The Great Beauty and the soul of the Ad Industry

Recently I watched Paolo Sorrentino’s 2014 film The Great Beauty on Netflix. A meditation on humanity’s relationship to beauty which has us following the dapper party-king and writer Jep’s existential crisis around the fading opulence of Berlusconi’s Rome, the film takes us into the lives of an ageing group of artists and intellectuals who have largely squandered their gifts in favour of hedonism and the status and power to be able to make parties ‘fail.’ This journey towards spiritual redemption through recognizing the sublime nature of existence and the power of beauty is an important film for those who care deeply about the advertising industry.

Jep, officially a novelist although he has writtern only one book some thirty years ago and relied on earnings from gossip-journalism and art reviews ever since for income, has become consumed by the narcistic stagnancy of Rome’s artistic community and finds very little that is geniune and nourishing to the soul. Triggered by the news that his first, and possibly only love has passed away confessing in her personal diary that she never stopped loving him, Jep is confronted by a sense of spiritual emptiness that can’t be filled by alcohol, partying, drugs, sex or religion. Reflecting on his youth in possibly Eurpoe’s most culturally and artistically crucial city, Jep visits everything from museums after dark to strip clubs. Being suave and intelligent has consumed the best parts of his character which manages to render him simultaneously sociable and aloof. Following the unexpected death of an ageing stripper with whom he was having a brief affair, an eldery woman stops to ask him ‘who will look after you now?’- and that’s what he has become, someone to look after rather than someone to actually live with and revel in life’s remarkable moments. He has created before and was a roaring success, his novel The Human Apparatus is lauded by his contemporaries as a modern classic and his journalism seems to be well recieved. There is however a sense of unfufilled potential that seems to have been suffocated out by his relationship to the city of Rome. He appreciates the beauty of the city through the lens of his own narcissism, seemingly more enthused that he is able to get exclusive access to the museums at all hours of the night than he is about the art itself. Jep goes treads a painful path through grief, bitterness and existential funk before his redemption culminates in starting his second novel at the end of the film.

It is not only the breathtaking cinematography of Luca Bigazzi and overall peerless aesthetic of the film that the men and women of the ad industry should try to observe and absorb but also the underlying theme- the redemptive qualities of beauty and the sublime nature of human existence.This is not a piece that aims to put creativity on a pedestal or minimize the importance of Sir Sorrel’s ‘Math Men’– technology should be harnessed for the benefit of agencies and their clients and the tools afforded to us by ‘Big Data’ may yet prove to be valuable. This is a call for creatives and those who got into the industry ‘to do great work’ as the agency Mother’s motto goes, to remember what it is they do and that all of the clients, data analysts, planners and account managers (including myself) can’t. Data collected and analysed properly is a great starting point for reaching the right people in the right way and the practical targets must always be the end point but we all got into this industry to make amazing, beautiful, innovative and striking work. Without this in mind creativity becomes relegated to after-work drinks posted on Instagram and well-worded emails.

Creativity exists in the conjecture between facts and can’t be painted in numbers. We’d all like to clock-off at six and slide into a rooftop party in some swanky European city but we must remember that we are in the business of creating the best work that our imaginations will allow and giving businesses the beautiful face that they need to seduce the consumer.