Looking back to move forward: FCB returns to The School House

FCB is showing its cerebral side with the launch of The School House, a new forum dedicated to casting a critical eye on advertising and, more broadly, the New Zealand cultural landscape.

The School House will see ‘the change agency’ host periodic events at its distinctive brick building (originally a Catholic School) on the issues most relevant to the industry.

FCB hosted its first event last week, inviting Massey University professor Paul Spoonley to present some of his research on the changing makeup of New Zealand’s demographics and what this means for our cultural identity.

The finest accompaniment to heavy thinking is a glass of wine, and FCB also facilitated the latter by the ending the evening with a wine-tasting experience presented by Luc Desbonnet of Frenchmans Hill Estate.

FCB isn’t alone in hosting events like these, with many other agencies across adland also hosting speakers to inspire staff and impress clients.     

FCB chief strategist David Thomason says this initiative serves a dual role, firstly in showcasing the quality of thinking on offer at the agency and secondly in providing a more critical analysis of what happens in the industry.

Thomason says the industry tends to be so focused on the next campaign, next project or the next financial year that we don’t take the time to think about how we got we are.

“We have to become better at looking back,”  Thomason says.

Further to this objective, Thomason also presented on the evening, talking about how the canon of Coca-Cola advertising shows the evolution of the brand. Thomason argued that while we have this belief that a brand should always remain consistent, many long-standing brands have actually evolved their identities over time.

In looking back at the history of Coca-Cola, Thomason showed how the brand had actually shifted its positioning over time in response to cultural changes.

“If anything, Coke has only been consistent in the way it’s responded and changed,” Thomason says.

Thomason says we can only challenge established principles, such as brand consistency, if we take the time to address where brands actually come from.

This nod to the importance of critical theory is rare in advertising, but it’s prevalent across all other creative exploits—whether it’s in studies of a Renaissance artist, the works of Shakespeare or the influence of Beethoven.     

Critical theory is also seen as playing an important role in defining originality. If you aren’t aware of what came before, then how can you be sure that what you’ve made is truly original?

As TS Eliot said in his brilliant essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’: “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.”

Advertising might be a commercial art form, but this doesn’t make it any less important for us to look back to see how the industry can move forward. And by formalising the process of critical thinking at FCB, Thomason hopes to play a small role in the continued evolution of the industry.  

FCB’s next School House event will take place in September. 

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