Opinion

Creativity is a serious business: from shape-shifting cars to creating compelling content

As Marketing explores creativity and design in its April issue, editor Rachel Barnes discusses what creativity means in the digital age and why we should all embrace these "disruptive, messy, exciting and sometimes uncomfortable and challenging" times.

Rachel Barnes is editor of Marketing
Rachel Barnes is editor of Marketing

Creativity is not the fluffy side of business. You’re probably the last people that need to hear this and I’d be amazed if anyone out there - from brands to agencies - didn’t consider themselves, or at least aspire to be thought of, as a creative marketer.

Underlining just how vital creativity is to serious business, we have themed our April issue of Marketing around design and creativity, the art and the science behind what makes marketing such an enthralling part of business today.

Provoke and inspire

Creativity is about finding a brand’s core essence and expressing it in a powerful way - it's about a behaviour, a performance, a show, with the ability to provoke and inspire

Creativity, of course, is not just about producing a beautiful ad. Mary Portas, who is our Creativity curator this month, believes that creativity is about finding a brand’s core essence and expressing it in a powerful way. "When I say powerfully, I do not mean a big, 60-second creative solution. I’m talking about a behaviour, a performance, a show, with the ability to provoke and inspire. Like the "clickable catwalk" from Burberry – which is dismantling all our notions about fashion."

Certainly when you take a look at the great creative minds in our Design Trends feature, you’ll note the intense focus placed on this area by certain businesses.

Take McLaren Automotive, design and creatively are the driving force (excuse the pun) of the entire company. From cars that will change shape to exteriors that can be any colour to suit your mood. "The car starts to become at one with you; it creates a bond, and driving becomes much more of a personal experience," says the brand’s director of design Frank Stephenson.

Creativity is the lifeblood of business

McLaren understands that creativity is so far from being the fluffy, colouring-in department: it should be the lifeblood of each and every business.

And creative marketers should seize on that. They should be pushing creativity from all corners of the business, whether it’s advertising, programmatic media buying or harnessing the power of tech.

I believe this is especially true as more companies move towards this idea of working in beta. "You have to keep updating and refreshing the quality of your output, because every three to six months  new concept emerges," explains IBM’s innovation officer Hugo Pinto.

Although there is a risk, he says, that exponentially higher speed of change means it’s impossible to keep up with the transformation, and you just become an ideas factory.

Contagious charm of the vloggersphere

The very best creative work, the kind that sends shivers down your spine, emerges from a fiery pit in which egos and talent smash pitilessly into one another

One interesting viewpoint, explored by Helen Edwards, is that vlogger culture could be partly to blame for why creative quality has been in question of late. Whether consciously or not, Edwards believes the marketing industry has adopted a ‘creative commons’ idealism and the ‘let’s build on that’ language of collaboration that comes with it.

"Yet the very best creative work, the kind that sends shivers down your spine, rarely happens like that. It emerged from a fiery pit in which egos and talent smashed pitilessly into one another."

While there is plenty to learn from the "contagious charm" of the vloggersphere’s amateur content, continues Edwards, emulation is not the conclusion to draw.

Nonetheless, brands do see the value of co-created campaigns. Britvic’s Matt Barwell explains that it’s important for creative to come from within the brand, but "creative output" is open to everyone. "We are all having to let go a bit and focus more on curation," he says.

Creativity in the digital age is a major talking point right now, not least for advertising’s own role in the rise of ad-blocking software.

We can all get caught up in the data and the tech, and in doing so lose sight of the idea. Keith Weed lays it out in simple terms in our Brands in Beta feature: "We have to create content that tells a story, is designed for the platform and is compelling."

The other side of this, he says, is the science of communications, so "using data in a smart way to deliver those creative messages to the right person, at the right time, in the right format".

And these points go to the heart of what we’ve tried to created with our New Thinking Awards, which we launched this month. The work that is doing different, cleverly targeted, uniquely positioned - that is the work that makes for break-out success.

A disruptive, messy business

Real creativity comes when brands set themselves apart by their behaviours and look at not how people buy, but what people experience

I agree with Portas, that creativity should be disruptive, messy, exciting and sometimes uncomfortable and challenging.

"Real creativity comes when brands try to set themselves apart by their behaviours; when they understand the actions and intentions of their audience; when they can connect with communities; and use wit and humour to look at not how people buy, but what people experience," she brilliantly concludes.

This is the most exciting time to be in marketing and advertising. Weed says this in our feature and I challenge anyone to disagree. But it demands culture change for most companies; an environment where ‘fail fast’ is not merely a poster in the office.