Time for Creatives to Share the Podium!

by Kurt on February 25, 2012


Rob works for CODEWORLDWIDE (consulting, technology, advertising & marketing agency) as business development director. (@robonn)





There was a great interview on Digiday recently. In Confessions of an Ad Creative, a senior Agency creative gave his/her honest views on what it’s really like working in a modern Agency. But the response to author Brian Morrissey’s last question left me with jaw firmly dropped. He asked:

It seems like the real money in advertising nowadays is in automating it, not creating it. Ever think you’re getting the short end of the stick?

The Creative, who is senior and highly awarded, responded as follows:

At the end of the day, creativity will always win, and carpet-bombing the world with sh*tty advertising will work, too. Brands have to ask themselves, “Do I want to talk to a billion people, and have one in a million buy my sh*t, or do I want to talk to a million people, and have all of them walk away with an opinion of me?” Personally, I’ll choose to work with the brands who prefer the latter for the rest of my days.

The Creative person’s name has been kept out of the article, which is fair enough as it’s a full and frank insight into the role. So we can’t engage him or her directly to discuss further. But it raises some thorny questions for Agencies – particularly around creativity, automation and changing business models.


So let’s unpick the response and see what we can learn:

“At the end of the day, creativity will always win”

Quite right, too. Regardless of the relentless tide of Technology coming into the Marketing arena, there will always be business-changing creative ideas that are worth millions.

“carpet-bombing the world with sh*tty advertising will work, too”

Sad but true. So little of the world’s advertising (or any marketing communication) is genuinely disruptive or entertaining but, because there’s so much of it, it must be driving enough sales to perpetuate its creation.

“Brands have to ask themselves, ‘Do I want to talk to a billion people, and have one in a million buy my sh*t, or do I want to talk to a million people, and have all of them walk away with an opinion of me?’”

This is where I start to get concerned. As I’m reading it, he/she is saying that brands have the choice of doing fantastic creative work that will engage fewer people or, one presumes, given the question, to ‘automate’ advertising, hit more people and get higher sales.

There’s lots to question here. Firstly, advertising is about sales. I’m sorry, but it just is. You can talk about brand building until you’re blue in the face but, as someone like The Ad Contrarian will often remind us, businesses make ads to sell stuff. So the dichotomy suggested doesn’t hold water from a commercial point of view – clearly a business would prefer a million sales over a million “opinions”, good and bad.


1- Advertising isn’t all about craft skills

The wider issue here is about the craft of advertising, i.e. the inspiration of creativity, versus the ability of Technology to make the business of advertising more efficient and effective. The mistake that this Creative makes, as do, to be fair, many people in advertising Agencies, is that the two are mutually exclusive.

The fact is that inspiration, conceptual thinking, creativity, or whatever you choose to call it, is a craft skill. It’s about rare talent, it changes businesses and it’s really hard to charge fairly for.

On the other hand, the production of advertising – by which I mean the process after that creative leap of imagination – is simply about time and materials.

Most Agencies are set-up to do the former really well. But Clients want to pay them in line with the latter. There’s a clash between the freedom of creativity vs. the efficiency of process so, culturally, it’s very hard to excel at both.


2- Rise of the decouplers

This clash of business models is why decoupled production businesses starting popping up a decade or so ago. Procurement people looked at the Marketing supply chain and realized that they were being charged Creative-level fees for Studio-level services (“£150 to change a single line of copy? Are you kidding me?!”).

So some opportunist people at TAG and businesses like them simply picked up the manual production line, took it out of Soho or Madison Avenue, recreated it with lower cost base, and offered Clients the same Studio people, but for 30-50% less. Agency CFOs had to take it on the chin.




3- Best of both worlds: the Technology revolution

Now we see that the world have moved on. Technology has changed the production game again. And this time the decouplers are lagging behind the play, alongside the Agencies.

Here we come to the ‘automation’ question.

Firstly, there are Marketing automation platforms. They create a closed-loop Marketing factory; feed in a ‘creative’ template and a bunch of data, and the machine takes care of the rest, from acquisition to maximising lifetime value. It may offend our creative sensibilities, but it works for certain products. It’s the ‘numbers game’ approach. Get used to it.

But hold on, mop your fevered brow, in fact automation platforms are the exception. Most businesses still rely on great creative ideas.

But here’s the crucial thing – relying on creative ideas doesn’t mean those Clients only need creativity.

The reality is that Marketing Resource Management (MRM) platforms (such as Code’s own adZU platform) are finally enabling Clients to get the best of both worlds – world-class creative thinking from Agencies, now allied with the efficiency, dashboarding and effectiveness of Technology-powered production.

Yes, these platform enable Clients and Agencies to ‘automate’ large parts of production and evaluation, but it all happens downstream of the creative process. So people still doing what people do best, with machines doing what machines do best.

No constraints on innovation, no rules to create within. Basically, nothing scary. And scary or not, this stuff is the future. Clients are demanding ways of practically and cost-effectively managing the complex deployment of their brands; it’s simply not workable to do it all by hand any more.


4- ‘Creativity’ is no longer the only place to worship

So the reason the Digiday question made my jaw drop is because it amazes me that, even with so much change all around us, advertising Agencies are still clinging to the idea that creativity is everything.

For one, every single Agency in the world seems to think that its ‘creativity’ is a differentiator. But bar a few rare exceptions (maybe BBH?), being regarded – by Clients – as more creative than the rest lasts only as long as a hot streak, and being hot ends as quickly as it starts.

More to the point, the business has changed. Media has changed. Clients ability to optimize has changed. It’s now impossible to talk about Marketing without talking about Technology.

Agencies need to realize that words like ‘optimization’, ‘templates’ and ‘automation’ are here to stay. MRM platforms can (and do) live in perfect harmony alongside creative brilliance – often within the Agency walls.

But if Agencies keep worshiping solely at the altar of ‘creativity’ instead of pursuing efficiency and effectiveness, then they risk being marginalized or, worse still, just being the guys who spruce up a template when the metrics dip.

So, great perspectives from Rob. Greatly appreciated. Personally, I thought is was great to hear that there are creatives in the world that say things like “advertising is about sales” -excellent. Lots is needed to shift the mindset from current don’t-touch-the-creatives-creative-bubble to let’s-do-what-the-brand-and-sales-really-need. Also, I too believe that technology is THE gamechanger! Agencies that haven’t jumped on the bandwagon fast and intensely enough will be missing out big time.

I’m taking advantage of sharing a post from Rob’s own blog, titled WHO WILL HELP THE CMO WITH MARKETING TECHNOLOGY, relevant to this discussion as well: http://blog.codeworldwide.com/?p=590

Tell me what YOU think of this post, and jump into the discussion yourself …

Kurt thumbnail



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: