Questions about the role of creativity threaded their way through EffWeek 2016. We’ve unpicked some of those conversations. Then stirred things up a bit with thoughts from marketing consultant and behavioural science nerd, Mark Earls.
Dan Izbicki, Director of Creative Excellence at Unilever, was unambiguous about the role of creativity in his panel on the role of creativity at EffWeek 2016. “Creativity is essential for demand creation,” he says. “It can make all the difference when you are talking to those people who just aren’t that into your brand. Non-customers, infrequent buyers, or those who have never heard of you before will only be attracted to you if you stand out. It’s about building brand memorability.”
The importance of Dan’s observation was backed up by Les Binet and Peter Fields’ research. They found that brands still primarily grow through customer acquisition, rather than loyalty.
“There is a serious question mark hanging over agencies that still address creativity the way we did ten to fifteen years ago”
Chris Hirst Havas
However, there was also evidence of an uneasy relationship between ‘creativity’ and the new world of predictive analytics and data-driven marketing.Talking on leveraging data, Tim Warner of Pepsico said, “There are some people who are deeply distrustful of data and see it as a barrier to creativity rather than an enabler.”
In another session on creating a test-and-learn culture, Lawrence Weber of Karmarama was also cautious about the current synergy between creative practice and effectiveness – which he thinks is impeded by outmoded ideas about creativity itself. “The world we live in is so defined by technology and data, it’s time that our work was defined by it as well,” Lawrence says. But he doesn’t think that is borne out by either the work, or the way agencies are often organised. “There is still a clinging on by some agencies and marketers to the idea of ‘the unreasonable power’ of creativity,” he observes.
The myths of creativity
A bit of a nebulous concept for many people, ‘creativity’ seems ripe for myth-making. Wondering if this had something to do with its status as an ‘unreasonably’ powerful force we spoke to Mark Earls, author of several books on creativity, innovation and behaviour change.
An active member of the Creative Social group, who spent the first half of his career in advertising agencies, Mark is not short of opinions on the subject.
First of all he is quick to dispel the notion that so-called ‘creative people’, are somehow less good at scientific, number-based activities than their more left-brained colleagues. “Core to behavioural science is the idea that humans and numbers – or rational thinking – just don’t mix,” he says. So, does this mean that the FD is as bad at sums as the CMO?
Well, maybe. “Daniel Kahneman, the Daddy of Behavioural Economics, did his breakthrough work with doctors and patients,” Mark says. “He found that, contrary to expectation, neither were very good at calculating the probability of the likely effect of different treatments and the diseases they were intended to cure. Neither really did the maths. So marketers and FD’s are probably equally bad at it. It’s just that finance people are a little bit more used to going through the routine, they have more stuff to help them. Like spreadsheets.”
The rise (and possible fall) of the creative genius
If creative people and their more scientific colleagues are not as fundamentally different as some would claim, what else is getting in the way of their working together?
Well, culture for a start.
“We’re very into heroes and heroines in Northern European culture,” Mark says. “Our history is littered with it. You can see it in things like the sagas and chronicles, and our preference for what some people call Big Man History, rather than the history of the everyday. But to be a great marketer these days, being a heroic individual is no good. You need to be a great member of the team, it’s about being a servant not a hero – a good colleague.”
This focus on teamwork as a core competence of marketers today, was repeated again and again at #EffWeek. Professor Patrick Barwise pointed out the impossibility of any one person being able to keep up with the ever expanding pool of knowledge, tools and techniques. And Tim Warner of Pepsico talked of the talent challenge, “It’s a cliché, but we’ve got a lot of people in the industry who are either left-brained or right-brained” he says, “and never the two shall meet. There aren’t many people out there who can do everything so we have to collect and cast teams with different skills. But we’ve got to find a way to mash those teams together because at the moment they tend to exist in splendid isolation.”
