The Age of the Creative Asshole Is Over

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A passive aggressive woman stands in front of a blue wall and flips off the camera while concealing it with a paper heart.

A passive aggressive woman stands in front of a blue wall and flips off the camera while concealing it with a paper heart.

by Jon Dietrich, Group Creative Director, POSSIBLE Seattle

Used to be, assholes won.

The creative team would come up with an idea and band together with our creative director to form a somewhat unholy triumvirate of dickish non-listening. We’d ignore the stuff strategy said that didn’t fit; stonewall our account people. As a courtesy, we might watch their mouths move, but if we worked in a “Creatively Driven Agency,” we didn’t listen. We’d leave the room before the media was presented and push the client for approval with all the subjective certainty we could muster. Sometimes our idea was actually good, sometimes it wasn’t, but the process never varied.

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See, it’s hard to do great work. It’s a lesson we learned on our first assignment and then relearn over and over indefinitely. So we clung to the most likely path to get there, which was to defend our singular vision by force. Have idea, defend idea, let the advertising gods sort out the casualties.

I mean, you didn’t have to be an asshole, but it sure helped.

Thing is, that method stopped working around about ten years ago. Things got complicated.

Suddenly, there was UX to consider and analytics, dev times and content strategy. Success wasn’t about protecting your perfect headline anymore. The recession gave clients a fairly dramatic predilection for creative that worked—and, uncomfortably—worked for them. Not for the creatives. Not for their agency. Not for the award shows. But for their customers.

The Effies, which had been a show creatives didn’t even travel to, became coveted by clients and then not coincidentally by agencies. The complexity of digital and the science of marketing changed the most likely path to great work. And now the winners were those able to evangelize an idea and get help making it stronger. Smarter. Better. To balance traditional, digital, social and whatever new “-al” the week has to offer, and to do it with a bunch of people we had to stop ignoring and start depending on. Now collaborators win, and assholes… well, there’s always freelance.

About JonJon seeks creative solutions to business problems and with a hybrid background in digital, traditional, and direct – he doesn’t care where he finds them. Jon has created for national brands like Microsoft, Citrix, IHG Hotels, Holland America Line, Sprint, Fireman’s Fund, K2, and Pella. His work has been honored by The Effies, The Echos, The One Show, CA, The Radio Mercury Awards, and assorted other places where marketing people congratulate themselves. Linkedin