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Don’t Forget the Fun: ANZ Creative Experts on the Necessity of Play

London, UK
LBB’s Casey Martin spoke to voices from across the ANZ creative industry on how they keep the fun alive while working in a creative industry
Remember when you were growing up, and someone would ask, “hey, do you wanna play with me”? Without a second thought, you respond with the most enthusiastic yes. 

Then all of a sudden, the floor is lava, there is a dragon that needs slaying, you’ve put on your best adventure clothes (aka whatever the costume box had at hand), your stick is magic, you can fly, and your friends are crusaders in an epic backyard quest. 

But as we get older, we lose the ability to be comfortable with silliness. It’s become a dirty word. ‘Don’t be silly,’ we’re told as our homework piles turn into spreadsheets and calendars filled with meetings instead of park visits. 

For those of us who are lucky, the long forgotten days of creativity become our jobs. To be a creative, there needs to be an importance placed on play. Without it, there is no room for creativity. Play is how we explore new ideas, how we solve problems and, perhaps most importantly, it’s incredibly fun. 

LBB’s Casey Martin spoke with creatives from production to creative agencies and everyone in between on the necessity of play within the industry. 

Chris Clark - director, Film Construction

I’ve always been envious of the one word that musicians have at the core of their craft: play. The word itself is used for any interaction they have with an instrument, and for the work they do together. They’re in a perpetual state of “play’. Doesn’t that sound amazing? While the phrase “I’m going to play a camera”, or “play an actor” doesn’t quite work, I find the role of playfulness paramount in my working life.

Didn’t Picasso suggest the essence of existence lies in rediscovering the playfulness of childhood?

Sounds about right to me. Having begun my directorial journey as a young child as a form of amusement and exploration, I’ve worked hard to preserve that element of joy and experimentation even inside the commercial space. It seems essential to me.

Our ability to innovate hinges on the freshness of our imagination, and the ability to work in this changing landscape depends on agile methods. Nothing keeps these vital traits as alive as a spirit of playfulness.

I don’t really have a recipe for this professional playfulness, but from where I stand, maintaining a sense of joy, creativity, and laughter in all things seems to be a great measure of success in life - which includes directing commercials.

Abby Dorrian - head of new business, Smith & Western 

Play isn’t just for fun. It’s an essential part of human nature. The right to play was adopted by the United Nations as a fundamental birth right in 1989. More recently, a network of global organisations and play experts (like Lego, Nike, Mattel and Save the children) have called upon the UN to action the first #InternationalDayofPlay on 11th June, 2024 indicating that play is serious business.

At Smith & Western, we not only play, we invite our clients to come play. It helps free us from fear, unlock potential and create possibilities while maintaining our well being. Play for us, is the freedom to be, to make weird noises, not take ourselves too seriously, eat together, take turns, share every idea, ask 'what if', find the funny, cheer loudly, avoid the chaos and pack away after.  If it’s not fun, it’s not working. Play is recreation. Recreation is our business.

Taneia Ke - digital designer, Wellcom 

I think it’s important to be open to new things – that’s how I keep the fun alive. I’m always seeking inspiration from different places, exploring trends around me, collaging with magazines and connecting with creatives at design meetups. 

Playing comes naturally when I’m searching for a creative solution to a brief. To problem solve as a designer requires collaboration on new ideas, testing different tutorials and allowing yourself the freedom to experiment and fail. 

Remembering to play is vital within the creative industry because we’re not just making a beautiful campaign; We’re laughing, failing, stressing, problem solving and working together to produce an end result. It’s the emotional journey and process that I enjoy the most when we're making memorable work.

Tom Campbell - director, Good Oil

As a director, I've always found that keeping the fun alive on set is essential. I view my role as inherently playful; whether working with actors or non-actors, adults or children, it's all about games, play, and finding the joy in make-believe. But I actually make sure I play these games with them, showing them that if I can put myself out there and make a fool of myself then they can feel safe to be vulnerable and open too.

So maintaining a sense of play isn't just about having fun; it's also about unlocking creativity. I surround myself with people who excel beyond my own abilities and I like to give them plenty of room to bring themselves to the project. I find that when people feel liberated to play, explore, experiment, and take risks, they produce their most authentic and compelling work. 

