It was Mr. Dylan who said something about the times changing. At this stage, it seems that the times aren’t changing, they’ve totally transformed. Things are definitely not what they once were. We can access the sum of human knowledge from a tiny smartphone, and we can peer deep into distant galaxies but despite our newfound technical skill, we seem to have lost touch with the value of things.

This is logical I suppose. When everything is reduced to a picture on a 5” high-definition screen, complete with a “Buy Now” button, and instant gratification isn’t just the norm, but a vitally important part of our lives, then is it any wonder that things have become virtually meaningless?

Something that’s also apparently rapidly becoming worthless is creativity. We live in an age where we can get logos designed super-cheap, and almost anything else designed, written, made or installed for as little as the punter is prepared to pay.

When, and more importantly, how did this happen?

The when is hazy, because the timelines have shifted like sands on a distant beach disrupted by unnatural weather patterns. The how is much clearer. First there was globalisation, and then the internet changed everything, bringing globalisation to the masses in a way that no one could have foreseen. The success of The Warehouse in NZ can be ascribed to one simple factor – the ability to put cheap stuff in the hands of a market that wants it. Why pay more when you’re shopping for commodity products like toys, garden hoses or plastic buckets? They’re all the same thing regardless of where you buy right?

Well, no not really, but enough people think they are to make the red sheds a licence to print money. Theoretically the same logic can be applied to creative activities. A logo is a logo is a logo right? It must be because you can get one online for as little as $5. In fact, the skills required to design a logo must be pretty worthless because not only can you get a logo cheap, designers will queue up just to offer their services, making sure you get real value for your (tiny bit of) money.   

The next logical extension of this approach is to outsource anything and everything creative. If you can get a logo done at a discounted price, then why not let a creative type from “someplace cheap” whip up your next advertising campaign? Too much of a stretch? Not for everyone! Once the idea sets in that creativity is worth exactly what the customer is willing to pay, and that all creative work is worth only the lowest available rate, then the rot can set in.

Don’t believe me? I once worked for a publisher who liked the idea of outsourcing articles from the Philippines, rather than paying clued-up local writers to craft well-written pieces for his magazines. The idea didn’t go far because there are some articles that just can’t be written by people who aren’t on the ground, living and breathing the environment they’re writing about. Sometimes, you need a specialist writer.

The same is true when it comes to many other creative endeavours, including advertising of course. Sometimes, you just need a specialist to do specialist work, an expert who knows the local environment, who understands the competition, the consumer, the channels and the delivery mechanisms. Someone who can craft your advertising, or even your logo for that matter, because they have years or decades of local experience. Just because you can get cheap work done internationally, or even locally doesn’t mean that you should.

But don’t take my word for it. Rather, look at it from another perspective – yours. You’re not buying a cheap bucket to wash the car with, one where it doesn’t really matter if it lasts six months or a year. That kind of thing you can replace at will. When it comes to advertising and design, you’re buying sales and profit. You’re buying bottom line numbers on the spreadsheets that tell you if you’re staying in business, getting your butt kicked, or dominating your sector. There’s no doubt that working with a gifted creative team will cost you more than hiring the lowest bidder, but you’re far, far more likely to get results when you work with people who see you and your company as more than merely job #1728 of the year.

There are other questions to ask yourself when you’re shopping around for design work or help with your advertising:

  • Does my brand and business matter so little that the lowest bid makes sense?

  • Do I believe that my 50 and 60-hour work weeks are only worth the cheapest possible marketing?

  • What would happen to my bottom line if I could get some great advertising instead of the humdrum stuff I always run?

To close, allow me to tell a little story. I was recently walking around a little town in Phuket, Thailand looking for a rice cooker. I was nowhere near a big department store, so I strolled into a small local appliance shop. The proprietor showed me a Sharp brand rice cooker for 590 Baht ($25ish) but I saw that he also had an off brand model for closer to 300 Baht ($12ish). I asked him what the difference between the two units was. He scratched his jaw, reflected for a moment and then said, “This one cheap, this one good”. I bought the good one. You should too.

So what does a $5 logo look like?

And what does a $17,000,000 logo look like?

The city of New York spent $17 million on a campaign to redesign the iconic "I Love NY" logo. Was it really worth it?