You Really Believe in Creativity? Then Stop Talking and Start Doing

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Int. day, HOTEL BALLROOM. We are looking down on a large room, swathed in numbing tones of dusty pink. The room is about three-quarters full of people in business attire seated at rows of long tables, facing a stage on which a man speaks at a podium. People shift in their seats; many are bent over tiny keypads on digital devices. The camera lingers on two of them, identifiable as journalists by the deadness of their expressions and a faint stale-alcohol odor. Onstage is Jim Burnham, CMO of CGMP, a major corporation. He's in his late 40s, blandly handsome and sports salt-and-pepper hair and a moderately priced suit. His body language and phrasing, though, are impeccably tailored to convey a whiff of street fighter, although a slight accent betrays a privileged upbringing.

Jim Burnham: ...The realization that we are as much in the business of ideas and culture as selling product. This time of change affords us an opportunity that must not be squandered on half-measures. My heart and my marketing budget are both very big and they belong to true creative partners who have ideas of the same magnitude.

As he finishes, the silence that crept across the room during his talk becomes profound.

Burnham: Those who cleave to the model as we know it have no place in this brand-led cultural revolution. Innovation, creativity and courage are the way forward. There is no follow. Lead with us or get out of the way. Thank you.

Thunderous Applause.

INT. DAY, THREE WEEKS LATER. AD-AGENCY CONFERENCE ROOM. Three men and a woman sit at a table around a conference call speaker listening to the disembodied voice of Brad Lee, marketing manager for CGMP.

Voice: That's all fantastic. I'm sure the director's ideas would have looked great. But we feel that we need to shoot the storyboard as we saw it. And tests indicate that showing a group of people running feels a little alarming. We'll have to make it one person ... walking. And the $200,000 will need to cover the spot, DVD and webisodes. People, we are really excited about this idea.

Any resemblance to advertising persons living or dead is purely intentional. But you probably already know that things are not always as they seem in today's quest for creativity.

Today, you'll often hear marketers trumpeting the importance of creativity in concocting experiences that an audience will actively seek out, enjoy, even share. Marketers go to places like the Cannes ad festival and embrace new creative relationships. All very encouraging.

But if you look more closely, you'll see the mouths and the monies taking separate vacations. For every five marketers I hear speaking at conferences positioning themselves as change agents, demanding new solutions, making bold gestures, I hear 50 people on the creative and production side speaking about the near impossibility of making any meaningful gesture on behalf of most clients due to fear, or a lack of trust.

This is neither an indictment of all marketers, nor a defense of all agencies. It's an observation that even now, in this Wild West creative phase brought about by technology, creativity ain't easy and is too often ill-fueled philosophically or financially.

In a few years when advertising fully becomes Marketing Services and the ROIbots take over, we'll look back wistfully at this period. So, I'll be appearing on this page on a regular basis to spotlight that ballyhooed thing, creativity-citing the people, ideas and work that contribute something more than just rhetoric to the creative dialogue.

Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine. E-mail your big ideas to her at tiezzi@crain.com
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