He’s not as mighty as Superman. No way can he run as fast as the Flash. He can’t pull somebody out of a black hole like Wonder Woman. And he for damn sure isn’t likely to be showing up in the Justice League anytime soon.
But if you’re in advertising and you’re worried about remaining relevant in a business that’s going through more upheaval than Mount St. Helens on a bad day, Rubberman is your hero.
I know. Never heard of him, right? Well, unless you’re a student of the comic book universe, how would you have?
As far as superheroes go, being able to stretch your body like Gumby doesn’t seem like much of a power. But you’d be amazed at what this kind of flexibility can accomplish. Bad guys firing bullets at you? Turn yourself into a rubber ball and bounce away. Little kid falling from a 50-story building? Nothing like 500-foot-long arms to save the day.
The problem with creatives is that very few of us are any good at stretching. And that’s dangerous. Because unless you can assimilate cultural and societal change, massive and unrelenting shifts in technology, and the redefining of what advertising even is, you are creative toast.
But not if you’re Rubberman. Gain the power to shape yourself into anything, and you stay ahead of the creativity curve. Fail or refuse and you get trampled. You become invisible. You die. Metaphorically speaking.
For fifteen years, Mark Monteiro was chairman and chief creative officer at DDB Los Angeles. In that time, he turned DDB into one of the most highly awarded agencies in the world. But the clock was ticking. Monteiro was getting older. Reality would eventually catch up with him, and all the creative awards in the world couldn’t change that. But there’s one thing that could change: Monteiro himself.
“There are so many creatives that aren’t willing to check their ego,” he says. “They’re still living in 1980. They want to live in the past, but it’s just a completely different world out there right now.”
Most people at David&Goliath would tell you that ever since he joined the agency eight years ago, Monteiro has proven himself to be Rubberman incarnate, changing how he sees the work and his role in it and how he manages to so seamlessly channel his vast creative talent and experience into shapes no one would expect from a 60-year-old creative. And before you finish that eye roll, let me point out that he was the force behind the Melissa McCarthy spot for Kia that most observers would agree killed it at Super Bowl LI.
But lest we think the specter of creative relevance is something that hovers only over older creatives, make no mistake. Fledgling creatives can find themselves looking over their shoulders, too.
Not long ago, I met a young creative director in London. I’ll call her Cathy. Ad school grad from Hyper Island. Stints at several A-list shops in the United States. In any other industry, Cathy would just be coming into her own. A baby, really. Her whole career ahead of her. Not in the agency Cathy works for, though. Always, it was something. A new social play. A piece of tech nobody saw coming. She’d never admit it to her colleagues, but every day, she felt like she was falling behind. Slowly, but surely becoming irrelevant. At 35.
The kicker? “I was named one of the most creative young people in advertising,” Cathy says. “There were stories about me everywhere you looked. I could do no wrong.” But believe that, and your ideas and opinions on the work can get pretty rigid pretty fast. “You know what they say about heights, right? Never look down. In this business, it’s never look back,” Cathy cautions. “Even if what you thought was cool work a few years ago, it’s ancient history now. And if you choose to live back there, you’re finished.”
You can own Cannes. You can crush the One Show. You can show up so many times in the back of the Communication Arts Annual, it makes your head hurt. But unless you’re willing to reinvent yourself, to shape-shift so easily it puts a werewolf to shame, to keep up with culture, movies, music, fashion, to get out in front of technology, to embrace the ever-changing creative canvas instead of lamenting it—unless you can do all of that, unless you can be Rubberman, your tank of relevance is going to run out a lot sooner than you ever would have imagined. ca