The Business of Selling People’s Hours

March 25, 2021
3 min read
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The Intersection of Creative Ideas and Business Objectives: Navigating the Tension Between Artistic Vision and Practical Demands in the Advertising Industry

Creative agencies are paid to develop ideas that will get people to spend time watching commercials, clicking on ads, or visiting websites. We hope to learn about behaviors along the way and tailor that response accordingly.

The thing is, in advertising, we like to talk about our ideas. We want to imagine that our ideas are the crucial ingredient that will allow a business to exist and prosper. It will revolutionize the world and how people see things, leading to a good, creative, or financial return. But the underlying reality is deeper and more complicated to grasp for the creative mind.

As creatives working in advertising, we always put our ideas in front of business's needs. We imagine our ideas as strong magnets, pulling people's attention and directly driving behavior. And very often, we usually see the business as an impediment to the creative vision.

Like many creatives I know, my belief was on the ideas only – something related to the creative and artistic endeavor rather than a business or financial motivation by the agency or client. Looking back, I can see I was utterly bored all the time. My inspiration as a creative turned entirely towards my creative endeavor. In other words, instead of solving the client's or a business's problems, I sought to solve my artistic challenges.

Most people have experienced self-conflict at one time or another. It occurs when disagreements between different parts of our personality, often leading to inner turmoil. Self-conflict can be frustrating and can make it challenging to grow. However, it's also an essential part of personal development. We can become more robust and balanced by reconciling different aspects of our personalities.

I love bold ideas because they require me to live life curiously; it forces me to find inspiration. To be inspired is to live artfully rather than as a passive observer. We have to make things happen, which is often challenging but always empowering. I also love ideas that are fueled by passion. When we are passionate about something, it gives us the energy and motivation to pursue it relentlessly. Ideas that inspire this kind of passion in us are the ones that I am most drawn to because they have the potential to change my life and others' lives in a meaningful way.

The conversation about business can always be challenging from a creative point of view. It is when the rubber meets the road; a great idea usually becomes mundane. Any creative person has had this experience before or concludes that creativity and big budgets typically don't go hand in hand.

But many creatives encounter constraints that often happen inside the agency. This inconvenient truth occurred to me when I worked in a big agency in London over a decade ago.

At that time, besides the dull days where I would come up with silly ideas to sell coffee that nobody would care about, I would invest my free time thinking about alternative ideas, proactive ones. It's a familiar story: you're working hard but not getting anywhere – no work is getting out the door.

One day, while I was growing through a pile of ideas for a brief that didn't exist in real life, with a new superstar creative director at the time, he stopped and blatantly told me unforgettable words that I carry to this day: "These are great ideas. But let me tell you something, this agency is not in the business of selling ideas, we are in the business of selling people's hours".

And he was right.

© Raul Arantes 2023
Creative Director