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Has Creativity Lost Its Value?

Has Creativity Lost Its Value?

It was Mr. Dylan who said something about the times changing. At this stage, it seems that the times aren’t changing, they’ve totally transformed. Things are definitely not what they once were. We can access the sum of human knowledge from a tiny smartphone, and we can peer deep into distant galaxies but despite our newfound technical skill, we seem to have lost touch with the value of things.

This is logical I suppose. When everything is reduced to a picture on a 5” high-definition screen, complete with a “Buy Now” button, and instant gratification isn’t just the norm, but a vitally important part of our lives, then is it any wonder that things have become virtually meaningless?

Something that’s also apparently rapidly becoming worthless is creativity. We live in an age where we can get logos designed super-cheap, and almost anything else designed, written, made or installed for as little as the punter is prepared to pay.

When, and more importantly, how did this happen?

The when is hazy, because the timelines have shifted like sands on a distant beach disrupted by unnatural weather patterns. The how is much clearer. First there was globalisation, and then the internet changed everything, bringing globalisation to the masses in a way that no one could have foreseen. The success of The Warehouse in NZ can be ascribed to one simple factor – the ability to put cheap stuff in the hands of a market that wants it. Why pay more when you’re shopping for commodity products like toys, garden hoses or plastic buckets? They’re all the same thing regardless of where you buy right?

Well, no not really, but enough people think they are to make the red sheds a licence to print money. Theoretically the same logic can be applied to creative activities. A logo is a logo is a logo right? It must be because you can get one online for as little as $5. In fact, the skills required to design a logo must be pretty worthless because not only can you get a logo cheap, designers will queue up just to offer their services, making sure you get real value for your (tiny bit of) money.   

The next logical extension of this approach is to outsource anything and everything creative. If you can get a logo done at a discounted price, then why not let a creative type from “someplace cheap” whip up your next advertising campaign? Too much of a stretch? Not for everyone! Once the idea sets in that creativity is worth exactly what the customer is willing to pay, and that all creative work is worth only the lowest available rate, then the rot can set in.

Don’t believe me? I once worked for a publisher who liked the idea of outsourcing articles from the Philippines, rather than paying clued-up local writers to craft well-written pieces for his magazines. The idea didn’t go far because there are some articles that just can’t be written by people who aren’t on the ground, living and breathing the environment they’re writing about. Sometimes, you need a specialist writer.

The same is true when it comes to many other creative endeavours, including advertising of course. Sometimes, you just need a specialist to do specialist work, an expert who knows the local environment, who understands the competition, the consumer, the channels and the delivery mechanisms. Someone who can craft your advertising, or even your logo for that matter, because they have years or decades of local experience. Just because you can get cheap work done internationally, or even locally doesn’t mean that you should.

But don’t take my word for it. Rather, look at it from another perspective – yours. You’re not buying a cheap bucket to wash the car with, one where it doesn’t really matter if it lasts six months or a year. That kind of thing you can replace at will. When it comes to advertising and design, you’re buying sales and profit. You’re buying bottom line numbers on the spreadsheets that tell you if you’re staying in business, getting your butt kicked, or dominating your sector. There’s no doubt that working with a gifted creative team will cost you more than hiring the lowest bidder, but you’re far, far more likely to get results when you work with people who see you and your company as more than merely job #1728 of the year.

There are other questions to ask yourself when you’re shopping around for design work or help with your advertising:

  • Does my brand and business matter so little that the lowest bid makes sense?

  • Do I believe that my 50 and 60-hour work weeks are only worth the cheapest possible marketing?

  • What would happen to my bottom line if I could get some great advertising instead of the humdrum stuff I always run?

To close, allow me to tell a little story. I was recently walking around a little town in Phuket, Thailand looking for a rice cooker. I was nowhere near a big department store, so I strolled into a small local appliance shop. The proprietor showed me a Sharp brand rice cooker for 590 Baht ($25ish) but I saw that he also had an off brand model for closer to 300 Baht ($12ish). I asked him what the difference between the two units was. He scratched his jaw, reflected for a moment and then said, “This one cheap, this one good”. I bought the good one. You should too.

