Token-Man

Young Minds Talk the Future of Advertising

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We make our way through the dark and drizzly November afternoon, from the home of the School of Communication Arts 2.0 (SCA) inside the grandiose St Matthews Church, to a snug tapas bar in Brixton Village. There are six SCA students, I’m one copywriter who is now a spy on behalf of Creative Social. I’m about to find out what a select few young talented people make of the industry their generation is creating.

The SCA is a school made by the creative industry, as it’s supported by over 100 London creative agencies. Its students work on real briefs and their mentors are made up of roughly 800 industry professionals. For a class of 38, that’s not a bad deal.

This also means that better than any other student, at the SCA they’re as aware of what’s going on in the industry as any seasoned art director or Creative Social frequenter.

Creative vs Client

Over wine, the conversation quickly turns from the importance of reading non-industry books in the free time none of them really have, to how advertising is going through rapid changes. The market is so saturated with advertising, says one student, brands will have to become experience based to make real connections with customers or users.

Discussing the achievability of creating brand experiences that matter, another student hopefully states: ‘I would love to work at an agency where creative ideas don’t get trampled on by the client.’

You and me both, honey, I think as it’s safe to say most of today’s creatives have taken the perpetual battle against clients’ knee-jerk tendencies towards dousing creative ideas in our stride. This is something the group is well aware of, and fully willing to tackle. ‘When clients are fixated on one notion that doesn’t work, it’s our job to make the creative so good it convinces them otherwise,’ says Nina much to my delight.

Doing good

By the time the patatas bravas appear, we’re changing the world. ‘Today, brands are more powerful than ever. Often more powerful than politicians,’ says Marcella. ‘With power comes responsibility, and brands need to take it.’

The students agree that creative agencies have that responsibility too, even though they recognise it’s hard to survive if you turn down big brands that are ethically questionable.

A part of the group state quite boldly: times have changed and we have a moral responsibility to do good. Some of the group seem less convinced at the achievability of this admirable aim. Robin breaks it down: ‘Come on, don’t we all know what we’re getting into? It’s advertising: we sell or we die.’

I add that our field stretches further than advertising, we work in branding too – and brand identities do more than just sell. You could be a creative and simply work client side for a brand you ethically support and have rather cool brand identities, say Ecotricity (http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/) or Shelter (http://www.shelter.org.uk/).

People nod that Shelter is pretty cool and Robin adds it up. ‘The SCA gives you the tools for gaining the powers of advertising, but what you do with it is up to you.’

Defining the creative

When the conversation is re-fuelled with a fresh round of drinks, we talk about what made these selected few want to enter the creative industry (or should we say advertising, or marketing?) in the first place.

There’s the odd classic copywriter story: started in journalism, but that didn’t seem a good fit because it demands too little creativity – I nod eagerly in recognition of this story – but most didn’t ‘land’ here. They chose this industry quite deliberately: ‘I’m creative but no artist, while I also don’t belong in a corporate environment. This is the path that manoeuvres between those two worlds,’ says Robin. ‘Yes. We choose this industry because we are storytellers,’ agrees Nina.

Token-Man

Image created by Anna Grudeva (@grudevaa)

Girls vs Boys vs Girls?

Earlier, walking over to Brixton Village, Annie shared her concerns about sexism with me. Male students had told her that they’d prefer to work with other guys because they feel they can’t express their opinions when there are girls present, like they have to tiptoe around them. At the table, opinions on whether sexism is a problem are fairly divided.

The group all agree that gender differences are to be celebrated, while everyone should be treated equally. They also agree that the industry is too male (only 11 out of 38 SCA students are female), and too white for that matter. And the general sense is that yes, chauvinism is a problem in the ad industry, though it is largely dying out with the older generation.

Some girls however have polar opposite experiences. Annie says she’s been told off for swearing by male class mates, and Nina says she feels that being competitive is seen as threatening and, to put it in very old fashioned terms, unbecoming. But Marcella has never experienced sexism in the industry and thinks that if she were to obsess about it, she’d only be victimising herself.

Robin, the token man* at the table, doubts our industry suffers from a sexist lad culture, as ‘there’s just too many clever people’.

On that note, we celebrate the SCA and all the creative agencies that make the education possible. Because it’s clear that with great education come clever people, and we need as many of those as possible. As is duct-taped on the SCA’s walls: MOSH. Make Original Shit Happen. \

* This event was part of the Token Man Initiative and in the New Year, you will be able to read Robin’s account of his experience as a Token Man. In the meantime be sure to follow the initiative @token_Man.

A selection of students from SCA participated in the evening

Author: Isabel Serval

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