In a cultural age that worships technology and a business environment built to monetize our attention, marketing has evolved to champion and spread unprecedented levels of self-infatuation:
Personal brands are templated.
Becoming instafamous is a real pursuit.
1-in-4 high schoolers say they want to be a social media influencer as their “career.”
Advertising is driven by algorithms designed to optimize for sales regardless of what content they show to get it (or who they show it to).
Click farms deploy thousands of machines to generate “engagement” for brands.
Billions of people surrender their privacy every day on social media to soothe their #FOMO and keep up with “friends” they haven’t seen in years or even decades.
The average working adult checks their phone more than 70 times a day.
In fact, most adults spend more than 11 hours looking at a screen every day.
Regardless of an organization’s mission, the formula for marketing that “works” is universally understood: eye-grabbing content, ad spend, click funnels, pop-ups, discounts, convert, and repeat.
As a digital-focused creative agency, our clients look to us to help navigate the complex digital landscape that shapes much of modern society. Even since we started Whiteboard less than 10 years ago, the nature of our work has shifted dramatically as new trends, tools, and technology disrupt the status quo more quickly than ever before. Throughout our journey of helping purpose-driven organizations thrive in this constantly evolving age, my co-founder Eric Brown and I have always found conviction in the definition of an agent, “a person who acts on behalf of another person or group.” Today, creative agencies are a dime a dozen, but in our experience, we’ve found that many agencies and the creatives that work for them forget the most important part of that definition: “on behalf of.”
There are two aspects of “creative agency” to consider: (1) the agency as an entity (the organization, including its brand, people, talents, holistic identity, etc.), and (2) agency as a responsibility to act on behalf of someone else.
I’ve met many passionate and entrepreneurial creatives who firmly assert that they want to start “their own agency.” Often, it seems their motivation is an attempt to remove some barrier of authority or responsibility present in their current situation that they believe is preventing them from achieving their best creative capacities. I find the same sentiment in many well-established agencies, a common pursuit to be the “world’s best” or the “industry-leading” or the “most awarded” agency. All of this sentiment places the entity itself at the epicenter of its own existence. This posture is not demonstrative of a desire to serve others, but rather a desire to build something our culture will celebrate as successful.
But this isn’t aligned with the fundamental definition of agency, which is to work on behalf of someone or something else. If an agent fully understands the definition of their agency, then they must maintain a fundamental posture of servanthood to the people and organizations they serve. It is much easier to celebrate the perceived worth of our ideas, our brand, or our company than to submit wholly to the flourishing of someone or something else.
Yet unfortunately, that narrative doesn’t offer much life. Most creative agencies are known for burnout, anxiety, egos, and what we at Whiteboard often call “creative prostitution” — the idolization of new ideas and technology over the real impact on the people they’re influencing.
As agents of creativity, our job is to imagine and create new things on behalf of someone or something else. But if we are to be redemptive creative agents, our job is even more nuanced. To redeem something means to surrender one’s power for the sake of someone or something else. In a cultural moment notorious for vanity, pride, and distraction, we believe redemptive creativity should aim to restore dignity, personhood, and meaning to the lives of our customers, the members of our team, our vendors, and our community.
I believe our moral imperative as redemptive creative agents is to help others navigate the difference between what is good, true, and beautiful versus what is noise, distraction, bondage, and falsehood. I believe this is where our redemptive edge exists and our prophetic voice resides. And it starts with how well we’ve trained ourselves to imagine what ought to be.
Read the rest of the article on the Praxis Journal.