So what does a $5 logo look like?

And what does a $17,000,000 logo look like?

The city of New York spent $17 million on a campaign to redesign the iconic "I Love NY" logo. Was it really worth it?


How to brief an Advertising Agency

How to brief an Advertising Agency

It’s inevitable that the paths of marketing and advertising will cross. They’re twin industries, joined at the hip. Which is why it’s so important to know how to properly brief an advertising agency.  Depending on what your role in marketing entails, you may have had a little or a lot of experience dealing with the Suits and the Creatives and the dreaded Ninjas that live in Adland. Regardless of your exposure, you’ll definitely know that they’re a strange bunch. So what does it take to get the most out of them when you brief in new work?

You have to go beyond the basics

I’m going to assume that you know the basics of briefing an advertising agency, such as defining your target audience, your strategy, your budget, your objectives and so forth. But to be honest, the basics just aren’t enough.

There must be thousands of basic examples of how to brief an ad agency available online. The Communications Agencies Association of New Zealand (CAANZ) has a cute, five page, basic briefing guide on their site. I only refer to it here in a similar way to the United Nations placing “Danger! Minefield!” signs all over old battlefields. It’s truly average and any brief sheet that says the most important point of a brief is “to save money” needs to be rewritten.

On the other end of the scale, The New Zealand Transport Association, in all its bureaucratic glory, has a 60-page manual on how they brief their advertising partners. They cover almost everything from what font should be used on a billboard design, to how you should evaluate creative concepts. Amazingly, they devote 12 pages of their guide purely on how to avoid “common mistakes” in advertising. That means they’ve set aside 20% of their manual to cover possible negative outcomes to an advertising campaign. Which means that either the other 80% of their guide is very badly written, or briefing an advertising agency isn’t as easy as it seems.

 So what makes a good brief?

The answer to that all-important question is very simple: one that delivers results! After all, advertising is all about results, whether it’s in the form of increased sales, higher profits or better conversions. Your advertising agency has to know exactly what you want them to deliver, and how they deliver it is up to you to decide. That’s why you need to give them the a seriously tight brief.

Who's interested in boring advertising?

Who's interested in boring advertising?

The freedom of a tight brief.

It’s important to set up very strict parameters as early as possible when briefing an advertising agency, simply because you’re asking your advertising agency to be creative. Granted that this is part of their job, but the thing with creativity is that one man’s Picasso is another man’s piece of junk. Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that the size of your target audience is one million people. This means the creative work being produced by your advertising agency has to appeal to a very wide range of folk, so there’s most likely no place for Picasso here. On top of this, there’s always the chance you might alienate your target audience if you’re creative just for the sake of creativity.

Creative freedom has to come with constraints.

You need to rein in your advertising agency and make it clear in the briefing process that this is a financial transaction, and that you expect them to deliver what you’ve all agreed to. If you invested a million dollars on building a new home, you’d expect the builder to build as per the approved plans. You’re not going to want the builder to put together your home with seven bathrooms and one bedroom just because he was feeling creative, so why should your advertising be any different?

Now many people will say you shouldn’t ever constrain creativity and that creative people should be free to do as they please but I disagree. When you enforce constraints, when you make the journey to find real creativity as challenging as possible, that’s when the magic really happens. Who wants to see a daredevil ramp his motorbike over a single car? It’s blasé and we know it. That’s why we demand that daredevils ramp their bikes across the Grand Canyon, over rows of hovering helicopters, through burning hoops of napalm while being chased by Stinger missiles. That’s where the glory is, that’s what the audience wants to see and that’s where you will find true creativity.

Advertising, and the associated creativity found within the industry, has to have restraints. Every creative person working in an advertising agency wants to break the rules and push the envelope right out of the box into some new, as yet undefined, realm. But seriously, let them do it with their hands tied behind their back.