Work of the Week: 'Kill Your Darlings' investigates the relevance and reinvention of the creative agency model

Work of the Week: 'Kill Your Darlings' investigates the relevance and reinvention of the creative agency model

Kill Your Darlings

If you didn't already know (I didn't) the phrase 'Kill your darlings' exists in the world of writing and means to get rid of an unnecessary storyline, character, or sentences in a piece of creative writing—elements you may have worked hard to create but that must be removed for the sake of your overall story.

Although not immediately obvious, once you know what this film is about, it's the perfect title. 

Presented at Cannes last week, the film is about modern advertising where Anouk Jans, a creative director, explores why she is unfulfilled in the industry she loves. She is disillusioned and exhausted, creatively, rather than inspired and enriched.

The film is 40 mins long and includes frank conversations with some of the industry's most well-known, respected and experienced creative leaders. 

It's well worth a watch.


Passionate about advertising, Anouk got a job at an agency, wildly excited about making change. Six months in, working 7 days a week and spending too many waking hours on the phone, she found it wasn't all she hoped for.

The film explores her personal frustrations but more widely, it lays bare the conversations within the industry about the agency model.

Whether the agency model is cracking/changing/reinventing itself has been under discussion for some time now. This film moves the conversation on by taking a slightly assumptive stance that the change has already happened, and looking at what comes next.

To be honest, the forty minutes flew by. It's very engaging and Anouk is so authentic, it's very easy to watch her on this journey, and feel part of it.

In a series of short interviews, Anouk talks to a number of ad glitterati about advertising, the agency model and why it's not working for her.

Digging into big agency burn-out and why the agency model is built this way, it begins with an interview with Scott Galloway, professor of marketing, NYU Stern. He is synonymous with predictions so Anouk asks for his thoughts on the future of the advertising industry.

Will we reach a new peak in creativity?

He says no. Horses didn't come back. Many things are gone forever.

I get the point but to be fair, horses may not have come back, but now we have cars!

This, to my mind, is just the natural order of things. Isn’t it all just part of the evolutionary process?

He believes advertising is on its way out - albeit slowly - and artificial intelligence is what will replace it. "It will track our behaviour and serve us the exact right product at the exact right time.

Greg Hahn of New York Mischief founder fame and Bianca Giumaraes, partner and ECD, try and strip it back. 

Their observation is about how working in a closer, more intimate relationship with their clients has changed everything for them—how they interact with each other and the work they create. Again, not a new or complicated idea but when it moves from a soundbite to an agency culture and attitude, it makes a real, tangible difference.

Will this lead the industry down a new path that some have been craving?

Jessica Spence describes herself as an agnostic when it comes to where ideas come from—she doesn't care. 

As President of Brands at Beam Suntory, she wants the best brains for her brands. Now - as opposed to before - she is of the mind that going to a big agency no longer guarantees that. She says the problem has been, partly, that people thought it was something that could be scaled. She also points out that these agency behemoths are actually not the destination anymore for young, creative, great minds fresh out of college.

Germany Lancaster, art director, BBDO & D&AD Shift alum says keep diversity in the room—and those who get to the table need to stay. Diverse communities are "not just there to identify what is culturally inappropriate, they're there to contribute" and have the rich experience by which to do so.

One thing we must not ever lose sight of is the talent—talent that can drive business.

Karin Onsager-Birch, VP of Creative at Lyft says the model will keep evolving. The shape of that talent is less important, as long as it is there.

Anouk says we can hear the cracking of the big agency networks. This has been said before, but somehow this film identifies it as a reality, not just a concept.

David Sable, co-founder Do-Able thinks the death of the agency model is bullshit.

Say what you think David. 

It was nice to step out of the echo chamber for a moment and consider if, actually, the conversation is redundant. Everything is actually fine—the model is fine, great work is still being created and there's no need to try and reinvent the wheel.

He thinks this conversation is old and if you are not feeling the love from your agency/client/industry, you are in the wrong place. 

He is of the belief that you only burn out if you let yourself burn out. He says he will puke if he hears the agency model is broken and that when a new model is created, he challenges us to take a closer look—IT'S THE SAME MODEL.

Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn says the old world order will never change because at the top is a community of white guys, talking to other white guys who reap the benefits and so are unlikely to instigate change.

The answer, according to Gallop, is to reinvent outside of the system. 

Make your agency what you want the whole industry to be. It's very much two-fingers-up to the status quo—go create the agency you, and everyone else needs.

Changing narrative.

The narrative moves from despondent and lacking, to questioning if it is really that bad, to seeing real people continuing to gamble and go out on their own—not singularly revolutionary but they're becoming an army of people stepping out that will soon be the norm, and the majority, and potentially a new kind of industry.

Anselmo Ramos, founder and creative chairman of GUT, is a strong believer in possibilities. The conversation with him is full of positivity and he believes if you have that, you can achieve anything.

Uncommon co-founder Nils Leonard - a prolific creator very much part of this new kind of industry alongside co-founders Natalie Graeme and Lucy Jameson - believes "creatives, at their heart, just want to matter...and play a part" so if agencies don't support that, creatives will leave and he is a fan of that. 

Anouk begins to recognise that the routine and structure she thought advertising needed, is not. That it is, in fact, a cage.

So, she quits.

And along with many others in the industry, she's on a new journey searching for - and hopefully contributing to - the creation of a role that embodies the change she wants to be part of.

It's beautifully filmed with a natural flow to it, and within the individual conversations too. Less staged. More unscripted. Notably imperfect. 

I feel like I've walked around with Anouk and these people have been speaking to me. We're most certainly on the journey with her.


Original idea: Ped Pedersen
Directed by:
Adam Bonke, Christian Bonke
Executive Producer:
Emil Walter

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