In the post-digital age of multi-dialogue, multi-channel, multi-platform confusion, our profession has to reassess the nature of its driving force. Creativity, the power to turn “what if” in “what is” has to adapt in order to survive.
Every Age Gets the Creativity it Deserves.In the post-digital age of multi-dialogue, multi-channel, multi-platformconfusion, our profession has to reassess the nature of its driving force.Creativity, the power to turn “what if” in “what is” has to adapt in order tosurvive. We face a reality today where our “creativity” is being extended butnot as much as its structural domain. The challenge and the responsibility oftoday’s communicators are to extend the nature of “creativity”, rather thanmerely its application. To put it simply, if every era gets the creativity that itdeserves, what kind of creativity does our age deserve?Perhaps because the fashions and tactics that creatives use change soquickly, we are left with the impression that “creativity” changes every year.Yet if we stand back and look at the history of modern advertising (‘modern’being defined, roughly, as the period since the mid-50s), we can see that ithas basically gone through three stages. Each stage was born out of thecultural and economic environment of its time, but each has matured into aschool that has complemented, rather than replaced, its predecessors. Ofcourse, creatives will always argue that their ideas are forged through theintersection of all of these creative schools, but in reality each idea tends tohave its center of gravity in only one.Let’s look at the evolution of creativity and argue why a new kind appears tobe emerging.The “Product-led” CreativityThe post-war economic boom (1950s) mainly in the United States saw aproliferation of consumer goods and the sudden increase in choice meantthat ad guys had to work hard to differentiate brands one from another. Theneed for differentiation also put pressure on manufacturers to innovate,product innovations had to be communicated and that gave birth to theschool of “Product” Creativity. The high priests of this era were vastlydifferent in terms of style but in absolute agreement in terms of subject. Atone extreme David Ogilvy aspired to tame creativity according to his rulesand observations. Ogilvy’s polar opposite was Bill Bernbach, founder of the“revolution” who wanted creativity to be free, a product only of intuition. Yetdespite this fundamental difference, the two agreed completely that thesubject of creativity should start and end with the product. Bernbach’smaxim for creativity could have come from Ogilvy, “The magic is in theproduct.” and Ogilvy’s advice could have come from Bernbach, “You ‘ve gotto believe in the product”. Bring in mind, or Google, ads like Volkswagen’s“Lemon” or Rolls Royce’s “Clock” and you will see what I mean. The“Product” creativity is still very much alive and well, and many ads fall intosome variation of this category.The “Consumer-led” CreativityTheodore Levitt introduced the now accepted notion that business needed to
be focused on the consumer, not the business, in his seminal article“Marketing Myopia”. Even though Levitt published his article in 1960, its fullimpact on advertising was not to be felt for more than a decade (1970s). Themost important was the rise of the marketing department in both size andprestige. One of the main tools that these newly empowered marketingdepartments used was market research, particularly in the development ofadvertising. The most important discovery that the researchers made wasthat consumers’ motives for purchasing were a lot less rational and a lotmore emotional than had been previously thought. These discoveriesresulted in a shift in creative emphasis, from what the product did to how thebrand made you feel. There was a general realization that while the productcould be imitated the brand could not, so portraying the consumers’ feelingstowards the brand was the key. One of the most famous early consumerbased ads was Coca-Cola’s ‘Hilltop’ commercial of 1971. The story of itscreation is revealing. Bill Backer, of McCann Erickson, was delayed for aflight and saw his fellow passengers together drinking Cokes. His epiphanywas that Coca-Cola was about human relationships, not really about theproduct at all.The “Competition-led” CreativityIn the 1980s a third school of creativity emerged. This new school wascreated, out of the limitations of “Consumer-led” creativity, as an answer toconsumer cynicism and media clutter. Consumers became moresophisticated, routinely used marketing jargon in focus groups and weregenerally skeptical of advertisers’ claims. They had also become adept atmentally screening out these messages that threatened to overwhelm them.“Positioning” as it was articulated by Reis and Trout became the marketingmantra of the 80s. The basic idea was that brand building did not work in avacuum, but had to take into account what competition both direct andindirect has planted in the consumer’s mind. Positioning seemed like ananswer to the new problems of clutter and cynicism. Translated intoadvertising terms, this put a huge premium on being different. Whatcharacterized this school was the defiant way in which the advertisingdisrupted the conventions that form each market category. Ads that belongin this school have surprise as their most salient feature. The ad that createdand defined this school is Apple’s epic “1984”. The zenith of this schoolarrived with the dot.com revolution of the late 1990s, when hundreds of newand often directly competitive brands where launched overnight.There is no doubt that the 3 schools are still alive in the 21st century and thatcreatives are chasing the holy grail of an idea that is forged through theintersection of the 3. And on rare occasions they find it. The Apple “I am aMac” is a good example of a campaign that manages to combine the meritsof the 3 schools. But things have changed. As before, it will take some timefor the changes to take full effect, but the signs are here.
