I’m sure when I started out, the role of creatives was so much more linear. Perhaps it’s just my rose-tinted glasses but, as I recall, the task was this: tell a beautiful story in a single image or a 30-second film. Off you trot, with your writer or art director, to a smoky pub. And you could sit in a pub – or, indeed, any small cubicle – anywhere because external input was an optional extra.
It was a clearly defined and very deadly battle between a blank piece of paper and two minds – you and your partner testing the boundaries of your own imaginations. And there you would sit, locked in the tyranny of the unsolved problem until the big idea appeared, prophet-like, in a cloud of smoke. You test to see if your big idea is simple enough by expressing it on a Post-it note. It fits. Mic drop.
"There’s creative technology, conceptual design, creatives who prototype, code, blog and edit. The era of the "creative slash" has begun."
Not so fast, creative duo. Put down your pints – there is more thinking to be done. Pick up that Post-it note and look sternly at it. There, scribbled in biro, you have a big idea, bang on-brand. This is now, as it always was, a huge achievement. Three cheers.
But now think: is this idea a guiding light for how the brand should look, feel and behave? How does it translate at each touchpoint in the consumer journey? How does it affect your media choices? Does it fit with how the brand actually behaves in real life? Does it work outside broadcast media? Will the idea not only communicate but be shared or acted on? Does it have purpose?
The big idea
The big idea still needs to be as big, simple and fresh as always, but now it must exist in a far more complex world. It has to solve key tasks across the consumer journey and needs to behave in a far more liquid way.
This new, improved role of the creative opens up thinking in many more dimensions – from data to experience to creative media thinking to consumer journeys. And what this has spawned is the disintegration of the creative team and the mutating of creative roles.
Previously, creatives came in two delightfully symmetrical flavours: copywriter or art director. Now, it’s as if creatives got dipped in acid and mutated into these incredible, multidisciplinary polymaths. There’s creative technology, conceptual design, creatives who prototype, code, blog and edit. The era of the "creative slash" has begun.
Creatives increasingly need to be T-shaped. They still need that deep, primary specialism of being able to tell a story well – be that in a tear-inducingly simple visual or a gut-punchingly funny headline. However, creatives now need a couple more strings to their bow.
The first is context. In a media landscape where you can segment audiences down to their preference for pets and late-night takeaways, geo-target within metres and micro-tailor experiences based on all the insane data that cookies collect, the content itself is only half the story. Creatives can now supercharge their ideas through the context in which they’re consumed.
"Creatives who can combine the power of an emotive brand line and a punchy call to action can effect real behaviour change more than ever before"
The second string is action. Ideas can inspire action more easily and speedily than ever before. The second screen means that before your TV ad has even ended, consumers can read reviews and one-touch-purchase without even getting up from the sofa. Creatives who can combine the power of an emotive brand line and a punchy call to action can effect real behaviour change more than ever before.
However, these multidimensional creatives, as adept at storytelling as they are at playing with media, data and consumer journeys, are a rare young breed. They are the Pikachus of our industry. At worst, the need for them leads to creative departments populated by slightly mediocre thinkers, employed only because they have this wider skillset.
At best, though, it leads to creative departments full of "creative slashies" and collaboration, where everyone has accepted that only by being together can we have the impossibly wide skillset needed in the modern creative. And that, together, we are Pikachu.