Mark proposes that part of the reason for this difficulty ‘mashing’ self-consciously creative people together with other teams can be found in behavioural science and the human being’s natural egocentricity. He explains: “The way our brains work is like this: ‘I (this thing that wakes up in the morning and goes about life), I am the main actor in my life.’ Other cultures mediate against this fundamental wiring of our brains. But Northern European culture makes it much worse with all these tropes of heroic individuals and great goal scorers.”
“This hero culture permeates everything including how we see creativity. We are told all these stories about how creative people work. For example, when I was at school I was told that James Watt invented the steam engine and was therefore the father of the industrial revolution. Which is complete BS. In fact he took something that had existed for 50 years and added one component – he innovated. Steve Jobs didn’t invent any of the technology that made him rich. Picasso, TS Eliot, David Bowie, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, all acknowledged the importance of copying and tweaking in their work.
“Originality is for people with short memories”
Grayson Perry Artist
In other areas this is acknowledged. The Scientific Method was developed in the 18th Century as a way to help scientists to use other people’s work reliably – and do away with that very human impulse to claim absolute ownership of ideas.
Heroic creativity and advertising
In contrast Mark believes the creative industries, particularly advertising, have characterised creativity as something that a few, very talented people (heroes) achieve entirely on their own. “A creative genius indulging in long nights of introspection and black coffee to magically create something out of nothing.”
And in the past, this idea of creativity has worked its way right into the guts of the advertising business model itself. “Many clients buy into this myth of the lone creative genius,” says Mark. “It’s been the basis of a really great pricing policy for the advertising industry, and an equally good shorthand for marketers making decisions between agencies. It all becomes about getting ‘the genius’ working on it. “It can’t be wrong, the genius did it.” You can see exactly how, in the past businesses have used that conversation to get what they want.”
So are agencies changing to accommodate a new concept of creativity? Lawrence Weber of Karmarama thinks that the new marketing environment is forcing it, although there is still work to do. “Creative and data teams need to remember that they are strategic partners and, sometimes, the data has to lead,” he says, in his session at EffWeek, observing that this ideal is not often achieved.
“The sooner we realise that creativity and innovation is a collaboration – playing with other people’s ideas – the better, ” says Mark. “Whether those ideas are from people long dead, or those we work with or someone we overheard on the bus, it’s all a team game. Advertising and marketing should be big proponents of this. It’s just that sometimes the ego gets in the way, we’re all only human after all.”
“Most of what we call great creativity or invention is in fact innovation – emulation coupled with changes that improve. Once you accept that you’re halfway to accepting it’s a team game. It’s also a whole lot easier to be creative without the pressure of the expectations which come from being labelled ‘creative’. And apart from anything else, that’s just much more fun.”
Watch Mark host a panel discussion about the work of Les Binet and Peter Field at an event hosted by Google and Thinkbox at Effectiveness Week 2016.
“Just what the industry needs, great collaboration between clients and agencies on the topics that drive business growth.”
Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO
“It’s great to see the IPA in the UK bring the whole industry and particularly the trade bodies together to focus on effectiveness. This new Marketing Effectiveness initiative will enable people across the industry to work together to build on best practice.”
David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS
“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”
Bart Michels, Global CEO Kantar Added Value and Country Leader Kantar UK
“The time spent at #EffWeek was extraordinarily effective. It was great to hear the diverse views from all areas of the industry. All tied together with the common themes of accountability and effectiveness.”
Andrew Canter, Global CEO, BCMA
“It has been a privilege to be part of the inaugural Effectiveness Week. The agenda is one which we at O2 UK feel passionately about. To see and hear perspectives across the industry demonstrates how the breadth of marketing effectiveness is increasingly being valued within businesses. Data, insight, social, customer experience, test and learn, ROI, these are all fundamentals and were covered expansively at the event”.
Sandra Fazackerley, Marketing & Consumer, Telefónica UK Limited
“The full week of effectiveness events brought into clear focus the need for marketers to use data and insight to achieve the key business objectives of growth and profits. Marketers today are in a better position to quantify their knowledge of customers and measure the ability of investments in marketing to increase brand and shareholder value.”
Chris Combemale, Group CEO, DMA