Why are creatives creative?

Does that seem like a daft question?

Why are footballers sporty? Why are politicians political?

In Campaign magazine dated 29th July 2016 there was a question put to Jeremy Bullmore in his on the campaign couch with JB column.

It read : Dear Jeremy A lot of creatives also write books. Why?

JB’s answers are usually insightful, witty and even occassionally scything, but it appeared that even he was unsure.

He replied: What a funny question. Why does anyone write a book? Fame, self-importance, immortality, irresistible urge…I think that’s about it…..(and then he continues to write about the lack of good copywriters due to the decline of long copy ads and the rise of ‘content’ etc)

In the same edition was a huge double page spread featuring an interview with Sir Ken Robinson talking about Creative cultures, the state of education and why adland should drop the ‘creative’ label.

Mostly the peice was about the lack of Education’s investment in the creative arts, and it finished with a claim about how creatives shouldn’t be called creatives any more and the whole agency should be creative, as labelling some people ‘creative’ inhibits other department’s creativity.

(If you have a few minutes to spare, while pretending to work, check out Sir Ken’s famous TED talk, now with upwards of 40 million views. It’s truly inspirational and touches on a lot of insights regarding the nature of creativity and how we stifle it in an attempt to prepare everyone for a ‘real job’.)

Now these two articles, related only by the subject of creativity, touched some deep irony nerve in my lower intestine and forced their way up to my larynx and popped out of my gob as a rather limp ‘hmmm’.

On one hand we have someone who doesn’t get why creative people need to create stuff beyond their job description and on the other we have a well respected guru who wants to end the label of ‘creatives’ within agencies. Because everyone is creative really.

Somewhere there’s a disconnect. And some confusion as to what distinguishes, if distinguishing is necessary, the rest of the agency from their ‘creative’ brothers and sisters.

It must be more than tattoos and pink hair.

JB’s first instinct was to suppose it was ‘fame and fortune’ that drives people to be creative.

He almost throws away the notion of ‘irresistable urge’ as a joke.

I mean, an urge? an urge is what you have when you want to climb a mountain, have a chocolate binge or play Fifa on the Playstation – isn’t it?

It’s a passing phase.

But to my mind he was closer with the ‘urge’ theory than the others.

Ask any creative in your agency why they are creative and they won’t really be able to tell you, well not definitively. But they will probably tell you they have always been that way, maybe not artistically in the traditional sense of painting or writing… maybe they made model airplanes, maybe they wrote songs or poems, or built contraptions or arranged flowers. Maybe they built tree houses or constructed Lego or cooked, I dunno.

Because creativity is an urge…

And the main reason people do it is rarely fame and fortune.

Yes, these are pleasant bi-products of the ‘urge’ but its not the prime motivator. If you already have a job underwriting Insurance and feel the need to paint in the evening, you my friend are a creative. You just don’t know it.

It doesn’t mean you’ll be any good at painting mind you, but you’re still compelled to create none the less.

Creativity is a lot like sex drive in that regard.

You create something, are momentarily at peace and then the drive builds again.

For some people it works for them to combine that drive with making a living, and like salmon swimming upstream to their spawning grounds they find themselves in the creative department of an ad agency.

So the answer to JB’s questioner, why do a lot of creatives write books?

It’s because they can’t help themselves.

Maybe, to Sir Ken’s point, your agency creatives are just the ones who didn’t have it educated out of them.

And it’s also the reason why they sometimes can be more childlike, more head in the clouds. More eccentric even.

We do all have the creative gene and the propensity to create.

But do we all have the urge?


It’s how we do it, so it must be right.

Take GM crops.

We all know they are bad for the future of the human race. The scary world of science is mutating our crops and causing us all to grow two heads and speak in squeaky voices.

Or something.

It’s what we call ‘received wisdom’.

Received wisdom can be a bit of a bugger though.

When something is decided by a group of people, the media or even the average advertising client and agency, it can be hard to change the way you do things subsequently.

We cling to our received wisdom like a granny on a zip-line.

Logos go bottom right. Doctors don’t like being told they’ve been doing it wrong by suggesting this drug is more right. You need a call to action. BOLD CAPS is the best way to hammer home your key points. Icons make your ad work harder. Don’t have anyone in the ad that isn’t the exact target patient. Always show the positive. Don’t anthropomorphize animals and never set anything in ten point for a diabetes patient. (Poor eyesight) and don’t have negative sounding words.

I could go on.

So what has this to do with GM crops?

Well it may surprise you to learn that an exhaustive study by a 20 strong committee of experts from the US National Academies of Science has scoured three decades worth of scientific papers and data for the evidence of GM crops being the closest thing to eating radioactive sewage on our health and it has proved to be……..almost non existent.

Indeed in some cases it has even improved the health of its customers. (Fewer insecticide poisonings through the use of insect resistant crops and the prevention of blindness through boosting vitamin A content in rice.)

What the fuck?

Obviously I am no GM crop expert, I only steal stuff from articles I read in The Times. (so send angry letters their way) and I am sure there are other concerns that could be raised. But the point is we do tend to, as an industry, approach our projects accepting a degree of that’s just the way it is.

Maybe we just need to all look closer at the many successful creative campaigns that keep things simple and rely on the concept to do the hard work.

Because it seems weirdly that for some Pharma brands you can break all the rules and the sky doesn’t cave in.

1: Always be positive.


2. Always have the logo bottom right.


3. Always have a big call out


4. Don’t use humour


5. Don’t have type that’s hard to read.