There are plenty of articles that will tell you how important creative is; that if you fail to engage, you fail to communicate anything. As Dave Trott frequently points out, it’s rather simple: you must gain attention; then communicate; then persuade. Similarly, Gestalt theory – which states we make sense of things by organising them into groups – says that if you start with a communication that is pretty much like everything else in the category, then you fail at the first hurdle.
But while I certainly agree it’s important to stand out, I prefer to think about advertising as a series of communications that build a relationship with an audience. Which means standing out isn’t always the be all and end all. In fact, I think creativity has a far more valuable role to play in our business. In a consistent theme from my last blog, which focussed on CRM, things start to feel different if you transpose your thinking about advertising relationships to human relationships. So here too, it would be technically valid to think in terms of friendship, love and family.
If we look at all marketing through this lens, we can develop some interesting parallels. One is that brand communications are akin to gifts; an expression of our courting, gratitude or appreciation. So you should ask yourself whether you are giving your audience the brand version of a bland birthday card with money in the envelope or a surprising, truly heartfelt present.
They know you’ve spent a lot on that TV ad, that sponsorship or that clever automated email series. But if it shows no understanding of them, no appreciation of them, and no imagination, you become the distant uncle, name unremembered, who tries to cling on to relevance during your changing life through bigger but not better bribes for attention.
It is generally true that communications will go through brand control, who measure the comms against a clear list of what does and does not make up the brand’s personality. I vehemently agree that this is a good idea. But we should be putting all brand communications through creative control as well. Does this communication inspire, interest, excite? Or is it just content to remind our audience that we exist? Doing the former involves risk, but I believe taking no risks is itself a route to crisis.
Only 4% of advertising is remembered positively. That’s a pretty alarming statistic. With around £18 billion spent on advertising a year, that’s around £17 billion of wasted money. Creating communications that are actually creative is all too often considered optional, and frequently to be avoided. But spending billions on communications that are not remembered, let alone appreciated, is a failure that our industry highlights all to infrequently. But this is failure, and it should be vilified.
We’ve all bought loved ones gifts that missed the mark and the intelligent reaction to this is to use it as a springboard to find out why. In my experience there is generally a sense of gratitude that you tried, and invested your time and imagination to go past the voucher rack in WHSmith.
Our audiences are intelligent. They know you can’t know them inside out. They also know being creative isn’t easy, and they not only respect but admire and sometimes love brands that both try and succeed. With the Olympics coming up, it feels appropriate to make a sporting point to finish. In the field of creativity, as in the field of sport, there is a sin far greater than losing, and that is not to try at all.