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Advertising. What do you want creativity to do?

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“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Erich Fromm

What can creativity do?

Last week, I was asked this simple question. I have been asked this four word puzzle a few times in my career. It is a strange question. You intuitively know the answer but find it hard to be particularly articulate. I started to give it some thought. Creativity is many things. It also has a few levels of risk and reward.

I think perhaps a better question would be, what do we want creativity to do?

I think it is a question that is becoming more important to answer because it will determine the future and structure of advertising.

Personally, I think creativity is a bridge that breaks patterns. It is a bridge that can take the new, the different and the interesting across that little river called risk to the shores of success. Nothing else can do this without it becoming a repetitive formula.

I think creativity makes this alchemy in three pretty special ways.

On a basic level, it can take the mundane and what exists and improve it. It can make things beautiful or change perspective and make something feel new.

On a higher level, it can solve problems by thinking about them laterally.

And at its very best, the clues in the name. It can create things that were not there before. From nothing, suddenly there is something. This magical quality comes with the most reward and the most risk. This is what causes a lot of friction and trouble. It is also what everybody wants.

The reasons these different levels are important is because if we look at the industry going forward, the danger exists that we will not embrace all the levels and start to make the same thing over and over. And don’t just take my word for it. Read this article by Samuel Scott. Seriously read it.

https://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2018/08/06/optimisation-the-enemy-creativity-marketing-and-music

It shows what happens to creativity when optimisation is used as the ultimate filter. What happens is an ever tightening consensus of what is good and popular. There is a right answer. Not an interesting one. Just a correct one. So, as the article shows, you are not imagining it, a lot of popular music begins to sound very similar. Or as Mr Scott says, songs are becoming stupider. More Bieber. Less Rolling Stones.

Now, short-term this probably is not a big deal. However, longer term what this does is it gets rid of creativity’s greatest power. The ability to create new things. The ability to experiment. The ability to be like nobody else.

In essence, you start to get about 50% of what creativity can do. Creativity loses its true value. You also start to look like everybody else. You become the same as the next guy. And ultimately, you become boring.

Accuracy and precision are very valuable. However, they are far more valuable if what they are delivering is attractive and desirable.

I think this paragraph from the article sums it up well.

“When everyone optimises for everything, it is no longer a competitive advantage. The only true competitive advantage that people will have is what rests in their brains – creativity. Without that, you will only be as good as everyone else.”

This becomes the conundrum we all face every day.

Should we be safe and quite good? Should we push the boat out and try to be brilliant?

Perhaps, the answer lies in looking at creativity very differently. Instead of seeing it as a scary risk we all begin to see it as a necessary bridge.

A bridge that takes us from the illusion of certainty to the opportunity of something far better.

This is what creativity alone can do. If you want it to.

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3 thoughts on “Advertising. What do you want creativity to do?

  1. Heléne Lindsay says:

    Hi Damon’s Brain (and the person attached to it)

    I am Head fo Customer at a Creative School of Business in Cape Town, South Africa. redandyellow.co.za. We had a speaker today, who mentioned your incredible blog … in the context of creativity. I popped straight over to have a read, and loved what I saw. Original, challenging thinking – which is sorely lacking these days.

    So, no further compliments …. just a request. We’ve been teaching business leaders to think creatively since 1994. We were started by two genius ad men, who after winning all the awards and working on great brands at Ogilvy, were so frustrated at the sad calibre of graduates – they decided to start a school. 25 years later, we’ve recently rebranded for the 21st century- to, in a nutshell, prepare humans for the jobs that robots can’t do. Ad this is where you come in – I don’t suppose there is a vague chance you would consider writing a piece on creative thinking – a skill we believe most essential in this technologically-pervasive world? If not, would you be open to us repackaging your article on creativity, and obviously crediting you (with much fanfare).

    This would be used in our weekly newsletter, that goes to corporates, alumni and interested parties.

    Holding thumbs you’re open to the idea
    Heléne

    • Hi Helene. Thanks for the kind words. It would be hard for me to specifically write something on creative thinking as my whole blog is about creative thinking. Let me think about that one. You are welcome to use any of the pieces and I hope it helps your students learn. Best Damon

  2. Damon,

    This is so on point with my own current thoughts on the creative industries across the spectrum. Not just advertising and marketing. Publishing, a place I’ve worked for almost 30 years, is fraught with risk averse editors and management looking to reproduce and duplicate last years successful title; replicate a feature that received a reasonable number of hits; choose topics the readership are already engaged with. The safe bets, and as you say, the repetitive and boring. It’s a tragedy and I see it impacting on other surrounding disciplines. Originality has flown the coop and mimicry now rules the roost. The math men have usurped the mad men. It is long overdue that this thinking was called out for what it is so courageous, bold and innovative creatives can enter the arena and contribute again while the bean counters return to their basement perches, where they rightly belong.

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