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Creativity is Not Enough

Posted on February 29, 2012 and read 3,172 times

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nick smile Creativity is Not EnoughNick Bailey
AKQA Amsterdam

‘Eureka!’ as a famous Greek once said in more optimistic times. I have found it: the archetypal, Platonic ideal of a television commercial – or, at least, the one which I believed to be so back in the early nineteen-eighties when I was about ten years old. This is the TV spot that lifted the scales from my unworldly eyes and demonstrated something extraordinary to me, something magical, something amazing about just what it’s possible to do with sixty seconds of judiciously used airtime between Acts of Brideshead Revisited.

While it might be an exaggeration to say that this piece of film changed my life, it certainly broadened my horizons. It was because of this ad that I decided, whatever happened, that I would pursue a creative career. Whether as a writer, or a filmmaker, or an artist – I didn’t yet know. But I knew that to be able to have an idea as powerful, simple and perfectly wrought as this, to make it real, to send it out into the world, would be the measure of success I would apply to my future.

So why had I not actively sought this out before in an age of ubiquitously accessible content? I suppose for the same reason that we (if we are wise) avoid attempts to re-live the golden experiences of our youth – because we understand that to do so is to be guaranteed to be disappointed. It’s the certainty that temples of past happiness – a city, a house, a movie, a song – are all too often, when rediscovered after a long absence, diminished, compromised – smaller. Memories with every recall are enhanced and embellished, while the passage of time diminishes and decays the things that they recall.

So, when searching YouTube and ‘classic, rare Pirelli add’ popped up in the search results, it was with some trepidation that I clicked. The opportunity to see it again was irresistible, while the possibility that I was likely to have yet another of my youthful illusions shattered depressed me. But of course I clicked, and I watched:

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

The recording is terrible, striated with interlacing – I suppose this is what the mists of time look like. And yet it was all miraculously still there – stylish, beautiful, perfectly wrought. A movie in sixty seconds; a beginning; a middle; an end – and a fantastic plot twist. I was relieved that my judgment as a ten-year-old wasn’t too far off. And I was intrigued about just what differentiated this particular ad. What was it that gave it the power to endure over 30 years – to move and astonish still?

I think it’s what clients mean when they say ‘creativity’, but what I actually believe is more nuanced, special and singular: Virtuosity.

Creativity is defined as ‘the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns and relationships and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations’ while Virtuosity is the performance of ‘someone with a dazzling skill or technique in any field or activity’. It’s not easy to be original – nonetheless creative people do it every day. But truly to dazzle, to delight and surprise with the sheer audacity, bravery, bar-raising boldness of what you have done: that is rare. That is virtuosity. To seek, not just to be creative, but to be a virtuoso: this is the hubristic ambition (as-yet, I hasten to add, unreached), which was sparked in me thirty years ago by this sixty second film.

What excites me about what defines virtuosity is the demand to ‘dazzle.’ To be creative one must simply be original – whether or not anyone cares what you have done. To be a virtuoso, you must consider your audience. You must give them what you want. You must be a showman.

We’re frequently hearing about how our industry needs a ‘return to creativity,’ how, since the long, slow decline of what the former masters of the advertising universe term the ‘golden age,’ creativity has been replaced by dry digital functionality. At practically every international awards show, the debate grinds on about whether a prize for this or that film represents a ‘return to creativity.’ Usually what they mean by this is a return to the dominance of film – and it’s true that if you focus on film alone, there’s a dearth of dazzle. Not because of a lack of creativity – but because the audience has moved on; because they want and expect something different.

As Arthur C. Clarke states in his third law of prediction, ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ It seems to me that, far from undermining our ability to delight and surprise, far from undermining creativity, the advent of the thousands of new ways that now exist to tell stories and connect people with brands represents more opportunity for virtuosity – to demonstrate ‘dazzling skill or technique’ than at any other time in human history.

But we can only achieve this if we treat the media we choose to work in today in the same way as the filmmakers of the golden age treated theirs. Technology is our instrument, which we must learn, not just how to play – but to use to transcend the ordinary, to re-define the boundaries of what is possible; to touch peoples’ souls.

To demand of ourselves to be true Virtuosos is to demand absolute commitment and rigour to the work we do – not just to know the tools of our trade, but to love them, as a musician loves his instrument, or an artist loves his materials. It is still, as I came to believe 30 years ago, a noble ambition.

  • Anonymous

    Hi there.  I was the original poster of the vid on Youtube.  I actually downloaded it from the main Pirelli site around 2002-3 on a dial up internet connection using Realplayer on the lowest possible quality setting hence the poor picture.  Pirelli have since taken the video off their site but they must still have the original sitting around somewhere.  Glad to know I’m not the only one who appreciates this gem of an ad.




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