What’s happens now?It is an undeniable fact: The digital revolution combined with the globaleconomic crisis has created globally a greater level of consciousness acrossall ages and genders. We can’t go back. We have heightened our perception;we are awake, alert, aware, —whether we like it or not.Consumers are still an audience, but they arent necessarily listening to you.Theyre listening to each other talk about you. The digital revolution isdramatically changing the way consumers shop and gather information onproducts and services. The implications for marketers are profound, asconsumers increasingly research products, compare prices, tap into theopinions of other users, and solicit advice from friends at all points in theshopping process (sometimes even while shopping at a brick-and-mortarstore). New sources of trusted information are emerging as more and moreuser-generated content makes its way onto the Web, and the conversationsamong consumers and companies are shifting from one-way tomultidirectional, including direct exchanges among consumers. Socialnetworking sites are convening communities of consumer advocates andreplacing traditional information sources. Consumers now know more,communicate more and can be persuaded less. The information abundanceis reversing the communication order and now everybody is both a senderand a receiver. The strong power of persuasion has given its place to thebenevolent power of advocacy.In many countries, anxiety about the future is approaching or surpassinglevels seen only in 2009, at the height of the downturn. The economy mayindeed be coming back to life in many affected markets, but it doesn’t feelthat way to many consumers in Europe, India, and China, where anxiety hasrisen. No doubt the crisis in Japan, economic turmoil in Greece, Ireland,Portugal, Spain, Italy and unrest in the Middle East have taken a toll onconsumers’ peace of mind. In some regions, unemployment remainsstubbornly high, real estate markets are expected to fall further, and many ofthe factors that contributed to the financial crisis of 2008 are still very muchin place. As a result, in the U.S. for example, the proportion of surveyparticipants1 who said they have been personally affected by the downturnincreased 8 percentage points (from 49 percent in 2010 to 57 percent thisyear). Without easy access to credit and with depressed property valuesbringing a diminished sense of wealth, consumers in the U.S., Spain, and theU.K. are reluctant to spend as they once did. The recent economic downturncatalyzed (and, in some cases, accelerated) a shift in what matters most toconsumers. These changes are continuing to have an effect on howconsumers think about spending and saving. Despite increasing economicstability in some key markets over the past year, the world is experiencingheightened levels of uncertainty stemming from a torrent of political unrest,natural disasters, corporate scandals, and product scares. A new consumerconsciousness is being forged, the choices we are making are definitely1 BCG Consumer Sentiment 2011 – “Navigating the New Consumer Realities”
more deliberate, but the exact decisions we make are personal, context-dependent, and relative to the day or the state of our lives and mindsets atany given moment.From Divide and Conquer to Unite and Prosper.Marketing executives often look to books written by military strategists when itcomes to describing how to win in the marketplace. All these war metaphorstaught us to launch campaigns, position our brands and gain territories inconsumer’s mind. The whole marketing paradigm is based on an “either-or”mentality. In these cautionary times, fueled by a weakened global economy,political uncertainty and technological complexity dividing the world intofriends and foes seems natural. As budgets “right-size” and new productlaunches decrease, taking sides and saying that you will do this “OR” that,may feel safer but it is actually a more dangerous time to do it.In an era of growing consumer expectations, scrutiny, and skepticism of “green-washing”, joining up marketing and sustainability makes sense so thatthe overall strategy can be more efficiently communicated and developed,claims Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed. Adding such dimensions to marketingrequires a new way of “joined-up thinking”; where all communications,whether marketing or editorially based, are driven by the same motivations ofcultural understanding and transparency.If we examine which ideas managed to attract the many not the few, we willsee that it was the ideas that managed to unite instead of divide. It was theideas that refused to be trapped