Does creativity sell?
Brands that play it safe often fail to stand out in a world where businesses are becoming increasingly vanilla. Don’t turn your back on the role of creativity, says Ashgrove’s Terry van Rhyn.
When we talk about creativity, we are in the realm of the subjective. Too often creative work is dismissed as being “all warm and fuzzy”, especially by risk-averse bean-counter types. But, done well, creativity can deliver directly to the bottom line – and it’s not just me that believes it.
David Ogilvy, guru of the golden age of Madison Avenue advertising, was clear about this. “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative,” he said. “As marketers, we’re necessarily creatives. We’re writers and designers with a love for the clever turn of phrase or the well-placed pun.”
But he also recognised that the application of creativity was just as important as the creation itself: “The most creative, clever, insightful ad in the world, if it isn’t talking to the right people or hitting the right pain points, isn’t worth making.”
It is very easy to get it wrong. More often than not this is because you are playing it safe and trying to cover too many selling points or pander to everyone and their dogs.
Creativity is all about simplicity. Distil your message down to the essence of your key proposition and provoke interest so people want to learn more. When an ad ticks all the creative boxes your brand message will be more memorable, for longer and will be talked about and enjoyed.
The frustrating news for the bean-counters is that there is very little empirical data to make the connection between a creative ad campaign and sales. This is partly due to the fact that creativity by its very nature is subjective.
But there’s no question that a memorable creative ad or message, targeting the brand’s key target audience will harvest the desired result. It is all about understanding who you are talking to and knowing which buttons to press.
Oligivy himself was a master at this. When he created a campaign for Rolls Royce campaign, the headline read: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
I can just imagine the client’s angst when this was proposed. But here is the kicker: it actually says more about the product quality and value than droning on about the vehicle specifications.
Often clients tense up when I suggest we need to create a single-minded message to encapsulate the brand essence. To be fair, on their side they are preoccupied with meeting KPIs and justifying ROIs which can encourage a general risk-averse attitude.
And there is a certain amount of courage required to make a call on a cutting-edge creative concept or idea – especially in these uncertain times when playing it safe is commonplace. Much will depend on whether you trust your creative partner.
For us in the agency world, client reticence is nothing new. I experienced this back in the 90s working on multi-national brand accounts where ad campaigns had to be researched with endless focus groups until every last drop of creativity was squeezed out of the original concept before it was launched.
There is simply no chance that creativity or innovation will survive any form of group decision-making process.
Creativity is not a numbers game – there is no specific formula to how it evolves or how a result is achieved. Many stars need to align for it to be truly exceptional – it has to strike the right note at the right time, to inspire the right audience to do the right thing.
The “magic” is something more felt than explained which is not a natural or easy fit in a boardroom environment.
Trade magazine Marketing Week also covered this subject earlier this year and quoted Sir John Hegarty, co-founder of the British agency, BBH, who believes an obsession with data has led to marketers “stalking” consumers rather than inspiring them.
“Creativity is the oxygen which drives business,” Mr. Hegarty said. “Unless you engage with that, you won’t go on developing, you won’t go on innovating, you won’t go on doing things that a business has to do. It won’t be challenged.”
Think of the ads that have stood out in recent years. Cadbury’s drumming gorilla, Evian’s dancing babies, the Budweiser frogs or Whassup friends, the Haribo adults with kid’s voices. All of these took a risk but they brought a smile to my face and I still remember the messages.
Then there is the more emotional British Heart Foundation ad with the boy Ben in the classroom – it will get you every time through its simplicity, impact and effective creative execution.
The message is to avoid your ads becoming wallpaper, boring and the same as everyone else’s. Don’t play it safe. Equally, don’t try and tell your life story in an ad. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
Instead, do something that will capture the imagination and inspire those you are targeting. Be creative.