A New Definition of Creative
Called the father of advertising, ad tycoon David Ogilvy of Ogilvy & Mather is quoted often in the industry, but perhaps his most famous line is this: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” The statement was made in the big agency era of the mid-twentieth century, when advertising campaigns like those dramatized in the TV show “Mad Men” placed the onus squarely on a singular, “big idea,” thought up by one agency of record and set in motion with little more than meeting with the client to get the “go.” Ogilvy makes a good point — in the realm of marketing and advertising, being creative in your messaging should lead to a tangible, ultimately monetary result for the client. It’s business, after all, and “sales are the ultimate metric,” as Mike Guiry, executive vice-president at local agency Shepherd, puts it. An idea that’s clever, or beautiful, or even memorable that doesn’t give the client a return on investment (ROI) can’t be judged as successful.
But the quote does beg a deeper look into the word “creative.” Here, it’s appropriate to take Ogilvy literally and understand his use of the word as in possessing the power to create, or produce, an actual commodity. The usage of the word to mean imaginative and original is implied, but likely secondary. Strategically-placed novelty may be the key to success in the current marketplace, however. Today’s marcom world is saturated with messaging on simultaneously-shouting platforms twenty-four hours a day, and “creativity helps companies beat their competition to that sale,” says Guiry.
“Although, our definition of creative has certainly evolved,” he adds. “Creative to us goes beyond the idea; it’s also the strategy and the delivery.” While there should always be a ROI, the constancy and variability of media has created a need for advertisers to direct as much attention to ideas that support the ‘big idea’ in its delivery to a client’s audience. Toward the targets is where creative juices must flow, because a strategic and fluid approach to getting the message to its audience — amidst the clutter, and on platforms such as social media that democratize the collective voice — means marcom agencies must constantly be adjusting. Even in this age of big data, the ROI on one idea may not always be perfectly measurable because the path to it is a zig-zag of many ideas and iterations.
“Of course our work has a job to do — and as a strategically-guided creative firm, we always have our client’s end game in sight,” says Diane Brunet-García, partner/vice president of Brunet-García. “However in the age of content overload, often getting our audience to engage is the real way to win.”
In fact, this multi-faceted, kinetic approach to messaging means that most marcom agencies no longer deliver a full campaign alone. The era of the large, full-service agency is changing to that of networks of small- and medium-sized agencies specializing and partnering. This is one of the biggest issues facing marcom agencies today: how to maintain a balance between keeping a campaign in-house and knowing when facets of it need to go to a trusted partner for collaboration. Ultimately, the goal is to do the best work for the client, to get their expected ROI, so each agency must identify its strengths and then let those strengths be the starting line and the reason for the client signing on the dotted line. Specialization can be what brings a client to the agency, “and then the agency has the opportunity to showcase the other strengths they have,” says Andy Gosendi, associate creative director at Burdette-Ketchum. “It’s finding that niche to promote yourself, owning that and doing great work for great clients, and then that splinters off.” From there, the campaign can grow in many different directions, while the agency keeps an eye on in-house capabilities and pooled pride without spreading themselves too thin and watching quality suffer.
“It takes thought, hard work, and a reeling in of creative minds to develop a single idea from which can spring forth a cornucopia of strategies,” says Fisher Design CEO Mary Fisher. “These strategies determine the success of a company on many levels because, as we all know, it’s all about the brand.”