Frameworks, freedom and the conditions for creative excellence 

AMV BBDO’s heads of strategy, Lola Neves and Sam Williams, on breaking the rules to protect creativity

Advertising is not art. So why does creativity matter to advertising?

Fundamentally it achieves two things that improve the effectiveness of the work. It increases the likelihood that the work will get noticed, and it creates an emotional response. Why do these things matter? Well, emotion sells better than anything else (thank you, Les Binet and Peter Field). And if you don’t get noticed, everything else is academic. As Dave Trott said, ‘It’s our job to make them notice. It’s not their job to notice.’

So creativity is fundamental to the business of creating effective advertising.

But what is creativity? According to Google it is ‘​​the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness’. So it is about originality. Bravery. Daring. It is about being different. And it is this difference that holds the key to transforming how we feel about the world we live in and the products we engage with.

Both originality and emotion require humanity. To be original requires a person to know the rules and break them. To create emotion requires people to empathise and feel. And it’s a feeling which tells us when something is a good idea. When you see great work it moves you. You get goosebumps.

But originality and emotion are under attack. In fact, the humanity in advertising is under attack. More and more often we have to go through a box-ticking exercise of best-practice rules before anything will get made. Literally, a machine telling us how to make everything more similar to everything else. Process, best-practice, algorithms and too much pointless research, risk cutting off the sharp edges of an idea, neutralising the bits that make it interesting and diluting everything into a sea of sameness where nothing is noticed or felt.

This isn’t to say that rules don’t have a role. Of course they do. They can be the jumping off point for creative thinking and they can be the checks and balances that make sure the work doesn’t fail on a silly oversight (like accidentally forgetting to brand it – whoops). They are the rules we have to know in order to break them in the right way. But they are not the destination. Sadly, research often kills more creativity than it supports. Libresse’s ‘#Wombstories’ famously scored 1 out of 5 in System1 testing. So did Macmillan’s ‘Whatever it Takes’. Guinness’ ‘Surfer’ was a research non-starter. Rules should be used alongside human judgement and intuition not valued over them. When they are, it leads to us, the people who make the work, feeling afraid, frustrated and unsafe.

And there’s the rub. Because we need to feel safe to be creative. Because from safety comes freedom. And from freedom comes originality. Freedom to break the rules and be creative. So to create the conditions for consistently great creativity we need to refocus on the people who make the work and ensure that they feel safe.

How? Here are a few starters.

Firstly, not too much process but instead freedom within a framework of tools, models and conventions where your thinking can adapt to the problem you are trying to solve.

A set of shared goals between client and agency, where it’s ok and encouraged to challenge the status quo.

A culture of support rather than a culture of fear, where the people you work with have your back and you have theirs.

And, finally, space. The time to think about it. The room to imagine something different. The space to feel. The space to create goosebumps.

This article was downloaded from the Contagious intelligence platform. If you are not yet a member and would like access to 11,000+ campaigns, trends and interviews, email [email protected] or visit to learn more.