Creative people – and I say this as someone who still counts himself among them, even though I pick up a pen in anger fairly rarely these days – are awful.Â Selfish, egocentric, lazy, bad-tempered and, worst of all, just dreadfully conservative.Â We hate change. We thinkÂ things were brilliant in the past, are muchÂ worse in the present and will be absolutely awful in the future.
Which is why I respond extremely cautiously, to say the least, to the new Big Idea that has swept across a large chunk of my agency group (not, actually, including my own agency, Tangible, or at least not yet).
This new Big Idea is something calledÂ Co-Creation, and it’s championed by one of the agencies within my group, Face, who indeed describe themselves as Co-Creation specialists.Â If you want to know more about it please visitÂ http://ldn.co-creationhub.com/, but in a nutshell the Big Idea is that Big Ideas about brands – new products, websites, comms, ads, promotions, whatever -Â should be developed by means of a process that involves groups of people from the client company, from the agency and from the target market all working together in a collaborative process.
This is clearly an idea that brings multiple zeitgeisty things together into a single uber-zeitgeist. There’s the whole crowd-sourcing thing, the user-generated content thing, the interactive thing, theÂ social networks thing, the collaborative working thing, the online research thing (Face are originally a market research company) and all sorts of other things you can read aboutÂ in Revolution and New Media Age all brought together into a single process.Â Face are doing very well with it – so well that various other parts of my group have decided that they want a piece of the co-creation action, and have joined together to establish the Co-Creation Hub thing whose web address I gave you a minute ago.
If you visit it for a moment, you’ll understand why I approach it with extreme caution – the kind of cautionÂ with whichÂ a platoon in Helmand Province approaches a bump in the road with wires protruding from it.Â On the home page, for example, you’ll see a link to a White Paper called “Do Brands Really Need Agencies?”.Â And although the white paper concludes that they may do, kind of, it certainly seems that they don’t need agencies’ creative departments:Â instead, they need a series of workshops made up of clients and consumers and moderated by people from Face.
My problem – and, I suspect, the problem of 99% of creative people – begins right at the beginning, with the Co-Creation Hub strapline.Â This says simply “Doing Things With, Not At.”Â I get it.Â Of course I get it.Â Â I’ve read all the case studies, seen all the online co-created businesses, learned how you can harness the energy and enthusiasm of consumers to shape and build your brand.Â (It also hasn’t escaped my attention that this is an extremely cheap way of maintaining a brand, a significant point in these tough times.)
But, likeÂ 99% of creativeÂ people, I don’t basically buy it.Â I don’t basically accept that the best way to do creative things is “with, not at.”Â From Romeo and Juliet to the Shake’n’Vac commercial, all the great flowerings of creativity have been done at, not with.Â Â Like 99% of creative people I accept that up to a point, the consumer and indeed the client can play a valuable part in this process. We need to listen to them, engage with them, understand them.Â But there comes a point where you have to send all those people away, close the door, wrap a towel round your head,Â and either on your own or with a trusted partner stay in that room until inspiration strikes.
After that, you may well go back to everyone – clients, colleagues, consumers – to make sure that your great idea works as you thought and hoped it would.Â And after that, you may need all sorts of co-creationists (photographers, film directors, illustrators, actors, whatever) to give substance to your creation.Â But the actual creative process itself isn’t with, it’s at.Â And it isn’t co-, it’s solo.
In saying this, I know I’m sounding like a dinosaur.Â At the very least I’m deeply, deeply out of fashion – Face are developing their co-creation business about 20 times quicker than any other part of the group, including my bit.Â And actually, I’m almost certain that it’s worse than that.Â This isn’t just a fashion thing, it’s a step change, and there’s no going back.
That being so, I’m delighted that my group isÂ right at the forefront of the change.Â And not least as someone who holds quite aÂ few shares in it, I enthusiastically encourage everyone to visit Â Â http://ldn.co-creationhub.com/, to get in touch with my co-creationist colleagues and, if you’re a client with a large budget, to allocate it to them immediately.
But as an agency creative who has been surrounded for decades by clients, account handlers, planners and researchers all bitterly resenting the way that this stroppy, difficult, lazy bunch of people get almost all the glory going despite playing such a limited part in the process, I can’t help suspecting that at another level, the success of co-creation reflects a long-sought opportunity for revenge.
With researchers, clients and consumers in charge of the whole creative process, it’s notÂ that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.Â On the contrary, it’s that the asylum is now firmly backÂ under the controlÂ of the warders and the administrators.