Sadism and its causal link with creativity inside advertising agencies

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote “To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle… Without cruelty there is no festival.”

Why does this statement feel like it should be embedded in the motto of every ad agency.

TBWA: Without cruelty there is no festival.


Saatchi & Saatchi: Suffering is bi-product.

Why does this quote seem to resonate down the hallowed halls of advertising agencies at 2 in the morning? Is it the closer to breaking point you’re pushed, the greater the outcome? Why do we condone and tolerate an industry based on sadism? Or do we tolerate it? Is it instead a practice tied up with the mindset and personalities of most creatives? Is being a creative in an advertising agency in this day and age coupled with being primarily: 1. a narcissist and 2. a sadist. Is inflicting pain on others tied in with a personality trait of creative types? Is this a side effect of the creative process, or a cause?

Do creatives gorge themselves on cruelty in order to get to the festival?

It’s this line of thinking that reminds me of another quote, from Carol Reed’s Third Man (1949).

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

In order to get to the higher branches, which yield the most succulent bounty, must we first wage an internal war with others who stand in our way as well as creating an internal conflict of sorts – all for an ad campaign about discounted soap or cheap flights to Sardinia?

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been in advertising is everyone has an emphatic viewpoint on what constitutes a good idea. And I’m not taking about people who work inside the industry.

Unequivocal statements on the secret to great ads leap from the bellies of taxi drivers on the cornice of Muscat to hotel owners in Dar Es Saleem. Advertising, despite being entirely subjective, seems to create despots who firmly insist that “this is the way to do things” from all manners of people who haven’t even stepped one foot inside an agency.

If we had the same standpoint for art in general, I wonder where that would leave the art profession?

And perhaps it is this domineering and unwavering viewpoint when coupled with highly creative individuals that results in power play, politics, and staying in the office until well after your kids have gone to bed.

I do not supplicate the industry to change its ways, and have given even less thought to measures that would / should be enacted to ameliorate the situation. All I know is that skulduggery is afoot, in many an agency.

Overheard many years ago, Nick Worthington said that he had no idea what a good idea was. Perhaps if more creative types had this ethos we’d rebuild agencies that are ruled by ideas rather than by narcissists hell-bent on enslaving others with one mantra. Theirs.


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