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Language Matters: Creative

Creative should not be a noun.; and as an adjective it deserves your respect.



The late 20th and early 21st century have been mercilessly cruel to language. The amount of words invented to describe trivial activity and disposable technology is staggering. Jargon and slang have infiltrated the lexicon to such a degree that mid-century time travelers visiting today might think us mad or stupid. But they—like us—would be so distracted by our magic devices that they would forget their criticisms and be overcome by the all-too-common Immediately Massive Deficient Understanding Mindset (IMDUM).


Feeding this steady diet of trivia and digital pulp has given rise to a working class of individuals dedicated to fashioning and delivering stuff—also known as content. This drone class exist to provide user engagement and to create traffic that justifies our existence and/or employment. If we cannot command an audience, do we even exist? I’m liked, therefore I am?


I believe it was sometime in the 1980s or 90s that the adjective creative was converted to a noun. The origin appears to be advertising, that incubator of dubious wordplay and occasional illuminating brilliance. Ad agencies were populated by account managers, executives, researchers, and creative teams. The creative team was typically made up of someone responsible for the words, and someone responsible for the pictures—respectively the copywriter and the art director. 

The art director and copywriter were the Creative Team, overseen by the Creative Director. This model began sometime in the 1940s spurred on by teams like Bill Bernbach and Paul Rand. Great creative teams, became advertising royalty and they gave rise to what became known as “Creative Agencies” who became known not just for their accounts, but for the breakthrough work they would deliver.


The Creative Team model became the norm in advertising. In my experience, it was the ad agency account people who began referring to their creative teams as simply creatives. I was stunned to see the term actually adopted by art directors, copywriters, and creative directors, who would casually refer to themselves and their colleagues as creatives. I find it demeaning.

Creative teams and creative departments ware typically teeming with young, creative talent. Those in charge of the agencies often looked on those young creators with jealous, jaundiced eyes. Account managers might think of them as barely-grown children playing. Those kids got to have fun. Surely, this was not work. Surely, they were not adults. As much as businesses relied on their creative output, these youthful creators were seen as the cute, clever drones of the advertising and media creation worlds.


Creatives the noun was further diminished with the age of online communication and commerce. Now the ad product, or content, was referred to as a creative, or the creative. It wasn’t because the work exhibited any particular uniqueness or originality; the animated GIW was no longer a banner ad, it was a creative. It was content, a placeholder, a means to an end. It was something of little significance. The creative was merely a thing.


Pause and consider this: creative versus creator. Both words are derived from create, from the act of creation. Creator is what the religious call their God. Creative is what they call their child’s drawing. Creator is the title of someone who invented something amazing. Creative is the way an oddball dresses to go to work or to Comic-con.


A creator is an inventor. A creative gets payed to play.

We who are paid to create, should not refer to ourselves as creatives. And if you respect the creative working class, please do not call them creatives. I think you will begin to respect the work they do a bit more, and they will consider you a collaborator instead of a suit.



#intheoffice #workspace

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