The heart of the matter: we ask marketers if creativity is still core to marketing

By Stephen Lepitak | -

November 6, 2018 | 9 min read

Depending on who you ask, creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising business or a vacuous buzzword.

The Drum asked 10 marketers for their opinion on the role of creativity in the industry.


Justin Drape, co-founder and group chief creative officer, The Monkeys, Sydney

Creative thinking can have a profound impact by improving the way people live and work. It can transform businesses, brands and entire industries, so it is core to all marketing because it can become a valuable and tangible competitive advantage. The best marketers know this so they partner with the best strategic and creative minds to build their brand(s) and business.

A recent example of creativity at the core of the marketing mix is our work for Berlei Womankind Bras. We named the bra and then created an uncomfortable conversation about breasts that made headline news around the world, leading to it selling out in the first two weeks. Facebook banned the ad but that didn’t stop more than $1m worth of earned PR coverage.

Or there is our MLA campaign for Spring Lamb, which already has 6m+ views from a modest media budget and more than 3m organic views.

Time said: ‘The Aussies just celebrated diversity in an ad about lamb and it’s absolutely perfect,’ so lots of earned PR value has been generated by creative thinking. And [Australian politician] Pauline Hanson calling us a bunch of politically correct ratbags was priceless.

Richard Berney, executive creative director, 303 MullenLowe, Perth

You don’t need creativity. Not if you have a truly unique selling proposition without competitors, coupled with a devoted customer base and a media monopoly. When Henry Ford launched the model T he didn’t need creative marketing.

Marketing was enough.

Cut to 2017 though, and consumer attention is our scarcest commodity. We are busy, we have money and we have choice. If we are not in love we just swipe right. There’s always another option.

So, for goodness sake, give me love. Give me creativity.

Mihir Chitre, creative group head, What’s Your Problem, Mumbai

Let’s take the blandest form of a communication piece. Imagine a world where you had the strategy and positioning figured out for the Economist, but no creative is yet ready. You know what you want to say: ‘Successful people read the Economist’. Correct? Yes. Interesting to read? Probably not.

Now a David Abbott walks in and gives you his legendary print ad. ‘“I never read the Economist.” Management trainee. Aged 42’.

Does it say the same thing? Yes. Is it now interesting? Hell, yeah.

Similarly, there are innumerable examples of the ‘what’ of the message being lifted by the ‘how’ of it. That’s the role creativity plays in marketing and communication. Strategy is what you say and creativity is how you say it. Creativity in advertising creates interest in the consumer’s mind, it grabs their attention, typically by stirring an emotion.

I can’t think of a great campaign that is not creative, but at the same time there is no creativity in our business unless it helps a product achieve its marketing objective.

Cal McAllister, co-founder and chief executive officer, Wexley School for Girls, Seattle

As my friend David Droga points out, people are actively building technology to avoid what we make. So, like no other industry, creativity is core to marketing because we need to both develop and reward consumer curiosity. Of course, we can optimize and retarget and e-blast our way in front of customers, but look at our natural behaviors already. Who clicks? Who sees? Who remembers? One or two per cent? Less? Creativity, both in execution and placement, becomes more and more important every day.

Pam Fujimoto, executive creative director, Wongdoody, LA

Without creativity, marketing would be a tree falling in the woods. It’s the thing that opens eyes and ears to your brand. It entertains, surprises, seduces or horrifies you into sitting up and paying attention. Creativity is what makes it a good idea to have a rotating Colonel spokesperson for KFC. It is the brilliance behind an outdoor retailer shutting down all its stores on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Creativity doesn’t always make ‘sense’. It doesn’t always test off the charts in focus groups either. It breaks rules. You can tell when all the creativity has been stripped out of marketing and there’s only marketing left – except it probably never got your attention in the first place.


Polina Zabrodskaya, creative director, Publicis, London

‘Guys, we are not here to shoot a feature film, we are here to sell more product!’

