Can Creativity Be Engineered?

Can creativity be engineered? Or do engaging pictures and words simply appear from a mysterious well of swirling fog that can be accessed only by a select few?

Before we answer that, let’s first define “creativity”. For our purposes, we are talking about creativity in the commercial arts, especially advertising. Creativity here is the ability to produce communications that reach into our brains and trigger positive responses, whether that’s to “pick up the phone and call today” or hold a warm feeling in the back of our heads until we see that strangely familiar label in the store aisle.

So can creativity be engineered? No, it can’t. At least, not yet. But It’s also not magic. It cannot be exclusively pulled out of thin air. Instead, creativity in advertising is a mix of both engineering and talent. Commercial creativity is ushered and focused through insights that help guide experienced talent. This is best illustrated through what is commonly referred to as a Creative Brief. The Creative Brief gives creative teams an understanding of the brand, its voice, the deliverable (i.e. a website or video), the target market, competitive space and other insights.

As the former CEO of Laughlin/Constable and the mind behind, “We Love To Fly And It Shows” once told me, “The Creative Brief is like the guardrails on a winding highway.” It helps usher and focus an advertising team’s natural creativity and expertise towards triggering an emotional response about a brand with a specific group of people. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: “Write what you know.” In an industry where creatives can be working on a whiskey brand one minute and a dandruff shampoo the next, the Creative Brief puts them in the “know”, so that they can create to it.

In our last article, we talked about the differences between a strategic agency and a production shop. With a production shop, much of the work done developing the Creative Brief falls on the brand. A strategic marketing and advertising partner does the leg work necessary to write the Brief.

So as a brand, how can you best work with a strategic agency partner to make sure the best work sees the light of day and you see the needle move?

  1. Know it’s all connected. Media is everywhere, it’s connected and it’s your target markets that are controlling it. Organizations have to know their brand, hear what people are saying and engaged in a brand-inspired way specific to the media platform. Your agency is best suited to do all of those things: develop your message, hear what people are saying and react accordingly. Structure your relationship accordingly. Give your agency the access and breadth they need to effectively communicate your brand and engage its audience.
  2. Communicate openly and proactively. Select an agency partner you trust, set your sharing comfort level to “unbearable” and then start singing like a canary. Tell them everything you can about your business. The more your agency knows, the more they can help power-up the good and mitigate the bad. And in a world where any one of your customers can communicate to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions, in the blink of an eye, you want to make sure your agency has the ammunition to safeguard your brand. Having problems with morale? Tell your agency. Production line giving you fits? Tell your agency. Thinking of adding a new product? Better damn well tell your agency.
  3. Be a 6-year-old. The agency will have done a lot of work to understand you, your target market and your competitive space. So much so, they might have found some surprising insights or confirmed your long held beliefs of what your brand should say and do. So act like a 6-year-old and don’t be afraid to ask “why?” as many times as your heart desires. Why is the color palette for that print ad full of yellows? Why are you using humor in our blog? Why should we do a Facebook page? Why is the “buy now” button on our website in the bottom left corner?
  4. Give talent its due. Let the talent you’re hiring do what you’re paying them to do. The job of your advertising agency creatives is to interpret the brand identity, target market needs and your business goals into effective work that gets you the desired results. Your job is to make sure the work is on brand, on strategy and is delivering against the creative brief. It’s not as simple as saying “I don’t like the color blue”. You’ll get better work out of your agency partner if you can articulate why you think blue doesn’t jibe with the brand strategy and the Creative Brief.

The more you let the agency into your organization’s fold and the more you let the agency do its strategic and creative work, the better off everyone will be. For some organizations, that can be a difficult move. Don’t let it be. Creativity that sells does not come from pure inspiration or thin air. Yes, there is a certain element that does need to reach into that mysterious well of swirling fog. But even the most talented creative will need help building a ladder to make their way down the well. By connecting with a strategic agency on every level, you are giving them the materials needed to build that ladder and get them to where you need them to be. ❒

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