Claire Beale is the editor of Campaign
Claire Beale is the editor of Campaign
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Risk-taking is essential to creative excellence

When we kicked off the judging for this year's Campaign Big Awards, there was a nervousness that there just might not be enough work to get excited about.

As it turned out, there certainly was enough great work to prove that British agencies can still deliver creative excellence. The clutch of Gold Award winners is as good as any you’ll find in the ad annals. And in the product categories, there’s a brilliant mix of outstanding and groundbreaking campaigns that will no doubt be notching up effectiveness awards in short order, too.

But it would have been nice to see a lot more of it all.
So if great agencies can still produce great work, why aren’t they producing more of it? Clients. That’s why.

Too many clients are demanding or settling for creative mediocrity, or are failing to create an environment in which creativity can flourish around their brands.

I can think of many blue-chip companies that spend millions on advertising and appoint some of the best agencies in the world, and then go on to employ internal processes and approval procedures that completely cripple those agencies’ ability to deliver great work.

Do these clients ever ask themselves why their agencies are winning creative awards on other brands but producing thoroughly forgettable advertising for them? Too often, they just seem to blame their agencies and hire new ones, rather than questioning their own approach.

Partly, the recession is to blame. The downturn has seen too many clients engage in self-inflicted castration, losing their balls and, with them, any desire to encourage and support creative risk-taking. All too often, marketers have ceded control to their procurement departments and measured their own success in terms of cost-effectiveness rather than effective quality.

Partly, data is to blame too. I wrote last week about the crippling effect that too much data can have on creative judgment, intuition and bravery. Then, in answer to all of this, one of the world’s biggest advertisers stood up to lead the way.

I hope agencies’ hearts soared and other clients took notes when Unilever outlined its "more magic, less logic" philosophy. If the company is genuinely prepared to shake up its numbers-led marketing strategy and reward marketers who take risks, then creative brilliance and much more (sales, share price, job satisfaction etc) will flourish.

In truth, it’s not a dramatic leap for Unilever, which has a rich heritage of creative excellence. But enshrining it in a corporate touchstone, the foundation of a ten-year plan, is bold and absolutely right.

Unilever’s chief marketers, Keith Weed and Marc Mathieu, are proving themselves to be among the most visionary marketers of their generation. I hope they inspire others to rediscover their marketing balls.
Claire Beale is the editor of Campaign