Creative Is Better Than It Used to Be, and That's Good Business

Some Observations During Judging Creativity Magazine's Upcoming Awards

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I had earnestly hoped to be spending this column on a recap of the second-annual Creativity Awards. Our magazine launched said awards last year to recognize great brand ideas outside the confines of media-based categories, which are becoming less and less relevant for the evaluation of brand creativity in its ever-expanding forms. As it's awards season and all, what a timely subject, I thought. What a quick and easy column to write.

But we're not announcing the winners until our event, which takes place May 13, one day after this column went to press. So, I'll make do with a few observations -- my own and our awards jurors' -- that came out of the awards process and speak to the general state of creativity now.

Creativity means business
The smartest creatives I know are the ones who are maniacally driven by business results. Some of our winners and a good chunk of the work in contention this year bore this out. About one of the winners, juror Iain Tait of London said: "We should be recognizing an innovation that's both a marketing thing and a business thing. We need to keep looking out for things that behave and act differently rather than just talking differently. ... We should be showing that we're about creative business not just creative advertising."

Juror Nancy Vonk, co-chief creative officer of Ogilvy, Toronto, also spoke of the bigger business value of creativity. "The starting point for any project should be media-neutral and ideally begins as soon as the client's problem or opportunity presents itself. Screw the 'brief.' I see that piece of paper, weeks or even months in the making, as a giant speed bump between the agency and a great idea. Just tell us the problem and let us have at it. The 'duh' here is that agencies have to stop behaving like ad agencies. We can be seen as our client's best possible problem solvers for any creative solution they may need. And that can include ideas for anything from new products to how to improve working conditions for farm workers who grow the cotton for the fashion brand's clothing. Then there's the need to be proactive. Most clients have opportunities and problems that haven't even occurred to them but could be brought forward by the agency, always with a solution attached."

Once again: no, it wasn't better back in the day
Whatever way you measure it, advertising has gotten better. There are more innovative ideas and better execution. That doesn't mean there isn't as much crap as there's always been. It means the good stuff is as good as or better than the good stuff from (insert the era in which you came of age and during which you think everything was better). That goes for the good old TV spot too. Said judge Colleen DeCourcy, chief digital officer for TBWA Worldwide, on judging highlights: "What stood out? The TV. As an industry, we still do inspired film."

Whether or not you think story-based film/video content is still relevant (it is), damn, there were some great films. The lament that the industry, in its rush to keep up with what's next, has forgotten how to produce a great spot is way overstated. There was a healthy list of superb spots that didn't even finish in the money this year. The spots that won were truly excellent -- for any era.

Juror Jelly Helm, executive creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., summed it up: "The baseline is higher. Craft, competence -- there's a lot of it out there. Everyone has permission to make wonderful work. It's not the exception anymore; it's mainstream. As the nature of the show confirms -- ideas first -- it's an open, experimental time, full of innovation. ... It's an awesome time."

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and Creativity-Online.com.
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