Creativity is everywhere, but advertising needs special talent

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The dictionary defines creativity as ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness‘.

It also defines ‘art’ as ‘works produced by human creative skill and imagination‘. We usually considers literature, paintings and extraordinary writing or architecture as ‘works of art’.

In the world of advertising, creative talent – writers, art directors and designers were considered to be a separate ‘department’. They were responsible for generating ideas and creative assets such as, print ads, TV scripts, hoarding designs, logos and so on. After digital became a thing the output expected includes websites, social media posts, short-form & long-form videos and projects which rely on technology too.

Over the last few years, the concept that ‘everyone is creative’ or ‘a great idea can come from anywhere’ has also gained currency in advertising. And now thanks to the ubiquitous mobile phone, cheap data plans and the rise of social media platforms, the world is discovering new creative talent everyday. We see creative output from regular folks blessed with talent in writing, film production, music, dance, painting or photography.

Can advertising creative be created by anyone? No.

Is being creative the same thing as ‘being creative’ in advertising? I think not. Firstly, even in a creative-driven industry like advertising, while anyone who contributes to the final product can display creative thinking or finding creative solutions to a problem. The account person may identified a unique brand opportunity, the planner may have unearthed a refreshing insight or provided a great direction to think on for the creative team. But ultimately it is the team responsible for the output – the TV script, print ad, radio spot or the YouTube video which has to deliver. And that calls for a special talent.

An ability to write well, doesn’t automatically mean that such a person can craft a print ad or write a script for a radio spot. Of course, there are examples of people who have made that transition but as a general rule being creative in general, is not a good enough to acquire the title of a copywriter.

What is special about advertising creative?

Advertising is creative with a commercial purpose [‘purpose’ as in goal and not the lofty, higher order purpose that we hear often now]. Despite the importance of number crunching, quantitative research, programmatic advertising and the rise of math men, I still believe creative is at the heart of the advertising industry. Sadly, I am not sure if the ad industry folks believe it themselves anymore.

Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

Bill Bernbach

Businesses launch products or services assuming or believing there is a need and a market for such. They have confidence in their wares. But do ad agencies have clarity or belief about what their product is? Most enterprises can do on their own, all that an ad agency can do, except one thing: creative. Brand strategy documents, media planning & buying can be done without the help of specialist creative teams. But even if a brand approaches a film production house directly to execute a film, they still require the services of a creative brain who can craft a TV script which meets the brand’s business objectives.

Creativity with a business goal and other restrictions

A funny Instagram video, a good stand up comedy act or a funky music video – created by regular folks have one thing different from advertising: the lack of a need to work to a brand brief and other constraints. Nowadays, such talent is seen as competition to advertising – sometimes rightly so.

The best of advertising creative is a culmination of all these:

  • A powerful universal insight into human behaviour
  • An understanding of the business need of the brand, market challenges and competition’s strengths & weaknesses
  • A sharp, well-defined business problem or opportunity to address
  • A creative idea that addresses the business problem or opportunity
  • An output that is clutter-breaking, compelling or entertaining and evokes an emotion – persuading consumers to think or feel in a particular way or take action
  • Strategic and creative thinking to produce distinct, ownable brand assets in the form of a logo, tag line, sound or any other form of mnemonic
  • Working within the constraints of multi-level approval processes, budget limitations and more
  • Mastery of the medium in which the creative is meant to be seen, heard or experienced – using it to the brand’s advantage

The list could go on. It is certainly not an easy task to produce effective advertising creative. I am not sure if ad agencies themselves have positioned what they bring to the table, the value they add sufficiently enough with clients so as to charge a premium. Enterprises are likely to pay top price for the recommendations of a consultant on brand strategy while tending to bargain with the ad agency, which can produce brand building creative ideas, to cut retainer fees.

In 2018, some of the brands short listed for the Best Long-term Campaign category at The Drum Advertising Awards were these:

  • Audi: ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’
  • Nike: ‘Just Do It’
  • Specsavers: ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’
  • McDonald’s: ‘I’m Lovin’ It’
  • Red Bull: ‘Gives You Wings’
  • Dove: ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’

I would add as my favourites:

  • KitKat: Have a Break
  • Surf [or Persil in some markets]: ‘Dirt is good
  • Snickers: ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’
  • Intel: ‘Intel Inside’

As you can see these have helped create huge recurring businesses for enterprises. It takes a special kind of creative talent to think through such. That’s why user-generated creative hasn’t been a huge success save for some contributions on logos and such like. There too, success is more likely if the general public already has a reference point or brand idea. The power of a distinctive brand asset can be gauged by these outdoor creatives:

Or this tag line and great imagery associated unmistakably with one brand:

Creative thinking and creativity is all around us. But it calls for a special talent to create business-building brand ideas within the constraints of a brand strategy and business brief. It needs to be celebrated beyond just the advertising awards.

Do share your thoughts.

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