Towards a triadic creative role: Hong Kong advertising creatives' responses to the rise of social media
Lee, Pui Yuen
The rise of social media has significant implications for the advertising industry, particularly for the relationships between marketers, consumers and advertising agencies. In fact, the entire advertising landscape has been developing in response to the emergence of digital technologies and advertising media, and the roles of these key stakeholders of the advertising industry and how they perform in the social media era are still not clear. Most previous research on this topic has focused on Western countries and adopted a macro perspective. In contrast, this study contributes to knowledge by focusing on an Asian context, and by exploring how social media are shaping the working lives of individual creatives who play a key role in the development of creative ideas and their expression across an increasingly diverse range of media. This study aimed to explore how and to what extent the work roles and identities of Hong Kong-based advertising creatives are changing in response to the rise of social media. As the study focused on creatives’ experiences, a qualitative, interpretive approach was taken. This involved 32 interviews with advertising creatives in agencies differing in size, digital focus and ownership, supplemented with participant observations in both a multinational full-service advertising agency (Agency-M) and an independent Hong-Kong digital agency (Agency R). The study has provided insights into creatives’ perspectives on their roles, identities, skill-sets and beliefs in relation to the rise of social media, and on the ways in which their relationships with clients and agency colleagues were changing as social media became more important. In particular, the study identified three key experiences of Hong Kong advertising creatives in relation to the rise of social media. First, they were found to have divergent role identities linked to their identification with traditional and digital communication agencies. Second, the rise of social media led them to experience new tensions in their relationships with clients. Finally, across both traditional and digital agencies in Hong Kong, the role of advertising creatives is beginning to transcend the digital/traditional distinction. This new hybrid role was found to involve creative switching between three identities over the course of the advertising development process: creative strategist, creative facilitator, and creative producer. Each of these role identities required more from them than the merging of ‘digital’ and ‘traditional’ creative skills; in particular, the creatives increasingly found themselves having to work closely with a broader range of stakeholders within and beyond their own agencies, requiring them to develop their interpersonal and negotiating skills. This research contributes to understanding the role and role identity in creative industries. It explores the many ways that social media are shaping advertising creatives’ working practices and identities, and it highlights the importance of cultural context to advertising practice. The triadic structure of contemporary Hong Kong advertising creatives’ roles identified here has implications for theorising advertising creativity, agency practice, and social media as a catalyst for individual and organisational identity and practices in the creative industries. The findings also have implications for advertising agency structure and practices, within and beyond the creative department.