“Creativity may well be the last legal unfair competitive advantage we can take to run over the competition.”

Dave Trott


“Up to 90% of spend goes to advertising and retail promotions. Yet the single most powerful impetus to buy is often someone else’s advocacy.”

David C. Edelman HBR


“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula”

Bill Bernbach

Decoding Modern Marketing

12. Creative

In the work of defining your brand, which we reviewed in the chapter 2, creativity was important in how you planned to express your Brand Personality. This would be reflected in things like logo design, the brand style guide and the general Voice & Tone parameters that you set for how your brand is presented. Creativity becomes even more important as you reach out to introduce your brand to consumers for the first time. Translating your brand identity, and all of the ideas that ladder up to it, into advertising and activation is the work of your creative team, either within your own organization or your agency.

What really counts is if the work delivers the desired results.

Contrary to some would-be artists who end up in advertising, creativity’s only purpose in marketing is to assist in achieving business goals. That’s why while all the creativity awards in the world might be great, what really counts is if the work delivers the desired results.

Though the mission of the creativity within an ad or piece of content might change as tactics change, a few things are common creative challenges for most every thing you do in Brand Advertising and Brand Activation. Attracting attention is job one. Any creative expression of your brand needs consumers to see it in the first place. In this world so full of images, messages and interruptions designed to steal our attention, the first challenge is to grab that attention. Imagine what might make you actually look at something instead of glazing over and moving on. It certainly isn’t the same thing you’ve seen before. It is invariably something unusual or surprising. Or it might be something you have seen a thousands times, but presented from a different perspective so you look with fresh eyes. When GE wanted to show that it’s new Café Refrigerator could serve up hot water too, the print ad featured an ice bound penguin breathing fire. Other examples of made you look marketing are no further than the bottom of your average webpage. Those clickbait ads combine a provocative picture with a headline tease to make us pay attention and even sometimes click.

Keeping someone’s attention is a great deal harder than getting it.

Keeping someone’s attention is a great deal harder than getting it. But if you’re successful you get a chance to tell your story. However, at this early stage when introducing your brand, it’s critical to remember your audience is delicate and the slightest push too hard can cause them to fly away. Instead you need to entice audiences emotionally into your story. Whether it is a web page, or a TV spot or a video online, it must get the balance between engagement and selling just right.

The temptation is often to let the priorities of the business push you towards a heavier sell than is appropriate for the moment. Remember the vast majority of consumers are far from ready to buy during the early stages. That’s why they need to be led, gently toward brand awareness and preference. This is only the first of many steps that the consumer will take as they form their opinion of your brand and move towards a purchase. So you have to be patient. It is part of a process of Incremental Engagement, which recognizes that each touch adds a layer of understanding, and the cumulative effect of the journey creates the preference you want.

Think of each ad or piece of content as a brick in the brand house.

Don’t fall prey to the temptation to pour your entire value proposition into every piece of creative. Instead think of each ad or piece of content as a brick in the brand house you are building. According to research by Wendy Row at the R.H. School of Business, ads burn out after 1.5-3 mm impressions. That means your prospects will need to see lots of different messages from you over time. So imagine it is like a courtship; create a valuable relationship and love will not be far behind.

Originality in how you tell your brand story, however, will always have great power. But great creative is hard to legislate. When it happens it feels like magic and its affect on the success of a brand can be enormous. Old Spice was a tired, old brand; something your grandfather used. But they made it cool again purely with creativity. The “Smell like a man, man” campaign with Mustafa, started in 2010 and took off with online video. It understood its audience of young men and how to speak to them. It was funny, irreverent and spread like wildfire demonstrating that a good idea is just as powerful as a whole lot of media money.

Trust the skills of your creative team and your intuition.

In today’s social media powered culture, brands like Old Spice can win consumer hearts through great creative without needing to spend enormous amounts on media. This should inspire all brands to invest more in creative content because even getting close to a hit can catapult a brand faster than ever before. Since digital released the audience from its captivity, big creative ideas have become even more powerful. But they are scary. They feel risky because no one has done them before, which is precisely their power.

This is not nuts and bolts business, and it’s understandably difficult for an executive in a, perhaps, risk averse environment, to take an uncertain leap of faith. When Wendy’s went after their competitors with “Where’s the Beef?” or Dove threw out the airbrushed beauty standards and got real, or someone at Absolut decided to invest in crazy bottle photography, there was little evidence to support their decision. All the strategy and brand work they had done took them to a moment when they had to trust the skills of their creative team and their intuition.