A Fresh Palette, A Clean Brush

By David Nobay Posted on Apr 23, 2020

Flatten the curve, God yes, but please not our lust for making stuff.

Remember when phrases like “pivot” and “disruption” possessed all the semantic teeth of a wet fart? Flogged to the point of limp collapse by our industry’s voracious appetite for saying clever, provocative stuff, in favor of, well, plain language.

And then, all of a sudden, those same tired cliches actually mean something real; something raw and relevant and all too visceral: re-inflated by the tornado gust of a virus that simultaneously constipates spontaneity and slows ingenuity, with all the blunt alchemy of sodden clay and a Wellington Boot’s deep tread. 

Yes, you still feel like a pretentious git spraying the phrase “eco-system” around a group Zoom call (or you should do), but the fact remains, this bloody pandemic is the virulent equivalent of saying “be careful what you wish for” to an industry whose very DNA has long been defined by our unnaturally natural ability to pivot, disrupt, re-invent and generally navigate through chaos with well-rehearsed aplomb.

Granted, we are all of us experiencing a level of disruption that makes the pressures of a last-minute, global pitch pale by comparison. And, just to be clear, I’m not crass enough to suggest that the personal, professional and economic meltdown we’re all privately dealing with right now (and, let’s face it, will be for a tortuously long time) is something that fits comfortably with any of us; regardless of our skillset and tradecraft as marketers.

This “Thing” (think John Carpenter’s original) is risibly, fucking awful and boasts the gymnastic ability to confront you (or, certainly, me) from varying trajectories with sadistic regularity, regardless of how many times you tell yourself and your family “I think we’re starting to get a handle on this”. 

But here’s the thing (not the John Carpenter version); assuming, like me, your social circle mercifully ripples out far beyond the small whirlpool of our immediate advertising industry, you have no doubt noticed that this Thing (think Kurt Russell in a sombrero, in a helicopter, over the Arctic) affects us all very differently. Or, more accurately, we all tend to deal with it differently.

On a sliding scale; from false nonchalance to hyper-triggered anxiety, as a mercurial bunch loosely bundled into what we now, rather optimistically describe as “community”, we tend to register our reactions somewhere between those two poles (though in my case, the exact location differs on a daily basis). 

That said, I’ve noticed a pattern of sorts. My friends who casually identify as “creative”; from architects to illustrators; copywriters to playwrights (and everything in between) seem to be dealing with the same information overload and blanket dystopia somewhat better than my friends in, shall we say, more “structured” industries. 

Far be it from me to mock the investment bankers, research analysts and management consultants I count amongst my kin, but it’s true to say they lack some of the instinctive coping mechanisms that we who are long familiar with making something cool from stuff that others have previously overlooked, finding ingenious connections in formerly disconnected insights or generally recognizing an unusual beauty in the apparently mundane, benefit from strengths we can lean on with the advantage of significant muscle memory. 

"My friends who casually identify as “creative”; from architects to illustrators; copywriters to playwrights (and everything in between) seem to be dealing with the same information overload and blanket dystopia somewhat better than my friends in, shall we say, more “structured” industries."

Added to which, whilst my investment banker friends (ok, friend) is finding it achingly unnatural to plow through his day’s diary from the confines of his home’s make-shift, attic office, we in the relatively louche world of adland have long abandoned the snug embrace of a corner office or seductive glow of a cavernous boardroom. 

In truth, they both abandoned me years ago, and I know I’m not alone. Skype, Zoom, Blue Jeans or just juggling WhatsApp on speaker whilst sitting on the loo, might be novel working practices for other businesses now, but those sweet, funny, warm lovelies in marketing procurement generously future-proofed us in advertising for “the spartan reality of tomorrow” a good decade ago.

And so, whilst we should all rightly be leveraging this alien period of mutual confinement to dwell on what we may have previously taken for granted...from friendships to family, our own health to that of our parents...one less obvious recipient of our renewed love is perhaps the one thing we have collectively lamented for so long. Yes, our industry isn’t quite what it was a decade ago (and, let’s face it, a decade ago, it wasn’t what it was a decade before), however, just being a member of the creative community right now, whatever part you play or previously played, gifts us all with an invisible suit of armor.

Admittedly, it may feel gossamer-thin today, but trust me; scratch and you’ll feel it. And, for that discrete mercy, at least, we might consider adding it the list of small blessings we feel unusually grateful for in this uniquely uncharitable time.

Because, what others may see ahead as only unmanageable chaos, we should instinctively recognize as a fresh palette, awaiting a clean brush. Assuming, of course, we can conjure up the will to use it.


David Nobay is currently “between Zoom calls”. In a past life, he was co-founder of Droga5 Sydney, Marcel Sydney and ImperfectCircle.


Interested in contributing to The One Club for Creativity's Articles section? Please contact Brett McKenzie at brett@oneclub.org.


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