Personally, I've recently discovered that the key to keeping the fun alive for myself is by embracing risks on each new project. I’ve been making a conscious effort to constantly challenge myself and encourage the crew to push me to explore new things and step out of my comfort zone. I’ve found that the fun lies in both the risk itself and the eventual reward. 

Dalton Henshaw - founder, Bullfrog 

One of my favourite lines about the work we do as a creative business comes from our Strategy Partner, Mike Doman, which is “We get paid to essentially, colour in, write words and use our wildest imaginations to solve problems, and if I knew that was a job when I was a kid at school when I was having fun every day, jeez who wouldn’t want to start there as a career”.

I love that reminder and often use it, because this industry should be fun and while there is a very serious side to the work we do, because at the end of the day creativity at the right time, right moment can shape the world and that requires incredibly smart different people from all walks of life to deliver it. Often, ‘fun’ is not the highest priority and I think that is due to environments that businesses in any industry can fall into creating due to so many pressures. I think the biggest opportunity for any business having fun through the good times and the bad is an environment that prioritises psychological safety. A place where it is okay to get things wrong, speak your mind, be honest and be authentically the person you are and not have to conform to your workplace culture.

And while, I say the above, it takes work every day, not just at team parties, it’s the smallest moments and nobody can ever always get it perfect, we certainly don’t but I am lucky, because at the core of Bullfrog, is a bunch of individuals wanting the best for each other in life and that includes our partners too. It’s pretty cool to watch.

Tom Bradbeer - senior copywriter, We Are Social

Have you ever been to a party where the host is desperately trying to make people have fun? It’s awkward, weird and decidedly not fun. People are hardwired to have fun, they don’t need to be forced. The same goes for our industry. If you give people the space and freedom to have fun, 99% of the time they will. That other 1% were probably told to ‘just have fun with it’.

For me personally, that freedom and space to have fun exists between receiving the brief and the first review. It’s in these moments that anything is possible. You can let your imagination run wild, forget budgets, and production realities. Because the way I see it, it’s better to be told you’re having too much fun than not enough. Ideas can always be pulled back. It’s almost impossible to force fun into them.

When advertising is at its best it should be indistinguishable from entertainment. And since moving into a socially focused agency, that fact has never been more apparent to me. Fun is infectious. If we can have fun making our work, it finds its way into those tiny slices of our audiences’ time that we fight so hard for.

Georgia Shillington - design director, Paper Moose

As a typical perfectionist designer, bringing play into my work is sometimes harder than it sounds. When you’ve got a tight brief and an even tighter deadline breathing down your neck you just need to get to the solution as quickly as possible. But sometimes this is counter intuitive and can lead to generic looking work. This is why it’s so important to remember to let go every so often and just let the pixels fall where they may, because 9 times out of 10, a beautiful, happy accident will occur. Any designer reading this is familiar with the joy of the Happy Accident, when you’re completely tearing your hair out when you can’t crack a layout, or the client feedback just has you stumped. When this happens I like to just go off to the side of my artboard and try a new tool I’ve just learned, or play with some colour or type that’s completely left of field. Then all of a sudden you’ve accidentally layered some shapes over one another and sparked the idea of a solution. When efficiency is drilled into us from day one of our careers, every instinct tells us to find the quickest road from brief to finished art, but sometimes a little detour to silly-town can become a short cut to the finish line.

Marcus Byrne - head of art, Thinkerbell

Einstein once said “Once you stop learning, you start dying”  

When you look at how kids see the world, in early childhood, curiosity drives them to explore, to ask questions, learn and play. However, the traditional education system often beats it out of us, leading many to conform rather than explore. Play is the foundation of learning. By embracing play in our adult lives, we can get back that sense of wonder. I have had many roles within the creative industry, from art direction and design to being a Photoshop educator, 3D, Photography, Motion and now AI. Curiosity is what led me to Australia from Ireland via South America, with extended trips in Asia, India and I’ve been lucky to live in NZ, USA and The Netherlands. Seeing the world through a lens of curiosity is what keeps the fun alive.

