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The Imagination Gap (or, How Technology Might Just for Killing Creativity)

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

When I first started working in advertising, Macs were not the ubiquitous sight on creatives’ desks they are today.

Yes, I know, that makes me sound old.

But, Dear Millennial Reader, it’s true. In fact, at the small B2B agency I first worked at, there were two Macs for four art directors. Needless to say, squabbles were common.

I digress. This article isn’t intended to be one of those back-in-the-good-old-days-you-young-whippersnappers-wouldn’t-understand affairs. No, it’s about what we have maybe lost in our rush to embrace all the wonderful gadgets and gizmos we now have our fingertips.

What we have lost is this what I call The Imagination Gap.

The Imagination Gap is the gap between what is presented by the agency in the first creative round and what ends up appearing online or on TV or on a billboard or, and again I’m showing my age, in a newspaper.

We didn’t have fancy computers or fancy printers to help us make ads that looked like ads for the first-round presentation. We had illustrators. We had someone with good penmanship who could make the headline look nice. We used scrap images, literally cut and literally pasted. And we put squiggles where the copy would go (sometimes, we even greeked in the copy using one of those two in-demand Macs; we weren’t Luddites, for goodness sake). Don’t get me wrong, we did this because it was our only choice; there were always art directors who devoured Mac World and knew what was coming down the pike.

Because of the roughness of the work, the client had to make a leap of faith. They had to imagine what those scribbles and squiggles would end up looking like. Of course, buying creative work regardless of how it’s served up takes a leap of faith, but this felt different. And it was.

It required more trust, perhaps. More partnership between client and agency. And that’s something that can only be a good thing.

Fast forward a decade or so to a client I had who liked to ‘socialize’ creative work around the office. Which, as far as I could tell, meant firing off a PDF to everyone and his mother. And then everyone and his mother weighed in on that PDF. Understandable, yes. Helpful, often not. Because the result was rarely good: you ended up with a loaded-up, watered-down piece of communication that pleased absolutely everybody – and precisely nobody.

Had those people been looking at a rougher concept, at an ad that didn’t look quite like an ad, that had holes yet to be filled, I posit that things would have been different. That the creative process would have been more collaborative and/or would have fostered better, more productive client/agency relationships. Of course all my positing might be horribly naive and born out of sitting on hindsight’s comfy couch.

But what if we tried it? What if our executions weren’t quite so polished? What if when we presented work, in the first round at least, that didn’t look as though it could be printed or put online tomorrow? Would clients be less concerned about the color of the background or the lack of premium feel of the typeface or any of the other executional elements? Would they be more able to focus on the intangible (the idea) rather than the tangible (the execution)?

Who knows? But could we at least try to maintain The Imagination Gap and return to a time when clients trusted their agencies to take the rough and make it smooth? It wouldn’t be easy, of course. In fact, it might be nigh-on impossible. But, heck, we all like a challenge, right?

Perhaps we all, clients and agency folk alike, could use a little retraining. Or, better put, a little untraining.

Because maybe, just maybe, by reclaiming The Imagination Gap a smidge we will force people to take a slightly bigger leap of faith when they buy work. And that might reground us on what we all proclaim as the most important thing: the ideas.

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