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What The Hunger Games Teaches Us About the Creative Process

Posted on March 27, 2012 and read 5,558 times

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troy scarlott What The Hunger Games Teaches Us About the Creative ProcessTroy Scarlott

Over the past few weeks, The Hunger Games has become quite the trending topic. At my agency, we are working with one our clients on a promotional tie-in with the movie. It gave me a convenient reason to read the book, take our creative group to see the movie and also engage in an in-depth conversation about Team Gale or Team Peeta with my niece.

After immersing myself in the storyline and debating the possible meanings by the author, I was struck by the similarities between The Hunger Games and the agency creative process.

To illustrate, imagine receiving the following letter from the President:


from the desk of the President of the Capitol


Dear Creative Citizens of Advertising:

Let me begin with the announcement that you have been waiting for. You have been invited to pitch an account that may bring you great fame and fortune. It is a $50M automotive account for a Fortune 500 Company.

As the most anticipated event of the year is upon us, I can feel your excitement and enthusiasm at the opportunity before you. It is indeed the very reason for your existence.

Before the commencement of our industry’s most sacred tradition, the creative briefing, I would like to first extend my personal thanks to each and every Creative Citizen of Advertising. Whether you hail from the Capitol (Major Advertising Holding Company), our richest district (Madison Avenue) or one of the outlying districts (a Digital Agency), I know of no better way to show my appreciation for all of you than with a riveting Advertising Games! My sincere gratitude and thanks to the ones who came before us and established the rules of creativity within the hallowed halls of each agency. I thank the client, and the Chief Creative Officer, known as the Gamemaker, for their tireless efforts and promise to make this year’s Games one for the ages.

Let the 74th Advertising Games begin!
And may the odds be ever in your favor!

The President


The Hunger Games! The Advertising Games? Completely different, or one in the same?

Every day, at agencies across the country, The Advertising Games exist. With the number of client reviews in our industry, the Games are probably happening right now.

Given the opportunity of a big pitch, agency chief creative officers (CCO’s) and executive creative directors (ECD’s) begin the creative process by selecting their own creative tributes. They may turn to the category-experienced team, the golden-child team, the young gun team, or the new blood. Their go-to creative process is the “creative gang bang” – briefing multiple teams on the same project – believing that this creative competition will result in great work, or more importantly, the lifeblood of any agency…the pitch-winning work.

These creative leaders play the role of the Gamemaker, pitting their own against each other. The reasons for it can be debated by each agency: it’s the way we work; it’s the way it’s always been; it’s proven to produce; or simply, Machiavelli was right, the end justifies the means.

Regardless of the reason, this type of creative process is our industry’s very own form of The Hunger Games. Our creative tributes are briefed together and then quickly, the together concept is lost in search of the victor.

Many of us have experienced The Advertising Games. We have lived it, survived it and some of us have even won. And the benefits were great. Our agencies showered us with accolades. We were rewarded with plum assignments and given more opportunities to produce and win awards. The perks of winning built upon themselves as promotions and raises soon followed. If you have read or seen The Hunger Games, the similarities cannot be lost.

Many creative leaders believe that it is a good thing and they continue to rule over their Games with each important project or pitch. Yes, The Advertising Games exist. I ask, at what cost?

As a creative leader for agencies large and small over the past 12 years, I believe The Advertising Games create more than good work. They breed fear and mistrust among the creatives. They build protective fiefdoms between friends and colleagues. They hold the individual above all else. They create an environment alien to creativity. They violate the very tenet that agency’s evangelize in every pitch:  Our people. What are agencies without our people? Our talent? Our experts? Is the work more important than the very treatment of the people who create it and the environment they exist in?

With this in mind, I do not subscribe to the creative process that I was taught. I chose to end The Advertising Games and try something different. In our creative process, our creative teams own their clients and their work. They are engaged to learn the business and build trust with the entire team. They are challenged to deliver great work, for every project and pitch. They are also expected to collaborate…with the agency, with the client and with their creative peers. Through it all, our creative leaders act as mentors not Gamemakers.

Without The Advertising Games, our teams still create great work. I believe it’s because they can focus their time and energy on thinking, crafting and building their ideas. They often get support and objective critiques from their creative peers, in an effort to make the work better. The teams are open to sharing and collaborating because they are not pre-occupied with the imaginations that come from creative competition…”who will get work through, who will get to present, who will get to produce, who will get promoted or fired.” They don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder to see who is peering at their work. They don’t have to quarantine their creative peers from the brainstorm rooms. There is less negative energy wasted on politics and more focus on productivity of collaborating.

We do feel that competition has a role in our process. Our creative teams are empowered to compete…against themselves. They are expected to collaborate with the entire agency in an effort to make the work better. They understand that all of us can contribute to the work and the creative environment needed to create something that’s new, amazing or innovative.

In our creative process, we have learned that when you give your teams the responsibility and the freedom to create amazing work, well, they have a tendency to do amazing things. In doing so, they generate a display of creative spirit that is both contagious and collaborative.

In the end, we believe our creative process will win the pitch and develop great work. And yes, in our process, much of the work of our creative teams may still die. Yet their creative spirit will not.

We will not be participating in The Advertising Games, yet if you find yourself as a creative tribute for your agency… May the odds ever be in your favor.




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