News & Views

‘Creativity needs Cojones!’ (and other industry bollocks)

by Arif Haq

Recently I was in a big room with a hundred or so brand managers from a blue chip company that discretion forbids me from naming here. They had hired a group of industry experts (their own agencies included) to discuss how they might win more creative gongs in the coming awards season, as they saw them as a critical way of inspiring the best creatives to want to work on their business.

It was an interesting day – with senior management extolling the value of exceptional creativity and yes – awards  with a passion that might make even the most ardent Cannes Lions-baiting ECD blush.

Then in the Q&A came this: ‘So…’ piped up an earnest young brand manager, proceeding with something along the lines of ‘…I’m clear about why creativity can be a powerful tool in driving our business, but is there any advice to how I might deliver it within the practical realities of day to day brand management?’ In other words, ‘Yeah, yeah, I get that creativity is important but how the hell do I make it happen in practise?!’

The response from one of the agency creative directors on the panel was the quote in the title of this article.

Now I’m all for inspiring clients to be braver – it’s a constant theme in my writing here and here, and influenced by my own experience as both an agency account handler and a client. But it struck me at the time that this ‘inspirational’ (and uncomfortably gender-specific) advice was singularly unhelpful to the person that had asked the question. It’s a common trend – we’ve all seen quotes celebrating the wonderful power of creativity on office walls and 'inspirational' LinkedIn posts. The trouble is, although it’s hard to argue against any of them, it’s all a distraction; very few of those trite words actually help anyone practically understand how to make it happen.

At the heart of this lies one overriding truth; the hardest task in this industry falls not to the creatives whose job it is to come up with brave new ideas, but to the marketers who risk their jobs in approving them.

So rather than blaming clients for not having the courage to sign off the best of our industry’s ideas, let’s give them proper ammunition to do so.

First we must show them the evidence to convince themselves and their superiors that it makes business sense to strive for greater levels of creativity. It’s not like we suffer from a lack of arguments; The work of the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, for example, has already made the link between Creativity and Effectiveness in robust terms (the sooner the IPA awards can become a truly global benchmark for creative effectiveness, the better, in my book – anyone who’s seen an Effie submission paper knows they can’t compete with the IPA’s level of rigour).

And second, lets point out that many brands have over-focused on the discipline of the communications development process (e.g. strategic portfolio and product planning, solid briefing templates, platforms to share best practice’ etc) at the expense of the critical personal judgement which must take these mechanical elements and apply them in the real world. Personal judgement applied poorly or well in the process of briefing, approving and selling work to senior management, makes the critical difference between good work and great work. The application of this judgement is the fiercest test of talent and true marketing leadership is impossible without it.

The good news is that personal judgement is not something you have or you don’t – it is a mixture of knowledge, experience and, yes gut instinct, which can be honed over time  a realisation which the most sophisticated marketers have embraced.

For example, a few years ago Heineken International realised that although the mechanics of its marketing processes were world class, their teams needed to upgrade the personal judgement they were using to apply them. They hired Contagious Insider to help and together we identified the need to develop a consistent language with which to discuss creative work with themselves and their agencies. We developed a project to create a new Global Creative Leadership Programme, led by the Heineken Creative Ladder  a tool to benchmark their work regardless of brand or territory  work which was described by AdAge as having, helped the brewer scale creative heights, culminating with the 2015 Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year award.

Heineken is one of the few brand companies taking steps to transform ‘creative bravery’ from a cool slogan to a practical mode of behaviour – if you’d like your brand or client to join them, get in touch.

 

Arif Haq has worked for Contagious Insider for just under three years. Before Contagious, Arif spent a decade in the PepsiCo UK and Europe brand management teams.