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Jamie Graham

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Creativity Crisis: Decline or Re-Deployment?

I'm not so convinced that American creativity is declining, based on the evaluation criteria described in Newsweek. But rather that it's being channeled elsewhere. Relating it to our business, we are witnessing a huge shift in the expression of creativity: from the simple 'what' are we saying, to a more holistic 'where' and 'how' and 'when' are we saying it. In other words, creativity is no longer just the domain of the creative department, but of everyone who thinks about where and how we deliver our message. The channel options are exploding and will likely continue to do so. At the same time, the creative product itself is evolving: becoming less constructed and more iconic. Words play a lesser role in advertising today. Consumers respond more viscerally to imagery. In all media, they expect to read less and indeed either can't or won't stick with messaging that requires the kind of time and effort that reading more than a few words requires. But that's hardly a function of the creativity quotient per se. So is advertising 'less creative' today than five or ten years ago? I believe that there are fewer overt 'stand out' examples of creativity now than then. Compare the selection of Super Bowl or Oscar night commercials over the years, and consensus is that the offerings have become less original, less funny, less clever and less visually stunning. The same is true of other traditional channel work -print, OOH- that can be compared over a long period of time. And the reasons can be debated - does increased clutter demand more branding and allow less whimsy? Does the kind of measurement increasingly applied to ads cause a dumbing down so that 'everyone' gets it? Is the pool of ideas finite and running low? (Certainly we're seeing more and more old concepts being re-made.) But the range of channels is so much wider now, I believe there is as much creativity as ever, it's just being stretched across so many more media. If you were to select 50 pieces of great creative from each year, I believe you'd find the quality as high today as 10, 20 or 50 years ago. But today's 50 would include virals, banners, micro sites, widgets, apps, experiences, AR's and many other vehicles unheard of when TV and print ruled the award shows. The good news is that given the increased range of options today, we will surely need more and more creative minds to fill them. And we will. Because creativity entertains, and entertainment sells.

The Agency Recommendation

This subject could just as easily be discussed by any of our departments. But it's particularly in the area of creative that clients often ask for 'The Agency Recommendation.' And it's a potential gotcha. Here's the picture: Based on the premise that there's no single 'right' answer to any communications challenge, the agency presents a range of concepts. Typically three. (Don't ask me why.) Typically also, the three approaches are quite varied, but each is meticulously 'on' strategy. Each has it own merits, each has its own look and feel, voice and tone. (Again, within the envelope of the creative strategy.) So which one is best for the client? Well, don't ask the agency. We should feel equally positive, just as committed, to any of the three, or it shouldn't be in the presentation. The right answer is the one the client embraces. The one she feels best captures and represents her brand. So why is the issue a 'gotcha'? Because the odds of the agency's recommendation being the same campaign as the one the client kinda prefers is 1 in 10. That's right. 90% of the time, the client ends up thinking that they and the agency aren't quite in sync, despite the fact that the presentation has gone swimmingly well up until that point, and there's a concept on the table that the client really likes. What's behind this agency recommendation chestnut anyway? It seems to have its origins back in the 'Mad Men' days when bourbon drinking Don Drapers went for the theatricality of the gamble, the challenge, the macho 'check-out-my-gonads' gesture of 'telling' the client what he should do. And the clients would seek to match nuts by going along with the gambit: 'I like your style, Draper; you're my kind of ad. guy. I'm going to double my budget and fly you and your lovely wife to my Nassau beach house right after we've sealed the deal with some more bourbon...'? We live in a more accountable, less confrontational world of agency/client partnerships today. But if it comes up, how should we respond to the recommendation question?

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