As a practitioner in the advertising and media industry for more than 35 years, I’ve watched the definition of “creativity” (in the advertising sense of the word) fluctuate across the breadth and depth of its intended role and purpose in helping brands communicate and engage better with their intended consumers.
A major source of blame for the inconsistent values placed upon the Art of Creativity has been the evolution of media and the proliferation of its forms and platforms.
The simplified analogue world where my career kicked off had only newspapers, television, radio, cinemas, and posters as mainstay vehicles to amplify what advertisers wanted to shout to the world out there. This is a far cry from the digital arena of the now, where the multiplicity of media manifestations have reached exponential proportions across paid, owned, earned, shared, and converged platforms!
The Art of Creativity has adorned its fair share of preferred personas across distinct periods in time: the “product era” of the 1950s, the “image/impression era” of the 1960s, the “positioning era” of the 1970s, and so on.
Much like art movements such as impressionism, symbolism, cubism, realism, and graffiti, advertising has also evolved through phases where dominant preferences prevail such as strong headlines and short body copy, photo-centric expressions, storytelling advertorials, minimalistic layouts (use of white space), endorsement-oriented campaigns, testimonial-aligned proclamations, and more.
No matter where the journey has taken us, my firm belief is that for creativity to exude the full promise of a bright future, the craft must be fundamentally embellished by the past. Contemporary modernism has clouded many in the industry into being overly concerned by the avalanche of cutting-edge options driven by technology, disruption, terrestrial reach, non-traditional advertising platforms, and social media inferences.
To be distinctly clear about how creativity should be best applied as we take on 2016 and beyond, I recommend a bold step backward for a re-orientation on the fundamental premise of “creativity.”
Having commenced my career in an Ogilvy-linked advertising agency (Meridien), I cannot help but laud what David Ogilvy, whom Time magazine called “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry” in 1962, taught me through his applied principles.
Allow me to quote The Father of Advertising, and I’ll let you be the judge of its relevance for this day and age: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
Ogilvy reminds us not to write ads that merely reek of cleverness without connecting with the consumer. He firmly believed that we should all be treating our audience members as close friends – people who are sitting in front of us: “When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”
He was research-oriented and attempted to fully understand how targeted prospects thought and spoke before even attempting to put an idea down on paper.
Ogilvy was quoted as saying: “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.” I learned from him to never look upon myself as the person my ad is trying to appeal to.
There is nothing more important than seeing through the eyes and walking in the shoes of the customer. “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.”
David Ogilvy stressed the importance of writing great headlines when he said: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
I can’t help but quote the well-documented example of the Rolls Royce advertisement he wrote in 1958 after three weeks of reading and studying all the technical characteristics of the car: “At 60 miles per hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
All said, when we get these fundamentals right, adapting The Art of Creativity across new platforms, devices, formats, and expressions (whether these are analogue, digital, or anything else in between) will be a breeze.
As we kick off this new year — while most soothsayers are heading forth with predictions on wearable technology, personalisation, first-screen mobile, virtual reality, the proliferation of robots, the rise of influencer marketing, and more — I am heading back a few steps to empower a quantum leap ahead!
Steve Williams, CEO, OMD UK Group, put it succinctly well when he said: “Creativity is the marriage of imagination and execution, thinking and doing. Creativity in the context of today’s world is underpinned by the fact that almost anything is possible given technology and platform advances. Technology is changing behaviour, but ideas and how we tell the stories are everything – this is how we influence behaviour.
“As long as we remember that it’s about the idea and the story, not simply the devices or technology, we will create great and enduring ideas. Is there a process to creativity? Yes, process and workflow play their part. Let’s not forget, too, that we ‘unlearn’ creativity as we get older – so it is eminently possible to re-learn!”
For 2016 and beyond, let us constantly re-learn from the gem-filled storehouse of the past!