By Hans Ebert

At the end of it all, we come here alone, we leave here alone and we do our best to fill in the middle bits with things that have something of us in it. Guess this is what’s called a legacy.

I ended up in the creative field possibly because my mother was a painter, my father was a singer and pianist and I was left handed. Where I was born- Colombo in Sri Lanka- being left handed meant that one had inherited the devil’s hand.

Despite teachers regularly whacking my hand with a ruler when writing to change from left to right, probably the devil in me refused to change and why I became a creative writer- stubborn, driven and probably sold my soul to music, advertising, and the marketing of different products. It’s always interesting looking back to understand how one arrived from all the way back there to here and how to make the most out of being here.

Having dinner with some friends last night, we wondered where creativity has gone because today everyone is “creative”. Or think they are. All the technological gadgetry available has given people the ability to play around with putting things together in this DIY world. But just as the technique is not the idea, gadgetry can never offer up an original thought- an idea that’s never been seen or heard before.

Maybe this thinking comes from being in advertising and working under the original Mad Men who demanded equal parts creativity, passion and loyalty. In return, whatever madness they had rubbed off on us. We wanted to become them- the real Don Draper- able to think on our feet and work with like-minded creative talent to produce what had never been seen before.

We knew we needed to blow mundanity apart. We respected great advertising. We wanted to better the best or die trying. We were driven and often it drove us off the cliff and detonated marriages. But through our own foibles we learned how to write headlines and copy that appealed to heart and head and how to sell without knowing it was selling because this wasn’t “advertising” as we know it today. It was the art of persuasion attractively packaged in words and visuals that made one think.

Ideas come from within. It’s like sweet soul music. It’s about being honest with one’s self and laying it all down there. Damn the consequences. And damn the torpedoes of rejection.

Why many ideas go nowhere is because they’re either not good enough or they don’t come from the right place- that honest place. Funny how when in advertising, most of us demanded honesty and loyalty at work, but couldn’t make it work at home.

Maybe this emotional baggage we carry is what makes us understand the human condition better? Maybe it helps us write lyrics that come from another space in time and where we’re two drifters off to see the world down that moon river with Audrey Hepburn for company?

Maybe it’s what makes us eternal romantics and always in love with one woman, but one woman with many faces?

As for what’s being produced today, sure it can be uploaded onto Facebook or Instagram or YouTube, but this is not to say that the idea is good. These are just nursing homes for the work of hobbyists and wannabe creatives to share and hope others like it with the usual tricks to do with numbers to get this work noticed. But when there’s so much of this “content” by Not Ready For Prime Time players where everyone can bang out a tune or edit a video, or Photoshop something so that it’s perfect, apart from hiding imperfections, real creative gems that need to be seen get smothered.

There’s the much heard mantra how “there’s more music out there today than ever before”. Definitely. But is this a good thing? How much of anything out there today is good enough to be considered art? Very few.

All of this everything makes it more and more difficult for real creativity to shine through. It gets lost in the clutter and all this clutter and need for immediacy reduces and often makes the creative process, the think time and perfecting the creative product disappear with the wind crying Mary. The creative product today is like a one night stand. Wham bam, thank you, m’am and onto the next. It’s too easy.

Having said this, when one comes across work that stops you on your tracks, there’s a helluva sense of relief and rush of inspiration by those who wish to see a return to those days when there was friendly competition which brought talent together to create a community and where new, young creatives could find mentors from whom they could learn before charting their own courses. In advertising, I was fortunate to have Keith Reinhard realise potential in me I never knew existed.

Today, everyone seems to know everything without having done their homework and groundwork. It’s why nearly every industry has such weak executives and where mediocrity is promoted. The result: Join-the-dots creativity that’s baptised as “content” and which is seen through all the mediums available and taken as the standard bearers for what is good. Most is not. It’s a buffet of blandness with some thousand island dressing.

Nobody, however, seems to care enough to change this. It’s all about surviving. Just do what’s asked, take the money and run.

It’s not how it was. Many of us intuitively knew what was good, how high the bar had been raised and how far we needed to stretch our limits to try and reach it. It kept us on our toes.

It’s what helped create all that brilliant advertising and music that lives on many many decades after it was first produced. Why? It’s still special. It’s still relevant. It’s creative.

While standards have dropped and bars have been lowered, this shines a light on all the great work that thankfully remains to remind us of the difference between good and average and average and mediocre.

Music today can be created by anyone with loops. Hum a melody and let auto tune correct the pitch, add various pre-recorded instrumental loops and there’s a track.

Though absolutely respecting the creativity of someone like Tash Sultana as a looper, I have zero tolerance for the Popsicle toes of Ed Sheeran. Every single song of his reminds me of something else. Try singing “Unchained Melody” to “Perfect”. The similarity is remarkable. Ed Sheeran is not. But his ditties are popular just as is the Bieb riffing over some Diplo beats.

None of them are the Beatles. Definitely not Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson or Burt Bacharach or Hoagy Carmichael. But they’re hugely popular and successful for right now. Will their work become standards? Doubt it.

Are we more and more dumbing ourselves down to accept the ordinary as being something more? Just asking.

It’s like who needs advertising agencies today? Everyone believes they are creative. And that’s the problem. Technology gives one the tools to produce absolutely anything but technology does not produce the ideas.

It’s ironic that in such a “content is king” driven world, way too often, the content is piss poor. But it’s accepted. And because it’s accepted, it’s like a sign of approval to continue as before.

Confused? I am. Confused how so many of my peers don’t get out anymore and have lost track of originality. It’s like The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers where original thinking has been turned to mush. There’s also a quiet desperation to their thinking with a silent scream inside.

Recently I’ve listened to guys I have known for decades. Though they can talk about experience and what they have done, they’re still back there thinking those here in the Now care. They don’t. Hell, I don’t care. It’s just an embarrassing example of once fairly creative people who have either lost that edge or perhaps never had it in the first place.

Maybe we all weren’t as good as we thought? But I very much doubt this. Why? Because we worked together as a team. We were our own worst critics. We challenged each other. We all need sounding boards.

DIY is like masturbation. It’s isolated thinking. And working in isolation today on ANYTHING only results in non-responsive feedback when that work is finally presented. And this is because it didn’t come from the right place nor for the right reason.

#creativity #advertising #KeithReinhard #MadMen #DonDraper #technology #art #AudreyHepburn #HansEbert #music