Wherever you go in our industry, there will always be an effectiveness person in every big meeting, because there are ads that sell and then there’s the cool stuff, right?

The inconvenient truth, however, is that if your cool, artsy ad isn’t effective it’s probably not very creative either. According to the IPA, all of the most creatively recognized campaigns drove 12 times the market share gains. Creativity generates fame and fame boosts sales, better than any product demo ever will. Ask Beyoncé.

Yet agencies and clients are rarely willing to commit to turning brands into Beyoncés – probably because nothing makes you discover the limits of your intelligence faster than an attempt to create a famous campaign for a big brand with all those guidelines and rules. It’s the most difficult game in our industry, but probably the only one worth winning at.

Vann Graves, chief creative officer, JWT, Atlanta

Marketing is an important foundation and a key element of any successful business. At the core of marketing lies creativity, which you can say is the sorcery that truly brings marketing to life.

It is the uncontrollable spirit that takes the rigid analysis of business and makes it dance. If effective, it ensures that your brand message reaches the right audience at the right time.

Without creativity in marketing, brands risk becoming stale and irrelevant to consumers. For instance, look at the ‘McWhopper’ campaign from Burger King. That’s a perfect example of how a bold, insightful idea can be both creatively outstanding and extremely effective in driving results.

And, at a time when engagement between brands and people is more crucial than ever, it’s critical to weave creativity in its many shapes and forms into all your marketing efforts.

Ed Cheong, executive creative director, Iris, Singapore

As long as the audience remains non-AI and made of flesh and blood, with the gift of free will to ignore crap (targeted or non-targeted), creativity will matter. A wonderful example of this comes from the brilliant folks at Forsman & Bodenfors.

Most of us are just indifferent when it comes to the in-built camera of a car. It is what it is. To demonstrate the advanced detection capabilities for the Volvo XC60, Forsman & Bodenfors placed it in the hands of a Pulitzer-winning photographer to capture the environment through the eyes of the car. A safety feature demo has never been more beautiful and memorable.

Ultimately, creativity is about respect. Basic respect for the people we want to sell stuff to. Otherwise we are just self-important pricks.

Rajib Gupta, creative director, Isobar, Vietnam

The days of just beautifully crafted and well-written ads/spots are gone and a new beast has emerged called effectivity. Suddenly, whatever we do is measured. A study by Microsoft found that we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish.

Today’s consumer needs attention-worthy ideas otherwise it’s gone. Ideas that invite participation, generate content, inspire sharing and earn media coverage. Oh yeah, the viral fever!

Creativity in marketing has moved beyond just telling a story. It is more about letting people experience something and then talk about it. It’s no longer about delivering a message but sparking a conversation – all the more reason why creativity is more important than ever in marketing.

Creativity has become a vital cog in effective marketing when marketers demand tangible value to the business. It is needed more than ever to create brilliant customer experiences that keep up with the rapid changes happening in consumer behavior, technology and media. It is creativity that turns insight into action through the use of data.

Jason Bagley, executive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy, Portland

Buying a product or service from a brand that you actually need is completely logical. But getting people to love a brand and buy something they don’t need is not logical, and it’s hard.

This is because getting people to feel and do those things that aren’t logical requires genuine human emotion, which is hard, and we probably shouldn’t bother. After all, Ray Kurzweil says the singularity is near, when runaway technological growth will result in unforeseen changes to civilization, such as cordless toasters, telescopic jacket sleeves and wifi-enabled tongue depressors. According to Kurzweil, we’ll soon be 40% human, 50% machine and 10% fax machine.

Unpredictable emotions will no longer cause us to elect insane presidents, fall in love or pay $500 for Hamilton tickets. In this future marketing utopia, our jobs will be as simple as live-streaming PowerPoint charts of a brand’s cost/benefit analysis before we go home early to bathe our parts in antibacterial sanitation fluid.

Until then, we’re stuck marketing to emotion-based humanoids.

This piece was first published in The Drum's Creativity issue in October 2017.

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