Living up to its name Circus 2012, the festival of Commercial Creativity in Sydney, has proved to be an engaging spectacle. On day two the curtain came up on some stimulating and thought-provoking ideas from the industry and beyond, in the Battle of the Big Thinking.
One recurring theme of the day was the dichotomy of connectedness. To explain: today as human beings we are in a state of 'always on' connectedness, yet what impact does this have on our state of wellbeing and physical relationships? We may all have smartphones but has this made us dumber people? Are we losing a sense of (offline) community and regressing in the ability to have meaningful relationships?
Stephen Elliott, director of 'Priscilla: Queen of the desert' rallied the audience to rekindle their moral courage and Australian 'mateship', something which he believes has waned since his years spent abroad.
Andrew Fraser MP argued that society had lost its sense of civic connectedness, and Rogan Jacobson, a teacher and the winner from last year, argued that we should re-enfranchise youth by giving teenagers the vote. It is the youth, after all, that brought about the Arab Spring, he argued. Jesse Fink, columnist and author, observed that in the digital age, we expect instant gratification and have lost the virtue of patience.
James Hurman, planning director of Ogilvy Shanghai, extolled the leadership style of group empowerment, citing his former boss at Colenso BBDO, who would talk up people behind their backs, leading to a virtuous cycle of increasing confidence and respect.
The social historian Warren Fahey proposed a more nostalgic view of storytelling as a way to achieve better connections.
The winner of the day, however, was Reverend Graham Long of outreach programme the Wayside Chapel. He espoused the notion that 'there is no single person' and that 'I' should always refer to half of someone. Sounds more like a session of group therapy, you may well be thinking, and what relevance does this have to commercial creativity?
Well, you may have a point. But it was refreshing to see the industry looking outwards for a change, and providing some honest and real-world context in the pursuit of better ideas.
Secondly, and more importantly, it would suggest that there is an opportunity for brands to play a greater role in engendering more meaningful relationships and connections. In this highly connected world, how connected are we really?
There is a lot of talk of brands needing to find greater meaning and a higher purpose in the world. Perhaps if this quest was channelled into providing platforms where people can have more meaningful and purposeful relationships with each other, brands might find greater resonance with consumers in what someone (somewhat alarmingly) referred to as the post-digital age. Instead of brand utility, call it social utility.