Developing a Creative Vocabulary
A lament for marketing leaders, the need for more time to talk, and the false promise of “best practices”
Marketers, how’s your creative literacy, these days?
The agency side is filled with unabashed ad NERDS — students of great advertising campaigns and the latest in marketing creativity. What about the brand side?
In my experience, CMOs, marketing directors, and brand managers fall into one of three categories:
→ Creativity Connoisseurs — Super in-the-know, always talking about the latest campaigns inside and outside their category, and can reference the Cannes Lions winners from three years ago. (Rare birds!)
→ Interested, But Swamped — Generally up to speed on what’s happening in the category, wishes she/he had more time to soak in the latest brand creativity.
→ What Do I Pay YOU For? — Because of time (too busy!) or temperament (not my bag!) they rely on their creative partners to keep them in the loop about what they need to know.
No judgements! There are pros and cons to each approach.
No Time, No Shared Vocabulary
I suspect most brand leaders fall into the second category.
Marketers are SO busy, have so much on their plate, and are trying to juggle so many different demands, there’s really not much time to…hang out and just…chat.
As a result, there’s less of a shared vocabulary. Fewer moments of serendipity where you discover, “I loved that, too!”
Real breakthrough creative ideas — the kind of work that makes the world take notice of a brand — don’t happen without trust. Trust is built as a result of time spent together…and that’s in short supply these days.
When I write our creativity newsletter each week (shameless plug) I always think “this is the kind of stuff I wish I had more time to talk about with our clients.”
I wish we had more chances to kick around innovative creative ideas, get their take on each one, debate technique and what’s passing as a “best practice” these days…
In short, more time to dream together.
Corny? Yeah. But still true.
The False Promise of “Best Practices”
The lack of a shared vision, developed together over time, means that most marketers default to “best practices.”
But what, exactly, IS best for a brand? There’s a lot of conflicting advice. Here’s a good example…
Recently, Meta put out an article saying that Gen Z has “perfection fatigue” and wants lo-fi ads shot on mobile phones.
Another recent article (from a creative director) says that ads don’t look good ENOUGH compared to the high-quality production values of most TV shows.
Yes, both authors have an agenda. But who should CMOs believe?
It’s hard for brand leaders to ignore somebody with a megaphone the size of Meta’s, and their “data” to back up their narrative. (I’ve argued that it doesn’t really tell the full story…more on that in a sec…)
But here’s the thing…
Doing the same thing everybody else is doing is a great way to be confused with everybody else or (more likely) ignored completely.
Good creative ideas challenge the conventional wisdom. Zig while others zag. Break the pattern of the viewer so they pay attention.
Maybe “best practices” aren’t always best for your brand.
I’m not anti-data; there are lessons to learn. But the lazy “here’s the formula” or “you gotta do this” approach makes me bonkers.
You don’t “gotta” do anything. Our job is to help brands be better than the lowest common denominator.
The Less-Travelled Road May be the Better Path
A few years ago, I wrote an article called “The Lazy Tyranny of Facebook’s Best Practices” (when Facebook was still called Facebook!) and it focused on a particular put-the-logo-first “rule” that I spent many futile hours arguing against.
It’s not unique to FB. This type of follow-the-playbook thinking exists for every media channel. And there’s an army of sales reps selling “certainty” in an uncertain world.
Alas, the truth is more complicated. Standing out — making your marketing investment go farther — means you can’t blindly follow the herd.
If you want to rise above the competition, “always” and “never” should be avoided.
“Best practices” are not the be-all and end-all. Let’s ask more questions about what we’re really trying to do and develop better ways to get there.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Kovacevich is a creative director and the founder of Agency SOS. They offer a Creative Campaign Accelerator, if you’re looking for a bunch of high-quality creative ideas for your brand, fast.