In Defense Of “Creative Silos”

I grew up during the Cold War, in rural farm country, so when I read “silo” I first think of either food (grain silos) or nuclear war (ICBM silos).

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Silos of Life, Silo of Death. (public domain images via Wikipedia)

“Silo” is not a new corporate term. A business “silo” is defined as: “a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others…This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.”

Digital marketers have latched onto the sides of what they’re purposely now calling “creative silos” like lampreys, sucking the life out of the ad industry. Some of them are calling this “creative disruption” — like it’s a good thing. It’s not. It’s already obviously having a negative effect on the quality of ad work worldwide.

You may be asking: What the fuck is a creative silo (CS)? 1 — Any traditional creative department is a CS. 2 — A CS within this CS can also be any creative individual or team. A team is a combo of two-maybe-three (not five, not ten) copywriters, art directors, creative directors, director-directors, graphic designers. 3 — Freelancing Individual creatives and teams are also CSs; I am currently a freelancing CS.

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Above is a headline from an article last year via AdAge. (No, I’m not linking to it. It’s poppycock.) “Break down creative silos!” has become a rallying cry of digital marketers and “cagency” consultants, almost all of whom have never made, or have even attempted to make, a creative ad in their buzzwordy lives. Of course they want to break down something they can’t wrap their MBA heads around, something they simply can’t do. Making creative ads is a learned practice, learned by repetition. You have to “disrupt” (heh) your brain by doing it over and over (and over) again. This is the “secret” activity that goes on inside creative silos: It is called the “creative process”. It’s not just about writing “clever” headlines. If it was that simple, any smug Ivy League journalist could be a copywriter. And it’s not just about cRaZy visuals: Being a meme- and gif-making digital native Millennial doesn’t qualify you as an ad art director.

Which brings us to why we need creative silos. 99.99999% (or so) of the greatest creative ads ever created have been created by creative silos. Great ads are not created in conference room whiteboard collaborations. As original Mad Man and Advertising Hall Of Famer George Lois said last year (and has been saying for many years): “Reject group grope. Teamwork might work when building an Amish barn. But it can’t create a big idea.”

Or, as John Steinbeck wrote in East Of Eden:

“Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything.”

Or, as Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein said in a Guardian interview in July: “Making work by consensus…is the worst way to make art. It lacks a point of view.”

And yes, advertising is art. As the legendary revolutionary creative silo Bill Bernbach said: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

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Probably not a creative silo (unless there is an agency in there), but definitely an advertising silo. Photo by Troy Montemayor (see more of his work ).

The problem is digital marketers believe because they are digital “experts”, that, by-turn, makes them digital creative experts. And that is why they are not just banging on creative silos, they are punching holes in them. They don’t just want to get inside silos, they want the launch codes. (Also, they desperately want to add “creative” or “content creator” or “storyteller” to their titles and bios.)

They want creatives — copywriters and art directors — to join them in the big whiteboard conference room with a half dozen or so marketing/digital/tech types and collectively “co-create” that video brand ad. If two heads are better than one, why not 15 heads? They say “Let’s brainstorm it!” “Let’s gangbang it!” “Let’s have a jam session!” The result? Creatives’ good simple ideas are destroyed, killed, or blocked — replaced with ugly Frankenstein-ed monstrosities.

(Since I started freelancing about 6 years ago, I’ve been in a few [3–4ish] of these co-create-by-committee conference room jerkoff sessions (sometimes with video conferencing). And the resultant work has been either mushy shit or shitty mush. Not good. Not once.)

Yet digital gurus are determined to destroy creative silos with their “marketing funnels”, sort of like how tornado funnels destroy farm silos (see below).

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Left: the current advertising landscape. Right: Me (a creative silo), after a “jam session” with five digital “gurus” in a pristine conference room.

These days, many of the worst ads are tech ads because non-creative digital and tech people are involved in the creative process right from the get-go. The “breaking down of creative silos” is not saving marketing or advertising. It is weakening both.

But this “creative disruption” movement is here to stay. And as tech continues to get “tech-ier”, advertising will continue to get tech-ier — which wouldn’t be a problem if the digital/tech people stuck to the tech and didn’t stick their noses into the creative. Because in advertising, “tech” is never a big idea. It’s always just a technique.

So protect your silos, creatives! If marketing/tech/account types try to hover while you ideate, stop ideation immediately. If they want you to “share” your concepts before internal presentations, tell them “we ain’t got nothin’ yet” or “the stuff’s too rough to share right now”. Or, just kindly tell them to fuck off.

Shout it out loud with me, creatives: COLLABORATION = DEFECATION! Go ahead, put it on t-shirts, sell it. Please send me my cut (50%).

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Copywriter/Copyranter. My hockey wrist shot is better than yours.

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