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Improving the odds for great creativity

Improving the odds for great creativity

Posted on: June 8, 2023

Thinkbox releases industry consultation by Laurence Green

Consultation with senior practitioners identifies the hallmarks of successful creative development – and the barriers

“From good (work) to great (work): improving the odds” has distilled the wisdom and experience of senior creative practitioners – both agencies and clients – to reveal commonly-agreed best practice that leads to creative success. Key findings and recommendations include:

  • The client and agency should be “ambitious friends” with a shared mission
  • A good brief is crucial – the job to be done must be clearly set out and agreed up front
  • Focus on a memorable idea that works emotionally and stretches across platforms and time
  • Be optimistic and remember what’s possible, how transformative great advertising creative can be
  • Don’t just chase the new. Repeat winning formulas and don’t move on too soon

The consultation was based on qualitative deep-dive interviews with 34 senior agency and client practitioners. All interviewees have a recognised track record in producing great creative. Interviews were conducted in April and May 2023 and all quotations have been anonymised.

Participants were adam&eveDDB, AMV BBDO, Boots, Channel 4, Creature, Havas Creative, ITV, Leo Burnett, Lloyds Banking Group, Lucky Generals, McDonald’s, Mother, NatWest Group, Neverland, Pablo, Publicis Groupe, Saatchi&Saatchi, Sage, Sainsburys, VCCP, and Yorkshire Tea. Three ‘expert witnesses’ were also interviewed: Sir John Hegarty, Co-Founder and Creative Director of The Garage; Tim Lindsay, Chairman, D&AD; and Steve Davies, CEO, APA.

The hallmarks of successful creative development

“Great work happens when everyone and everything comes together”

Client and agency should be “ambitious friends”. Great creative starts with a shared mission across the agency and client team and a clear sense of what good looks like. This is often helped by a strong historic relationship.

“Brief in hope not in fear”

A good brief is crucial, one that is single-minded, signed off and a great springboard in its own right. Creative time can then be spent engaging with it rather than (re)writing it. The horizon should be long, not (just) short.

“Because they’re not going shopping until tomorrow…or even next year”

Great creative needs a memorable idea that is founded on good insight and thereby ‘right’ for the brand; a simple thought that works emotionally. It also needs to stretch across platforms and ideally across time. It needs to be presented enthusiastically, debated honestly, and bought decisively, ideally by a single decision-maker, first time out.

“The midwives have got this”

Once the idea reaches production, it has the best chance of success if the client (and the agency) keeps out of the way insofar as possible, empowering their production running mates to add or subtract the right elements and bring their craft skills to bear.

7 actions to help foster great creativity

  1. Remember what’s possible, how transformative great advertising creative can be
  2. Allocate resource against outcomes not inputs
  3. Spend time together.  Discuss work (not just yours). Is anything holding you back?
  4. Aspire to better briefs and better feedback
  5. Go long, not just wide. Don’t just chase the new, repeat winning formulas and don’t move on too soon
  6. Mark your CEO and CFO. Help them understand the commercial importance of brand
  7. Learn from Christmas, when the role of the brand and what audiences feel is paramount

Barriers to producing great creative

As well as the best practice, the consultation also identified factors that hinder the development of great advertising, including…

Lack of time spent establishing a common mission; talent tilted towards science, not art, with logic squeezing out magic; a drift towards short-termismperformance marketing, and immediately measurable activity; a climate of risk-aversion fuelled by potential social media backlash; short tenures and churn; the rise of project work rather than retained relationships; hybrid working stymieing serendipity; lack of access to senior decision-makers; bad briefs; the sometimes perverse incentives of creative awards, with tactical activations winning more than ongoing, strategic brand-building; and the diminution of craft skills.

The full findings from the consultation will be published in a white paper to be release in July.

Anthony Jones, Thinkbox’s Head of Research: “This is magnificent, insightful work by Laurence, drawing together the collective wisdom of this amazing industry from both sides of the creative development process. Built from the experience of some of the finest creative practitioners in the world, we hope it can help to encourage debate and discussion about how to facilitate the production of great work more often. Creativity is one of the most powerful drivers of advertising effectiveness, it’s in everyone’s interests to see it thrive.”

Laurence Green: "This consultation is not the answer, but it does have answers. We need to start with the barriers, because there are many…and because some can be tackled, sometimes even just by raising awareness of them. You can run most of the great campaigns people talk about through this checklist for best practice and find every box ticked. The red thread through it all is optimism, mission, teamwork and imagination.”


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