Why be creative?

This is an argument against creative advertising. It’s not something I plan on employing, but I think is still definitely worth considering.

Joseph Campbell would tell you that all stories follow the same basic pattern. An archetype which involves the same simple steps:

  1. Departure
  2. Initiation
  3. Return

(Note: This is a massive, massive oversimplification – check out this article for the details)

While this ‘monomyth’ has been employed time and time again: Star Wars, The Matrix, The Lord of The Rings; surely it doesn’t matter? Of course the skeleton of a story is going to be the same, that’s what makes it a story. The audience is interested in how the author fleshes it out with original and engaging characters, different techniques, plot etc etc.

But what if audiences don’t really want creativity or originality? Of the three examples I used above, none are even close to original pieces of work. The Lord of The Rings is a book adaptation. The Matrix is a comic book adaption. And even George Lucas acknowledges that Star Wars is nothing but a mashup that is inspired by a vast range of sources.

In fact, in 2011 the top 10 grossing films were all either adaptions or sequels. The highest grossing original story was ‘Bride Wars’, hardly a bastion of originality and creativity. These original works are what Kirby Ferguson calls ‘Genre Busters’, stories which follow a predictable pattern (and have equally predictable posters) like rom-coms or disaster movies.

While we can blast Hollywood for getting less and less creative, you can’t blame them, because they’re getting more and more rich. From 2001 to 2010, global US Movie industry revenue grew 54% from $20 billion to over $30 billion (adjusted for inflation). So while a few people might be chucking up a stink about originality, most people are enjoying the ride.

So have a think: do you need to make things likeable, entertaining, relatable and enjoyable? Definitely. But original or creative? Perhaps not.