MCLELLAN: Is creativity bad for marketing?
As a writer, just typing that question hurts a little. Advertising and marketing people pride themselves on their creativity. After all, it’s one of the lures of the profession for most of us.
But does it serve our businesses and our business goals? On the surface, it’s easy to argue that creativity is essential to good advertising and marketing. Whether it’s strategic nuances and insights, being innovative in your brand and how you express it, or marketing materials that capture the audience’s attention and imagination – all of those are built on a foundation of creative thinking.
But I’ve been in some situations recently where it was evident that the long-term objectives were not being well served by an infusion of creativity. So let’s look at how the very thing we work so hard to capture can also be a detriment.
Too many ideas: This can be a killer. When a team is on fire with great ideas and falls in love with them all, the end result can be a mess. Sometimes the team tries to pack in all the ideas, so rather than building a message hierarchy where you lead with your key message and then support that message, you get five pounds of ideas shoved into a one-pound bag. That results in a lot of superficial messaging rather than a well-developed story with depth and relevance.
The other possible outcome of too many ideas is that the team decides to use them all sequentially. That typically means that no one idea is left in place long enough to really take root. Remember, about the time that we as the creators are getting sick of the ad, brochure, tagline, etc., is about the same time the intended audience is just beginning to notice it. If you pull the plug too soon, you lose all momentum and have to start all over.
Unbridled creativity: As the brainstorming pendulum swings, it often goes to an extreme that’s beyond the audience’s sensibilities. Sometimes a team can get so enamored with being provocative or wildly creative that they forget who their audience is. We’ve all seen ads that were very outlandish and got a lot of attention but in the end were too far over the top and the company ended up issuing an apology or retracting the ad.
Marketing has a very simple purpose: to sell something. It might be a product, or an ideal, or a candidate, or a charity’s cause. But it does not exist to entertain, provoke a reaction or win awards. If it sells AND entertains, all the better. But it needs to do its job. Which means the audience’s perspective must always be front and center.
Cart-before-the-horse creativity: Believe it or not, good creativity is actually the outcome of a very disciplined process, at least in marketing. To truly be creative in a way that nets the desired results, you have to do your homework before you release the creative juices. Until you define the goals, identify and get to know your audience and understand your unique position in the marketplace, you hold your creativity in place.
When you unleash it too soon, you may come up with the most compelling marketing tools that drive the audience to action, but they might be the wrong audience, might be taking the wrong action or might play to one of your competitor’s strengths.
Like most things, creativity isn’t good or bad, at least not in the world of marketing. It’s how we use it that makes it either a huge asset or a hindrance to us achieving our ultimate marketing goals.