by the tyranny of the “OR” and submittedthemselves to the genius of “AND”. The world’s greatest brands are built onthose premises. In a reflective moment Steve Jobs, after the launch of theiPad, mentioned Apples DNA. He said:"Technology alone is not enough. Its technology married with the liberal arts,married with the humanities that yields the results that makes our heartssing."The celebration of those “odd weddings” is essential despite the difficultenvironment in which we are operating, or rather, because of it. A stagnanteconomy wont grow again with a chorus of naysayers in the background. Itstime to lean into the storm and show how and why our ideas -- and our abilityto execute them -- matter more than ever. It will take some ingenuity andfortitude to create and maintain an “AND” culture when nearly every headlinetells us to hunker down. Today, more than ever, in a fragmented world whereeveryone is seeking signposts, we need big central ideas that serve asbridges that connect the many not the few.It is time not to divide and conquer but to unite and prosper.Populist CreativityIn this age we can’t treat people as consumers anymore. Calling themconsumers assumes they are willing and able to consume, and we all know
that they aren’t. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. Commercialcommunication does not follow the old sender – receiver model. We are notbroadcasting selling propositions to passive audiences. We inhabit amarketing ecosystem demanding that we all listen to the conversations ourcustomers are engaged in, that we cede control in order to gain it. Peopleform an audience, and theyre using your products, your brand names, youriconography, your slogans, your trademarks, your designs, your goodwill, allof it as if it belonged to them. Now that everybody has become a sender anda receiver, we need to understand audience behavior, earn their attentionand invite them into our brand story. Commercial communication hasbecome a conversation and brands rather than orators have becomemoderators. A speech is an oral (and visual) presentation by one directed toa group. Conversations on the other hand, are the ideal form ofcommunication in some respects, since they allow participants with differentviews on a topic to learn from each other. This crucible of our time gave birthto another school of creativity and we at Lowe & Partners have coined a termfor it: Populist Creativity.Populism, defined either as an ideology or a type of discourse, has taken leftwing and right wing definitions often associated with ‘demagogy’ and ‘catch-all’ politics. In our case, the word “populist” is meant in its purest form, asthe kind of ideas that are intended to represent ordinary peoples needs andwishes2. Ideas that engage the many, not the few. Ideas that bridge the2 Cambridge dictionary.
divide between high and popular culture, digital natives and digitalimmigrants, the haves and the have-nots. Ideas that breed in hearts andminds, not on product attributes, positioning charts or loyalty indices. Thiskind of creativity doesn’t view consumers like consumers anymore. They arefathers & mothers, brothers and lovers, tutors and pupils, neighbors &citizens, trusting only what their families or closest friends say, and itspurpose is to get brands into that tight circle, and make sure they are trusted.Populist creativity unravels codes, identity and myth making, and createscultural icons through brand movements. The best example yet of this newschool of Creativity is Volkswagen’s “The Force”. In the ad, upper-middleclass car drivers are viewed as fathers and the product attribute showed,was ultra generic in the category but the ad made it in the inner circle oftrust. The ad became pop culture by tapping into popular culture. Star Warsis one of the few cultural touchstones that nearly everyone in the world has arelationship with. And the “Force” found a way to turn that into somethingnew and uniquely ownable to Volkswagen. The success was amazing. Beforeairing on TV, “The Force” had over 13 million views on YouTube, was themost shared Super Bowl commercial and experienced the highest pre-gamead buzz on Twitter, with 2,800 tweets. After airing, VW was the #2 brand inpost-game buzz, and “Darth Vader commercial” was the top searched adand 4th highest Google search term. Three weeks and over 32 million viewslater, it had over 24,000 comments, 86 posted copies, 73,400 tweets.Creativity has always been a magnetic force uniting people; a force totransform people’s behavior. A force to make good things happen.May the force be with you.Antonis KocheilasManaging Partner / PlanningLowe & PartnersMail: email@example.com