In the industry, innovation and creativity are currency, staying ahead of the curve keeps it fresh. Thinkerbell encourages personal development, they have a few initiatives, Pot of Gold, 5K to help bring ideas to life and Mind Expansion, a paid week off to explore and challenge yourself.

Being open-minded and adaptable in the face of new information is important. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Embrace intellectual curiosity and be willing to challenge preconceived notions. Let’s face it, everyone is so serious these days. Not enough playtime. Whether it's through exploring different countries and cultures, delving into the intersection of technology and art to learn, or immersing ourselves in playing music, play is vital to evolve and grow.

Jon Austin, co-founder, Supermassive

‘Fun’ is a tricky word. Agencies that say they’re fun are like agencies that say they’re cool.
In my experience, 9 times out of 10, they’re neither, and ‘fun’ is a thirty minute bong hit of ‘culture’ to numb the crushing tedium of the other nine and half hours.

Fun tends to be something that fits into the tiny spaces between the ‘real work’. 

It happens on every third Friday afternoon unless you have meetings, in which case, work comes first, obviously. 

It’s putting a card behind the bar for an hour, but let’s be sensible please.

It’s the ping pong table stuffed into the corner that you feel too guilty to ever use.

As a word, ‘fun’, at best, makes what we do feel shallow and lightweight, and at worst, has been weaponised against us. 

As such, there’s this divide between the idea of ‘having fun’ and ‘delivering excellence’. 

We’ve been led to believe that the former can’t lead to the latter, and the latter gets rewarded with a taste of the former. And that’s a problem. 

Because the two should be one and the same.

At Supermassive, we’ve set out to be excellent. In pursuit of this, we prioritise values like energy, curiosity, playfulness and optimism in everything we do and in the clients we choose to work with. Because people who feel curious and energetic and optimistic will be inspired to push further, aim higher, and strive for excellence. And fun is a natural by-product of that.

Fun shouldn’t be a forced input into doing work you hate. It should be a natural output of doing work you love.

Simon Lee - CCO and joint owner, The Hallway

The act of playing, and the sense of having fun that comes with it, are not just nice-to-haves or happy accidental bi-products of working in the creative industry; they’re an essential part of the process itself. When you’re playing, your brain’s prefrontal cortex is firing, and fresh sparks of new ideas are flowing. When, instead, your consciousness is filled with the pressure of not screwing up - i.e. when you’re definitely not having fun - generating those sparks of magic can be like getting blood from a stone. 

This poses a unique challenge for creative business leaders who are all too aware of the intense commercial pressures we face, but know that a sense of carefree abandon is essential to our success. 

So how to respond to this tricky predicament? In a nutshell: acknowledge the pressure and consciously choose play - at an individual and organisational level. At The Hallway, we’ve embedded “Fearless Play” as one of our three core values, and are on an ongoing mission to create and nurture a culture that enables this value to be lived by everyone in the agency each and every day. Key to this culture is ensuring that everyone in the team feels psychologically safe in their working interactions - it’s not rocket science: you can't play if you’re not feeling safe! It’s a work in progress, and probably always will be, but since embarking on our Fearless Play journey, our pitch win rate has gone up a gear, our work is better than ever and our awards cabinet markedly fuller. Most importantly though, the pressure’s still there, but coming to work every day is a whole lot more enjoyable.

Nick Hunter - CEO, Paper Moose

We are saving the world one ad at a time by making art and entertainment, what isn't fun about that? Haha, ok, now not every campaign has the opportunity to be outrageously funny or has the budget to be crafted to an inch of its life and is realistically rarely saving the world, so in those times, I find one thing that I can love, an animator once said to me that he always had to find just one thing that he could pour his love and attention into in each project, whether that be the way a shape moves or a nuance of the way a characters walks etc. That has always resonated with me, so I always make sure I find one thing that I can perfect and love in every project no matter the subject matter and as long as I can achieve that, I can feel creatively satisfied.

I also think of a quote from Dune “fear is the mind-killer” I think in our space it is also the creative killer, you need to have a safe space where play is ok, I think if we as creatives are having fun then that is often evident in the final work.

As a senior creative I also think it's important to be able to stay on the tools as much as you can, I like to jump in and direct certain pieces of work or personal projects, as storytellers it helps us remain connected and keeps us sharp.

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