According to a rather unpleasant person called Tertullian, gladiatorial fights in ancient Rome drew their origin from funereal ceremonies, whereby wealthy nobles would hold graveside bouts between enslaved people in the hope that the blood spilled would purify the deceased soul. Call it criminal or simply barbarian, it seems that history’s bloodiest entertainment equivalent of today’s America Got Talent started as nothing more than a macabre celebration over a dead body.
Which brings us to advertising and award shows.
For an industry that’s either on its deathbed or, if you’re an optimist, being repeatedly resurrected thanks to a cheap cloning charlatan, the metaphor seems worryingly apt. Advertising as we know it is in its death throes. Mourn it or not, it has had its heyday, and yet we still manage to conjure up enough reasons to dance over the barely twitching body, rather than rethink the whole thing from scratch. So in go the gladiators, armed with the equivalent of suspension of disbelief, and out goes any notion that anyone outside the industry will feel in the slightest bit concerned.
That’s because, having done our own bit of Brutus to that industry, our awards catwalks seem to feature mostly the equivalent of clothes that are as wearable as Sam Smith’s inflated outfit – only more full of hot air and just as connected to reality – while the thinking behind our more accessible line of clothing barely scrapes the lowest level of the lowest common denominator.
I honestly long for the kind of award-winning ad that I want to hang on my wall or store in my icloud forever. I honestly wish I could do one myself, or inspire people to create one. But no: we are in the age of disposability, when everything we do has the lifespan of a mayfly with health issues, and the majority of our briefs can only produce eminently forgettable inoffensive rubbish.
Faced with this dilemma, maybe we should start thinking the unthinkable: maybe we should accept that what we used to call advertising should be two industries, not one. Maybe we should force a subset at least, whereby you’ll have the equivalent of fashion on the one hand, and haute couture on the other. Maybe some of us – a minority, I know – should embrace Tertullian’s otherwise revolting intolerance to anything vaguely seen as heretic (told you he was unpleasant) and become hardcore fundamentalists, while the rest can adopt a more populist approach. Maybe we can stop stifling true creatives but also stop frustrating crowd-sourcers and maybe, just maybe, turn that funeral wake into a promising rebirth in the process.
By Ramsey Naja, regional ECD at DDB