Are we scared to be creative?
When I look at all the content that’s out there right now and all the marketing topics and issues it covers, two things strike me. One: there’s one heck of a lot of it. And two: there’s one really important topic that’s conspicuous by its absence. Creative. And I’ve been wondering why.
It seems to me that by far the vast majority of it is devoted to technical, practical, provable things. “10 steps to beat the competition”, “5 ways to improve ROI”, “7 new technologies you need for success” – you know the kind of thing. All science and structure, process and results.
And I stress at this point that this kind of practically-focussed content, properly researched and done well, is extremely useful. We produce a good deal of it ourselves at MOI.
But where are all the content pieces about creative? There are precious few. For such an important part of the marketing process, the subject of creative seems to be avoided. Why?
Is it because it’s hard to say what makes good creative great, or bad creative just plain bad? Is it because it’s not something you can measure, or prove?
In my opinion, creative is the most powerful tool in the marketer’s armoury. All the strategy in the world doesn’t help you if no one knows, remembers or notices your message, even if you have a great product. Good creative gives your message, and your product impact. So if it’s a good product with a good surrounding strategy, it will sell – and sell well. The flip side to that is that if it’s a bad product, then wrapping it in good creative means it will be noticed sooner – and therefore fail faster. Like I said. Creative is a powerful tool.
Maybe that’s why it scares people.
I can’t begin to tell you how many requests we get from clients to push boundaries, do something different , be radical… But when it comes to making the decision on which creative to give the green light to, often they’re not ultimately brave enough to go for the new idea!
Alternatively, your great new idea that the client loved in theory, is subjected in reality to systematic neutering. All it takes is for one person in the organisation to doubt one detail in the idea, then others will start to doubt it too. Little by little, a great and fresh idea is chipped away behind the scenes until it’s almost unrecognisable. For agencies, one of the hardest things is to build an idea up until it’s so strong it can’t be pulled down. Even once you’ve sold it in, it’s hard to keep the original idea sold.
So why else are people scared?
Because you’ll get noticed. You’re sticking your head up above the parapet. What if people don’t like it? What if it fails? What if you get the blame for screwing up? I used to do a lot of work for Procter & Gamble, and when we created ads for Ariel, they were all frustratingly similar. Looked at from the brand manager’s point of view, it was understandable why they played safe. If there was a drop of just 1% in sales, that drop represented millions of pounds. What if you were the one who gave the green light to an ad that cost you that 1%? What else might it cost you?
The famous advertising line “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” plays brilliantly to a buyer’s fear of failure and is the reason why IBM left their competition standing for years. But as brilliant a piece of emotional B2B marketing as that was, the idea perpetuated the notion of safety in itself. People bought IBM because they were too scared to buy anything else. To have any chance of competing, IBM’s rivals would have to find a way of challenging and changing buyer behaviours and perspectives. What if, to go back to my Ariel example, instead of fearing a 1% dip in sales, you went for the creative idea that could give your figures a 5% uplift?
John Hegarty famously said: “We don’t sell things to people, we persuade people to want to buy”.
It’s about finding the creative idea that triggers behavioural change and playing with that trigger to make people act.
So be brave. You’ll have a profound effect.
I’ll end on a couple of no-fear examples that I particularly like. There are more in B2C than in B2B right now, but the B2B gems are out there too. We just need more of them.
I congratulate the B2C creatives who sold in the Joan Collins diva-in-the-locker-room idea to Snickers
And from the B2B space, Adobe’s “click addiction” ad is genius.
Fear holds business back. But the brave few who do go with a great creative idea can sweep up a huge share of target audience in return.
It’s all about having conviction.
A concept is like a defenceless baby. We have the conviction to embrace it, nurture it and help it to grow big and strong.