Where Has All the Super Creative Gone?

Tips for Making Memorable Work

By Published on .

Tom Martin Tom Martin
On Sunday night, like many Americans I was plopped on the sofa watching the Super Bowl of advertising. Thankfully the game was memorable, as the ads for the most part were not. Considering the vast amounts of money and attention these spots receive, the efforts were largely small thoughts with big production budgets. Which reminded me of a story that USA Today ran about six months ago.

The story was their editor's list of the top 25 commercials from the last 25 Years. There is no real discussion of what qualified as "a great spot" other than the judges easily remembered it. While many of the spots should definitely be on the list, others are arguable at best, and frankly they missed a good many more that should have been there.

I'm sure everyone reading this post can add his or her fair share of "great spots" to the USA Today list too. We all can think of spots and campaigns that have transcended advertising to become pieces of our culture.

But what I found most alarming about their list was of the top 25 commercials they listed:
  • 16 were produced in the '80s
  • 6 were produced between 1990-1993
  • 2 were produced between 1994 and 1995
  • Only 1 was produced in 1999
  • No commercials produced after 1999 made the USA Today top commercial list
Further, if you were to make your own list of additions or replacements, you'll likely find that most of those too were produced pre-2000. Which begs the question, why? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

Personally, I think we should focus on five key initiatives that, combined, would result in more memorable ads.
  1. More time: We all bemoan this, bitch about it and look for ways to fight it, but the truth is that we just don't have the luxury of time to develop and execute our ideas. As technology makes everything faster, clients are taking that time away from us and giving themselves permission to start the creative process late or go through endless rounds of revisions instead of giving it to us for more time to think (which should be the goal of technological efficiency). Of course, if more time is given to us, we must properly manage our own systems to ensure we're not wasting that time.

  2. Technology: Let's face it, with the affordability and power of technology, it has become easy to allow form to outweigh function. Memorable ads are about having a great, simple thought that penetrates the psyche and sticks. In a time before digital effects, the big, simple, memorable idea was all a creative had. Today, that same creative can just make it really, really shiny. You saw a lot of this during the Super Bowl this year.

  3. Favor Impacts over Impressions: Apple got it with the 1984 spot and still gets it today. Can anyone imagine recommending to a client, "Let's create a million dollar spot and then only air it once." today?

  4. Leadership: Quit whining about the diminishing role and importance of CMO's as well as advertising's place at the table over the last decade. Do something. Agency leaders need to frame our work in business not creative terms. We need to help clients understand when they need a big idea and when they just need an ad. And we need to provide sound, evidence-based recommendations for why clients should trust our rather informed opinion.

  5. Training: We need to invest in it. Big thinking is a skill and we need to foster it. At every level of our agencies we need to be pushing our staffers to get better, smarter and more creative in how they solve Client communication challenges.
It's harder than ever to do truly great work, the kind of work that is remembered 20 years later.

But by focusing on these five key steps, I think we'll see more of our recent work make lists like the USA Today compendium.
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