable with quarter-century prison sentences, it smells a lot like the old apartheid days. As anyone who knows about the South African political landscape can attest there are no ‘state secrets’, just the depressingly-usual foreign arms kickbacks and corruption that threatens to destroy such a beautiful, creative country once thought to be on the mend from oppression.
It was this lakeside discussion in the beautiful Melbourne sunshine that made me realise – and truly appreciate – our freedom to innovate and push the boundaries of communication, technology and creativity here. It also made me realise how little of this freedom we take advantage of.
Advertising in Australia is too safe, too similar. Every ad looks the same. CGI mnemonics fly around the place and play up to consumers’ underused imaginations while overused words like “Go” and “Happy” demand you to alter the way you approach those thrilling moments when you cash a cheque after waiting in line for an hour, or decide to fly your wife and screaming infants to Sydney for the weekend to see your drunk uncle.
There’s the reliance on Reality TV B-grade celebs to try and add realistic aspirations to FMCG products aimed at fearful mothers. (Red Rock Deli, you’ve got a great product, but a Masterchef runner-up masquerading it as a dish for their swinger’s party dinner does not expedite my journey through the sales funnel).
It’s evident by the paltry number of Australian winners at Cannes that we aren’t putting Australia on the map like we should be. We all need to go to Cannes at least once off the back of work that broke the mold.
I feel like until I wake upon a beach after a night of fervour, alone but for an empty bottle of wine next to me and a French child poking me with a stick, I haven’t really lived in the industry I love so much. But forget the debauch, what we all want to do is create great work. So why aren’t we?
We are too scared about what Anonymous thinks, of the turbulent economy, creative work hurting the bottom line and departments having to work together… the reasons go on.
Creative risk-taking may be situational (we all know that), but innovative thinking is situationally elastic. Just look at Groupon, which launched in the troughs of the 2008 economic recession and is now the “fastest growing company ever,” according to Forbes.
What makes Groupon such an amazing success despite the environment, budgets and other constraints? Groupon found a niche in recession chic, and absolutely exploited a consumer insight and need that no one else had until then. Success in a time of cynicism.
The next few months will be tough as clients work to the bottom end of budgets and consumers remain more fickle than ever, but spare a thought for people in South Africa.
What the Secrecy Bill will mean for the media industry is not pretty. It remains to be seen how this will affect the ad industry, but hopefully it will mean the use of social media as a means for social change, putting power in the hands of citizen activists.
For Australians with the myriad of tools and toys laid out in front of us to create, upload and share our work with the rest of the world, this may not be close enough to our own backyards for us to fully register its consequences.
Nevertheless, we should try to take a lesson from the psychology of greed, this dank suffocation of people’s freedom to express themselves, and work harder with what we’ve got.
Our agency has already started. Some of our most recent, and yes, risky work we’ve produced for Deakin involved Adshels made up to look like law courts and hospital theatres to engage and inspire, as well as pioneering Blippar in Australia, a first for us and the industry. It was new, it was different and it caught attention.
In the current climate of not being able to distinguish one University from another except by how much an MBA costs, it broke the back of some creative ground.
Last year was one of conflicting digital revolutions, with both privacy issues and censorship breeding unrest. We’re still trying to figure out how to control the beast and, in mercenary terms, tame it, regulate it and make money off it. But one thing’s certain: we can’t live without our digital freedom anymore.
Let the events of 2011 be a catalyst for change for us to make the most of our freedom of speech and create better, riskier and more wonderful work on our brands than ever before, strengthening our relationship with social media as not just a tool to connect but also as a merchant for change.