As creators, we place a terrific amount of importance on our work. If it’s associated with us and our reputation, we want it to be good. Only the best work ends up on our portfolio. In order to satisfy the client, we perform the job we’re paid to do.
But in order to satisfy ourselves, we often go way beyond the needs of the client. We go over the amount of time we agreed to commit. In doing so, we often confuse our own motivations with that of the client. We say we’re doing it for the job, but we’re actually doing it for ourselves.
This becomes a problem when we see other creators delivering cheaper, lower quality and more derivative work more quickly for a less discerning client or audience. We are disturbed when high-quality, truly original creative work is ignored, whether it’s ours or someone else’s. When we see something that we feel actually contributes value to our culture being sidelined in favor of the superficial and the sponsored, we become enraged. We want good work to be noticed. We want the game to be fair.
But it isn’t fair. Work lying at the fringes doesn’t attract licensing enquiries. If the advertiser can get their in-house team to replicate it, they will. If the aesthetic can be copied, it will be.
But there’s a problem. Everyone is copying this aesthetic because it’s in vogue. So, in order to stand out, the risk-taking advertiser needs something that is unique. Almost every brief you’ll ever receive as a creator will contain words and phrases like ‘edgy’, ‘stand out’ ‘cut through’, ‘bold’, ‘risky’ and ‘persuasive’. You are not being asked to create something new or original. You are being asked for your opinion on what the next wave of popularity will look like.
The next wave of popularity always comes from the fringes and travels inwards towards the mainstream. You are closer to the fringes than the advertiser is, and you are being mined for your sources.
If you’re able to predict this trend successfully, the campaign will be considered successful and more work will come your way. You need to simultaneously face both your audience and the source of your inspiration.
This is how creators who have a following are commissioned to duplicate their work and that of others. Not just because their aesthetic aligns with the identity of the brand. Because when a creator is able to accurately predict and capture the next wave of popularity, they and their following are considered influential over the greater public’s purchasing decisions.
In other words, their opinion on creative matters is considered valuable to the advertiser. The independent creator’s professional task is to be in a position where their opinion is co-opted into advertising standards. This is what we mean when we refer to success as a creator. Having an ability that few others have, which is also in demand at the time.
Because art is too subjective to codify with a system of rules, there can never be any agreement as to what has depth and what is one-dimensional. And we rob ourselves of that understanding when we pay too much attention to our own work and not enough attention to the audience of our work.
There will probably never come a time when the world stops to take notice of your work.
But there might come a time when a few people think it’s too good to ignore. This, and not ‘global appeal’, should be the aim of the creator.
By the time your work is gathering the type of attention you feel it deserves, you’ve probably already succeeded on a personal level.
You are the story.