Marketing doesn't exist without brands, so why are creatives so dismissive of their clients' needs? Our Global ECD argues for a new focus in creative services…
The fear of change is instinctive. The current (and decade-old) state of turmoil you’ll find your average (more experienced) creative in, comes from watching all the certainty of why we’re needed, disappearing into a brief for a 2s programmatic bumper ad.
“No one understands the power of creativity anymore,” we wail into the sleeves of our overpriced French workman’s overshirts. “No one wants to do proper ads with proper budgets…” we scream at our iPad Pros with all the angst of an artist on a hilltop waving her fists at the sky.
The truth is I don’t have that angst. Well, not the ‘you don’t understand me’ kind. Because, if I’m seeing change coming at our industry like a fibre-optic freight train, then I can only imagine what it’s like for my clients. If creativity seems to be less and less relevant, then what about marketing?
Advertising as we know it is over
Having lived in an income-bloated swagger for decades, the sad fact is that many agencies have forgotten their clients altogether. The big implosion the network agencies are experiencing is really just them realigning to what their clients really want, while trying to maintain a fee structure that keeps their shareholders happy. (Spoiler alert: I’m not sure this is possible.)
But what’s most important for me in all this change is that clients are beginning to come first: Clients who just want to sell their products and services to people who didn’t know they needed it. Clients who, in the face of high speed, heavyweight change, really want to sell stuff by spending the smallest amount possible required to successfully sell their stuff.
When you’ve spent 100yrs and / or $500bn making your product or developing your service, the twitching comes between the cost of advertising it and the price to pay if you don’t.
As a creative, I’m not surprised clients are looking at what we do and questioning why it takes so long and costs so much. With computing power doubling in speed and halving in cost every two years for the last 45 years, clients understandably expect to see speed and savings coming in on a similar trajectory from their suppliers.
Over the same period, advertising has simply hobbled along under the same methodology and hefty profit margin.
So the ‘faster’ and the ‘cheaper’ aren’t just nice-to-have quips to throw into conversation – we are often contractually obliged to be cheaper and faster every year. We’re good at it and I’m very proud of it.
But ‘better’ too…?
Well, contrary to some – and convenient though it might be to believe it – I don’t think we can blame bad ideas on ‘cheaper’. You only have to look at http://adturds.co.uk/ to see that big budgets don’t guarantee good ideas any more than an exciting creative brief can’t come with a small budget. I’m no proponent of budget for budget’s sake. ‘Better’ has to get snuggled up alongside ‘faster and cheaper’ – particularly for us sparkly creatives.
The key for me is in the word itself.
I’ve always wanted to come up with better ideas and make better ads. Better than what I’ve done before (not always difficult) and definitely better than the creative sitting next to me (usually a challenge).
But I understand that the thing I thrive on is the change that a good idea can effect. The change in my client’s fame and fortune (as well as the agency’s and my own) and the change a good idea can make to its audience. (Never underestimate the power of an ad that can make people smile).
Change can do you good
Good ads make people laugh and cry and think and buy and give, more than they did before.
Being better and making things better is inextricably linked to change. Doing something better fundamentally means you have to change something about how you did it before.
On the heels of the truth that you’re only as good as your last piece of work, ‘better’ should be the lifeblood of a creative: How can we change to be better and make better and aim for better, every client, every brief and every day?
The history of advertising shows us that, rather than being components of the change that will make the work better, ad creatives have waited for the clients to come up with a brief that did that for them.
At Indicia Worldwide, we work with our clients to change creativity for the better in three areas:
For me, this means creatives being close to the actual business problem and the thing we’re being asked to ‘sell’. The industry’s very admirable stint of ‘purpose’-driven marketing has meant we’ve taken our eye off the actual purpose of advertising: to sell something to someone who otherwise didn’t know they needed it.
It means creatives are close to the data – and a translation of it into the attitudes, needs and behaviours of our very real and human audience. (We’ve got our own proprietary data platforms, which is useful as well as unique, and a room full of very human data planners and scientists to bring them to life.)
It means being close to the client – who is, in actual fact, a human being. For many, we operate in-house and are able to see their objectives and the barriers first-hand.
Previous agency life taught me to be somewhat dismissive (patronising) about a client’s need. All that matters to Big Agency is the consumer. And of course that not only makes very little sense – the campaign can’t exist without the client – this attitude also undermines the agency/client ‘relationship’ from the off.
And it means that we run at high speed in a tight-knit group towards an instinctively good idea. The pace of change has nothing compared to the speed of an idea from gut to brain.
To help, we tailor a mix of creative types with any and every other discipline, according to each brief. For example, we often get more experienced creatives (whose guts can weed out the crappier thoughts quicker) working with younger ones (who don’t know the rules they’re breaking) and get them working together for the duration of the project.
Design and production are key when we are running at ideas. As well as their ideas, this means they can quickly gauge feasibility and budget and understand how the mandatories work with the idea from day one. When the idea gets bought, we’re days – if not, weeks – ahead of the production schedules of old.
We work with a roster of film and digital production specialists who we have long-term relationships with. These are based on a mutual understanding of both speed and quality of execution, as well as the need for transparency and collaboration.
Our Martech platform means our clients can monitor and update campaigns (ours or those from other agencies) safely, quickly and centrally. And our on-site teams are able to help with more detailed adaptations at speed and with quality.
And that’s only what we’re doing better today. By its nature, ‘better’ will look different tomorrow. And this is possibly the root of our ability to change: at Indicia Worldwide, we try anything – ways of working, team profiles, sources of inspiration – to get to better ideas, quicker and faster.
All so that we can create better ideas, faster and cheaper that sell our clients’ stuff (making them money) and get those ideas to their customers better, faster and cheaper (so saving them money).
This – and being here at Indicia Worldwide – has represented the biggest change in my attitude towards creative and its real role in business as well as its potential, in my career.
Not only can advertising change, it has to change for the better.