What does it take to be a Creative Director these days?
In my day the criteria were pretty specific. The arrogance of a premiership footballer. The skin of a rhino. The constitution of an ox. The testicles of an elephant. The judgement of Solomon. Plus the interpersonal skills of Atilla the Hun.
Emotional intelligence has never been considered a core competency for a CD. The role is not touchy-feely, more kick-in-the-bollocky. As long as you can give the hair-drier treatment to some underperforming artworker and trample over an account executive’s fragile ego, you fulfil the job description.
In order to become a Creative Director, your CV had to list not only how many times you had been headhunted and how many creative awards you had won, but how many clients you had reduced to tears (with the beauty of your creative vision) and how many creatives you had made cry (with the force of your critical disdain).
Well, it turns out those are not the requisite qualities at all.
Blackberry (the company formerly known as Research in Motion) has just appointed Alicia Keys as their Global Creative Director. Yes, that’s right. Alicia Keys, the singer-songwriter, not the creative copywriter. OK, she’s written some decent lines (not including “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of…”). But Creative Director? That JD actually used to mean something. According to a press release, Ms Keys "will work closely with app developers, content creators, retailers, carriers and the entertainment community to further shape and enhance the BlackBerry 10 platform."
It gets worse. Polaroid has announced that it has hired Lady Gaga as its Creative Director. Specifically to launch their GL20 camera sunglasses, which are "a stylish way to take pictures of what a wearer is seeing”. Like eyes, in other words. But Polaroid says “Only Lady Gaga could create a hybrid that’s part fashion statement, part revolutionary technology and part tool for self-expression”. So that’s clear then.
After that, it comes as no surprise to learn that will.i.am – the grammatically challenged front man of the Black Eyed Peas – is to be Intel's "Director of Creative Innovation". Or that Justin Timberlake is the new Creative Director of the ageing golf brand Callaway. "Being hip and contemporary” is part of Callaway’s plan to attract younger golfers, while the singer himself says he will give the sport a "nice injection of kickassery". Beautifully put, Justin.
And the trend goes on. Victoria Beckham, I read, is currently the Creative Director of Land Rover. The car brand beloved by hill farmers and hairy chested off-roaders. Have they recruited her for her knowledge of diesel compression ratios and torque generation? That seems unlikely. Apart from being in a moderately successful girl band and pulling David Beckham, her main career achievement has been to perfect the persona of a sulky 12-year-old wearing her mother’s clothes.
Actually that is a little unfair. She has launched a highly successful fashion label (presumably the label is size zero). This suggests her creative credentials go beyond having an artistic temperament and being quite good with crayons. And her specific role at Land Rover is guest creative designer on the Range Rover Evoque, which is more a fashion brand than a traditional diesel workhorse. The Evoque (which looks like a pimped-up Freelander that has been sat on by an elephant) is apparently the 4x4 favoured by Yummy Mummies to drop their offspring at drama school on the way to see their life coach. So there is a certain affinity between Ms Beckham and the brand she supports.
And that is probably the point. Celebrities have been used to endorse brands ever since Ronald Reagan puffed on a Chesterfield cigarette and Henry Cooper was the great smell of Brut. Today, celebrities are not merely “brand ambassadors”; they are brands in their own right. So hooking up Victoria Beckham and the Evoque is just an example of affiliate marketing between related brands – even if she is just a figurehead (wooden, and added primarily for decorative purposes).
Co-opting the title of Creative Director, however, is a new thing. It assumes that being creative in one field means you are creative in them all. Traditionally, Creative Director was an executive role which had a clear set of responsibilities (not to mention a tyrannical attitude) to go with it. Now it seems to be an honorary role that can be accommodated by busy celebrities alongside their day job.
But perhaps we shouldn’t complain, as it is an endorsement of the importance of creativity in business today. Creativity is seen as a key attribute of business leaders, and a major contributor to corporate value. The shift in job description also creates opportunities for those of us who have been performing the job for years and getting away with it.
In that spirit, I hereby offer my services as part-time Creative Director to Aston Martin. (They don’t have one currently – I’ve checked). I don’t require a desk at their headquarters, or even a six-figure salary. All I need is a company car, preferably in green. Is that too much to ask?