"Happy with the strategy, not sure about the creative."
How often do you hear this feedback after a big meeting? Seven, eight times out of 10? Seven or eight… now, that kind of uncertainty isn’t great. You want to know the stats so that an article like this has some kind of credibility. An article is better with some kind of certainty. A thing called a creative idea is almost certainly not.
Despite all the attempts, creativity cannot and will not ever be a science. It’s a thought that falls out of a song heard while buying a doughnut. It’s a visual dreamed up while bending down next to a boating lake to tie your shoelaces. It’s a line typed between the lines on a shopping list that’s being written on the number 91 bus.
Strategy, on the other hand, is a kind of science. Data has given our strategists unarguable substantiation for their thoughts. Evidence is there in glorious black and white for all in the room to see. And this is a good thing. It’s a hugely reassuring deck, resulting in a feeling deep within the gut of the client that this agency understands the target market better than they do. That this strategist sitting before them actually knows the business better than they do. Strategy? Big fat tick.
If you were sure about the creative idea, the chances are you were just presented with something that is subconsciously familiar, and that’s why it feels reassuring. But, at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, it also means that it will be familiar to others too and therefore is most likely to be ignored, just like the other 3,999 pieces of advertising that they will have been exposed to today.
Was the Levi’s client sure about using a yellow puppet to sell Sta-Prest jeans? Was the Sony client sure about 250,000 coloured balls bouncing down a hill in San Francisco? Was the Nike client sure about skeletons on the streets of Peckham? Of course they weren’t. The only thing they knew for certain was that they had never heard anything like it before.
Being unsure is precisely the feeling we should be going for. We should be trying to write work that ties a knot in the client’s stomach. We should be coming up with ideas that make marketing chiefs shift nervously from cheek to cheek. Uncertainty should be seen as a success, not a failure.
So the next time you hear "Happy with the strategy, not sure about the creative", high-five the account person who tells you. OK, so there is more work to do, but that work might be to think about how to use the "loved" strategy to explain, justify or maybe even – heaven forbid – actually sell that discombobulating creative.
Ian Heartfield is chief creative officer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty London