Nicola Merrifield
Jun 27, 2023

Spike Lee reminds adland creatives: your priority is to 'sell shit, by hook or by crook'

Creativity should serve the purpose of selling, says the filmmaker.

Lee: balancing creative standards with sales can be difficult [photo: Getty]
Lee: balancing creative standards with sales can be difficult [photo: Getty]

Advertising professionals should not forget their primary goal is to make money for businesses, according to Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee.

Lee was speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where he was named Honorary Creative Maker of the Year, a new award for 2023.

The film producer and actor, who has also directed TV ads for Nike and Levi’s, said the “trick” for people in the ad industry was to balance their creativity with increasing sales for businesses.

But he acknowledged it was “difficult” for those trying to stay true to their creative standards, while also making sure they are selling products.

Speaking as part of a media event on Thursday organised by campaigning group Black at Cannes, Lee offered advice to advertising industry professionals: “The priority is to make as much money [for brands] as [you] can. If you’re in a position where you don’t do that, then you’ll get fired.”

He added: “This is the trick – how can you be creative [and] at the same time make work that drives product and sales.

“I think we all have to be honest, your job is to sell soap, soup, fast food, electronics. Your job is to sell shit, by hook or [by] crook."

He explained: “We’ve all got standards, so it’s a very difficult position for advertising because the number-one aim is you’ve got to sell shit.”

Lee revealed that his own experience of working with brands and agencies had, at times, led to them “on the subject matter… think[ing] they know more than me”.

It is the “nature of the beast” to have creative differences when making ads, but Lee stressed the importance of ironing out the issues before shooting takes place.

“There have been times where the agency and the brand want to go right and I’m trying to go left but, again, that stuff has to be worked out – in the very first meeting before you get the job.

“You have a vision, let people know your vision so, if they've got a problem with it, they can work it out right there and not do it after things are shot, stuck in an editing room arguing,” Lee said.

Lee has been recognised with the new Cannes Lion award this year for the mark his “extensive and remarkable contributions to filmmaking and television” have left on the creative industry. 

Campaign UK

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