Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Agencies Must Fight For The Right To Be Creative

Ten years ago, I made the decision to open a new business after watching three bad (TV) ads in a row and having a EUREKA moment:
I needed to rid the world of bad advertising.
But how?

I thought of the great campaigns I'd been involved with in my 20 years experience ("great" meaning very creative and astonishingly successful for the brand and business) and tried to isolate what made them possible.

Brave work? Tick
Brave client? Tick
Strong Relationship? Tick

Okay, good.

But what MADE those things possible?

Brave work needs to be sold. Brave work can only be sold by a team that has taken into account the possible risks the brand and business faces, and has mitigated those risks based on the strong possibility of success. This takes skill and wisdom and strategic ability. Equally, a brave marketer needs to have astute evaluation and feedback skills and the ability to hear their instinct over their fear. A strong relationship is based on trust, based on a true belief that the other person knows what they are doing. Look up the word "trust" and you get words like:
  • to rely on
  • to depend on
  • to believe
  • to expect confidently
  • to rely on the integrity, strength, ability of...
This trust goes both ways. The agency has to trust the marketer as much as the other way round. You trust each other.

It's not a blind, stupid, trust. It's a trust based on cumulative experience and knowledge and track records and understanding business.

So the concept of Adtherapy was born: to help marketers and agencies work better together to get the best possible work, because it works better.

I'm not going to rehash the argument of why this is so, (if you want more, you can read my previous post here.)

Just quickly, here's a repeat of some of the cogent points:

The Case for Creativity reported on a research study commissioned by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising) and Thinkbox in the UK and conducted by acclaimed researcher Peter Field in 2010, entitled "The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness". Some key findings were:
  • Only about 0,001% of advertising wins a creative award, yet among highly effective campaigns (in this case winners of an IPA Effectiveness award), 18% are awarded. This means that there's on "over-index of 128,500" of how likely creative campaigns are to be effective.
  • In an analysis of "Excess Share of Voice" (ESOV, which correlates a brand's share of advertising with its share of market, Field found that the "Return On Investment (ROI) for a highly creative campaign is on average 11 times higher". ie... "you need to spend 11 times more on media for an uncreative production" to achieve the same result.
  • And, here's the kicker: Creatively awarded campaigns are more certain to achieve a higher rate of effectiveness by a "degree of confidence of 99.9%" as opposed to to non-awarded campaigns'  degree of confidence of 87%.
"What this implies is that less creative campaigns are not only less efficient, but also less predictable than creatively-awarded ones - something of a departure from the perceived notion that a more creative approach is a less certain one"
James Hurman, Author of the Case for Creativity

In short, creative advertising is much less risky than boring advertising.

But "things have changed in the last decade".

Digital is all pervasive. The word Advertising is a no-no. Content is King. No, Distribution is King. No, CONTEXT is King. There is constant debate about what is King, or Queen or the most important thing in communication today. They're all interesting points and all add to the ongoing evolution in this industry. But to me there is a simple point that's missing.

Luckily, today, two articles addressed this point, albeit in different ways.

Creative is King.

"COO Sheryl Sandberg and her team have been relentlessly experimenting with how to make ads more compelling despite the limitations of small screens. "Creativity’s never been so important," Sandberg says. "When TV ads [first appeared], people thought the creative was important. Then when you moved into online, what really mattered was the targeting. What we’re [now] seeing on the Facebook platform is that it’s both."

Or this one:
"Why have modern marketers shunned what will make them stand apart and define the new century by becoming cold, calculated, and analytical to the point where creativity has been ostracized? 
In this creative age (in which) we are crossing the chasm and entering, creativity is the main differentiator."

In the article quoted above, by Geoffrey Colon, he imagines the characteristics of people he would hire for his own agency, that would define the "new century marketer". They will probably not surprise you. They are:
  1. Intellectually curious
  2. Always listening
  3. Empathetic, inclusive and ethical
  4. Learns, unlearns, relearns
And these wonderful attributes will help solve the problem he raises of marketers becoming more analytical but less interesting. As he says, "machines can do analytics better than any of us will be able to do. But empathy? That’s more difficult for machine learning to mimic."

But wait. 

Agencies HAVE these types of people don't they?

So why are they not allowed to do what they're good at; creating empathetic work that differentiates the brand and connects to consumers' deepest motivations?

That's sadly an easy one to answer. Marketers often under perform in this critical area, that of unlocking the creativity of their agency partners for their own business success. Why?

  • They are disconnected from their consumers.
  • They lack insight.
  • They are prescriptive.
  • They issue terrible briefs due to all of the above.
  • They are not brave. In fact, they are terrified by the stresses of shareholder delivery, Quarter-itis, and internal politics.
  • They lack of evaluation and feedback skills.
  • And so they lack confidence.

The effect of all this on agencies?

Complete demoralisation. Many of the best people I know in the industry feel bowed down, crushed, by their lack of "professional freedom". By which I mean, crushed by clients forcing them to do work they don't believe in, based on their considerable skills, experience and expertise.

The upshot? Good talent will leave the industry. And the industry, and its clients, will be the poorer for it. Or the good agencies will end those oppressive client relationships. Those marketers will get the advertising they deserve. And the true giants, true leaders, will continue to nurture creativity, to innovate and break barriers. And soar.

That's why agencies need to fight for the right to be creative. And when I say fight, I don't actually mean fight! I mean persuade, convince, inspire. Great agencies have to produce great creativity to keep their souls from self destructing. It's their lifeblood. But it's a win-win because it turns out that great creativity is also a key driver of brand success. 

Of course, they shouldn't have to fight. But the fight is real and fight they must.


Adtherapy works with Marketers and Agencies to help them work better together so that they create better work. Contact Gillian Rightford on, +(27)(0)832659099 or visit our website if you want to know more.

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