Neglecting creativity

There is a tension between old and new. And it’s not a new story. Our new media age – the one started in 1994, not the venerable namesake we’ve been reading for (just) sixteen years – has always been predicated on a tension between the advertising and virtual paradigms. These elicited two different approaches to creative thinking: one founded on engaging customers in a simple comms journey (see the TV ad, then see the press ad, then respond to the DM pack), and one founded on the novelty of the medium. This was fertile ground for upstarts finding brand new ways to compel people to come to and then engage with online brand campaigns.

Over the past dozen years this grew and, some might say, matured, so that the kind of brand idea that works beautifully in interactive media could have a traditional expression – integrated campaigns reached back to TV and creativity started to have an holistic expression, when done well. When done badly the phrase “Like us on Facebook” was simply stuck on a poster…

Social media has arguably taken the place of the TV ad. The best of them – love them or hate them – have won rafts of awards at creative festivals, and some apply real imagination to addressing the problem of consumers’ passing attention to creativity. And of course social media campaigns are cheap – or at least relatively so in the face of TV advertising’s mountainous resource and financial costs – a fact that plays well in a prolonged recession. With social substituting for the TV spot we’re almost back where we started.

There is another movement encouraged by this recession, happening in parallel. Recession pushes marketers, or at least budget holders, towards accountable activities. The rise and rise of CRM (made sexy by renaming it to eCRM) is due to customer journeys based on the prevalence of both big and small data and delivery using fully auditable digital channels. There are citable cases where £1 spent generates £26 of revenue, and where £200k of spend has built loyalty programmes with a million participants. So brands have moderated their attention towards the trackable, towards ROI-based, evidence-based marketing.

And this is where the tension comes back into the equation. We run the risk of reducing marketing to a spreadsheet, to highly defined segmented customer journeys which lead consumers inexorably from first to second to third purchase and which increment customer value in ways which impact the bottom line fantastically well. No bad thing, in principle. However without creativity, the engagement of consumers is reduced to efficiency and effectiveness and loses the thing that makes brands sing. Process and data are the lubricants to making marketing work. But creativity is the glue that makes consumers adore brands. Feeding creativity back into the mix is the big challenge for all of us. If we can get it right – and believe me we’re trying – then I believe we can build the next media age, one that once again is revolutionary.