This just in: Creative is no longer larger than life. This is a bold statement coming from a life-long designer and creative director and the chief creative officer of a major digital agency.
The truth is that the battered economy, the ascent of technology, the need for marketing intelligence and, overall, the ability to better connect with customers on their terms have conspired to end "big creative's" chokehold on the advertising agency. Don't get me wrong, the Big Idea is still critical but in this new era ideas come from a myriad of sources, not least technology, and the days of creative for creative's sake -- the "trust me, I know what I am doing" attitude -- is done.
What we are seeing now is a new era of creative, one that I like to call the age of creative sensibility. Adhering to a creative sensibility means the creative director isn't the only creative voice within the agency. Creative directors may hold the status as the leader of ideas but their outlook on the process has evolved as they begin to embrace collaboration.
The willingness to collaborate not only with their colleagues outside their discipline but also with other agency partners and clients is not a quality that most would associate with the creative director of yesteryear. What we are seeing today is the emergence of a new breed who acknowledge that great ideas come from everywhere -- a member of the agency's technology team, the person manning the phones at the front desk or your partner agency. And it increasingly takes a whole team of often unrelated folks to get it done.
Take a Bank of America campaign called "Morris on Campus" that we worked on at Organic. The financial-awareness campaign was designed to educate and empower students to take control of their finances and bank with confidence in the new academic year. A critical component to the success was the team's ability to successfully collaborate with our Omnicom partners, each of which brought with them a very specific specialty to the table that was essential to the campaign's success.
Perhaps just a surprising as the creative director's embrace of collaboration is the admission of measurement's role in driving campaign success. For years, the creative team and measurement gurus drew on opposite sides of the white board. Now the smart creative director, one who doesn't hide from marketing intelligence behind their big ideas, is embracing strategy and craving analytics and research capable of providing a deeper understanding of the consumer.
What many are finding out is that knowing how consumers prefer to be marketed to before forming a campaign is far more effective than simply cramming what you think is cool down their throats. They are also discovering that the customers themselves can serve as the catalyst of inspiration which in turn results in a winning campaign capable of propelling the brand towards its goals.
AKQA provides a tremendous example of this with its Eco:Drive campaign designed to link drivers with in-car diagnostics in order to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. The effort represents a tremendous example of analytics (i.e. driving data) serving as the genesis of a campaign (rather than in a more reactionary role where it is measuring its performance, post launch) and can then "fuel" a winning creative effort that "drives" meaningful results.
OK to be wrong
Creative directors that embrace collaboration and intelligence will find that the end result to this mindset shift are campaigns that are in-line with the wants and needs of the customers. However, in the event of a misfire, a key third component of the creative sensibility becomes essential: It's OK to be wrong.
There is a sense of knowing when to admit you're wrong, and when to embrace the mistakes of the past in driving the creative of the future. The reality is that most campaigns are in a constant beta mode and it's safe to expect some bumps in the road. The key is to admit defeat, quickly make the needed adjustments and steer the campaign towards success.
The age of creative sensibility marks a dramatic shift from the "big agency" practices of the past and the ideas presented above are really just the tip of the iceberg. In future columns I look forward to expanding these themes and laying out the full creative sensibility doctrine. What you will come to find is that we are in the midst of a massive philosophy change in the advertising industry and success is only possible if the creative director is ready to embrace it.
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Conor Brady is chief creative officer at Organic, an Omnicom agency.