Has adland painted itself into a corner with its framing of creativity?

Adland needs to position creative thinking as a superpower.

Clockwise from top left: Charity, Dye, Jordan Bambach, Mcilrath, Wixley, Timeyin
Clockwise from top left: Charity, Dye, Jordan Bambach, Mcilrath, Wixley, Timeyin

The definition of creativity is thinking differently. The ability to apply this to a wide gamut of problems is a superpower. And yet adland, which sells exactly this expertise, has somehow lost ground to more logic-driven management consultancies.

That’s the argument Ogilvy’s vice-chair Rory Sutherland made to Campaign during a recent podcast interview ahead of his annual Nudgestock event.

He argued that adland has been “painted into a corner” because it has allowed creativity to be associated primarily with “verbal or visual artistry”.

He urged creative agencies to wake up and challenge clients' perceptions, often not helped by media agencies and tech firms, that they are just “a bunch of flaky bastards who wouldn’t know a spreadsheet if it mugged them”.

He also believes the industry needs to promote creativity more aggressively, so it is not just seen as “magic fairy dust” sprinkled on after serious thinking has taken place. Is he right?

Dave Dye

Chief creative officer, Love or Fear

Advertising’s only product is its people. The best ones aren’t normal. It’s why they see solutions the rest don’t.

Having interviewed a lot of them, I've noticed they share the same qualities. (Many wouldn’t see them as qualities.)

1. They see things others don’t. (“Never stick to the brief”)

2. They make connections others don’t see. (“Not collaborative”)

3. They have minds like magpies. (“They’re a bit all over the shop”)

4. They’re very curious. About everything. (“Always asking annoying questions”)

5. They don’t like complicated. (“A bit precious”)

6. They don’t bullshit. (“Very argumentative”)

7. They are resilient. (“Never move on”)

If we don't accept “different” people in advertising, how can we offer “different” thinking to business?

(*Shout out to Vicki Maguire – “If you’re an introvert, I’ll find you a corner. And if you’re an extrovert, I’ll find you a stage.”)

Laura Jordan Bambach

President and chief creative officer, Grey London

I watched Rory last week at Nudgestock, wondering why the voices for creativity aren’t stronger and more legion in our industry. After all, it’s the business that we’re in and the most transformative superpower that humans have.

We should celebrate it as our discipline of expertise, and that it pays all our bills.

But the structures we’ve built for ourselves (in great part through the wrong kinds of measurement and focus on short- rather than long-term gains) hold us back from the kind of truly innovative and game-changing work we’re capable of. It’s the special sauce that makes everything else we do effective and frankly, wonderful – be that technology, business transformation, customer engagement or brand-building.

If we, as the experts, are scared of creativity or see it as frivolous, we’re not only undermining the potential value of our work to our clients but limiting the power of our core skills in the world.

We have the power to change the world, if only we believed in ourselves and what we do, more.

Ann Wixley

Executive creative director, Wavemaker

Creativity is demanded across all areas, whether that’s spotting an opportunity ahead of a brief, reframing the problem or delivery in step with our audiences’ every day behaviour.

To unlock exceptional growth, brands must show up in diverse ways. This means we need to get creative with how we create.

At Wavemaker we’ve introduced Radical Partnerships. It’s a shift from a medium-or-message hierarchical way of thinking to a more democratic, dynamic process. Interdependencies and collaboration between disciplines and skillsets is the fuel. It demands imagination and positive provocation from everyone every step of the way.

Charlene Charity

Head of strategy, Digitas UK

As Rory Sutherland states, creativity is not "some magic fairy dust". Agencies should be approaching problem-solving in a creative, data led-way and must be open to the possibility that the solution may not result in a creative campaign at all.

As a former Amazon and BT client, when I briefed my agency partners, I asked for and always received a creative campaign solution, but on reflection, sometimes a less “creative campaign” approach that utilised creative problem solving, probably would have delivered better results.

This approach to creative problem solving also applies to clients who should be going to their agency partners with genuine customer problems that the brand can solve.

Shaun Mcilrath

Chief creative officer, Iris Worldwide

If you’re interested in a future for this industry, you should completely refuse to conform to its current definition of creativity. It’s woefully inadequate and incredibly self-limiting.

Today, what a company is speaks louder than what it says. So, we cannot afford to marginalise our creativity to traditional comms, because our clients' creative needs are much broader.

Great creativity should be seen as any idea that ingeniously improves the way a company connects to consumers – be that a piece of code, a pricing or service initiative, an ESG policy, a behavioural or product idea. And yes, on occasions, an ad.

Damola Timeyin

Global creative strategist, Facebook

My former ECD Ian Heartfield at BBH once said in Campaign, “Creativity is our weapon. Let’s use it”. I believe agencies that allow more people to wield this weapon, in more ways and can demonstrate this more to clients, are unlikely to find themselves painted into this corner.

Those with a more conservative view and application of creativity will have to wait till the paint dries before stepping out of that corner, and hope they can effectively demonstrate and sell creativity as a skillset that is applied across the business, not only an output to be consumed.

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