EMBRACING UNEXPECTED CREATIVITY: THE ROUTE TO CREATIVE NIRVANA FOR BRANDS
For the latest episode of our Lab Leaders podcast, we had the pleasure of giving the reins over to TMW UNLIMITED. Hosted by content extraordinaire Henry Joyce and featuring CSO Dan Bowers and CCO Graeme Noble, this instalment explored all things creativity.
To unpick what we’ve coined as ‘unexpected creativity’, our guests start by discussing why CMOs may not have confidence in creativity as a conversion booster – as evidenced in UNLIMITED’s CMO Barometer 2023 findings, where 80% of senior marketers stated that creativity had a significant impact on marketing performance, but only 40% considered it a technique for ROI. Interested to see where the discussion took them? Read on to find out.
OUR RECENT STUDY OF UK CMOS BROUGHT TO LIGHT A DISCONNECT WHEN IT COMES TO MARKETING LEADERS’ FEELINGS ABOUT CREATIVITY. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS PARADOX EXISTS?
Dan: I was quite puzzled by the findings. There have been so many studies that have proven the correlation between great creative campaigns and actual business effects. Back in 2007, the IPA databank was mined with a famous study by Les Binet and Peter Field, where they proved that fame-driving creative campaigns have greater business impact.
There’s an old Dave Trott quote, where he said that “creativity is the last legal unfair competitive advantage” that you can use to run over your competition. This has been evident for many years now, so I couldn’t quite get my head around what’s getting in the way of marketing directors embracing it.
Graeme: It’s almost like their irrational brain knows that creativity is important and does respond to it, but then their rational brain gets in the way of seeing it. We know from neuroscience that our subconscious, irrational brain responds to stimuli first and then we tend to post-rationalise things after the fact, which is maybe the root of the disconnect here.
Dan: There has also been a long-held belief in the separation of brand building and performance marketing in the world of advertising, where the former only delivers long-term effects, while the latter provides short-term immediate impact.
This has been turned on its head only in the last two years. So, I wonder if a proportion of CMOs is still sticking to the old formula, when in fact, both aspects coalesce and work together: if you build brand, you are going to have an impact on sales.
IS CREATIVITY STILL AS IMPORTANT ACROSS THE MIDDLE FUNNEL CHANNELS OR DOES IT ONLY MATTER IN THE BIG BRAND CAMPAIGNS?
Graeme: You might argue that it matters even more in those channels because that’s where you need people to take notice of your work. People literally have the power to click away or turn you off, so if you don’t grab them in an entertaining way in those spaces, you’re losing a huge opportunity.
But the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a certain level of creativity injected into the big brand spaces, but this doesn’t have to get watered down in the smaller moments. You just need to be quicker and more entertaining in how you get the message across.
IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE A NEBULOUS CONCEPT TO SOME, SO WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY MEAN BY CREATIVITY AND WHY DOES IT DRIVE SUCH DIFFERENCE?
Graeme: One way to put it is that we’re looking for ideas, not ads. When you first present that idea to your team and there’s almost an electricity that goes around the room because people are excited. The same thing happens when you first share the idea with a client, and they can’t help but smile. That in turn of course translates to the wider consumer out there.
Dan: There’s been lots written about the science behind effective communication. But I think the first step for a brand to be encoded in your memory is to offer communication that surprises, captures attention, and almost alerts the brain to switch on and focus.
Graeme: We don’t want to settle for ideas that are correct. In the short term, they might answer a brief, but it’s not good enough to just be correct. It’s being unexpected that has the cut-through. We’ve taken brands that may have been a little bit in the doldrums and reinvented them. If you’re repositioning or trying to go from a staid positioning to become a challenger, it’s the perfect time to be unexpected and really hit people between the eyes, make them sit up and take notice.
CAN YOU GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES OF APPLYING UNEXPECTED CREATIVITY FOR BRANDS?
Graeme: The work we did for Freesat last year comes to mind. They wanted to challenge perceptions that they were the budget choice. We strategically turned this on its head to look at ‘freedom of choice’ and how it opens up a whole world of possibilities.
From there, our idea was centred on two crabs sitting on the ocean floor, looking up at the wonderful universe of Brighton Pier bursting with life and joy just above their heads. That’s the beauty of creativity – there’s no logical reason to end up where we did. Science and data did help guide us, which meant that we were set up to go in the right direction, but it’s that spark of human creativity that takes things to the next level.
DOES CREATIVITY NEED TO START WITH AN UNEXPECTED INSIGHT?
Graeme: A boring insight means that you have a lot further to go to come up with that unexpected idea. My analogy is always that if we want to reach the 100th floor of creative nirvana, unexpected insight can boost you up to floor 30 or 50 and you’re on your way.
Dan: Absolutely, and I think it’s the responsibility of the planning team to give the creatives as much headroom to reach those heady heights of unexpected creativity. There’s a healthy frisson where strategy and creative are pushing each other to land on a new perspective. Understanding human behaviour and insight means that we can take the work in a completely different direction and have conversations with clients where we’re telling them about a problem that they didn’t even know they had.
For example, when we worked with Aviva it was clear that the entire car insurance category was insistent on focusing on the point of crisis, while our job was to build brand preference and consideration all year round. But if people only ever think about car insurance post-accident, the opportunity is rather slim.
Applying the power of neuroscience, we found that while talking about car crashes does grab attention, do it too much and your brand becomes associated with negativity. So, we flipped it and found a space for positivity – highlighting the good, surprising things that happen while you’re driving.
Graeme: I remember us sitting on the sofa, and maybe I’m overclaiming here, but Dan and I had that Lennon/McCartney moment that led us to the ‘Embrace the Unexpected’ campaign. We wanted to spotlight the happy unexpected moments in the car – when you find a song that you love, or get the call that you got the job, or even when someone tells you that they love you for the first time. And the results spoke for themselves!
HOW DO WE BANG THE DRUM FOR CREATIVITY IN A WAY THAT PERSUADES CMOS OF ITS POWER?
Dan: We can do a lot from an evidencing point of view to show that creativity is a forte:
- Understanding the power of persuasion integral to creativity – showcase the research techniques available to us, such as Reaction Time Testing or Facial Tracking, where we can see the emotional impact that an idea has on an individual and how it can start to shape their decision-making and consideration towards a brand.
- Bake effectiveness into the planning and creative from the outset – determine measurement frameworks and KPIs to make sure you are measuring the right things. Namely, what are the brand effects (softer measures) and how do they correlate with the business effects (harder measures)?
WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO THOSE WHO HAVE DRANK THE KOOL AID ON CREATIVITY AND WANT TO KNOW WHERE TO START?
Dan: I would wholeheartedly recommend that they embrace creativity. But maybe it doesn’t have to be confined to a traditional media plan, where it’s a top-down campaign that requires huge investment. Maybe there’s a role for creativity in the middle funnel, in the more direct digital and social channels, where you can start to gauge what’s working and as a result have more confidence in it.
Graeme: Be unexpected. Challenge your agency to come up with those surprising ideas that you can’t anticipate. And if there’s no electricity in the room when you first hear them, it’s likely they will fall just as flat on the people you’re trying to target.
TIME TO BE UNEXPECTED
Whichever way you slice it, creativity is a game-changer when bolstered with unexpected, human-driven insight. If you’re looking for more advice on how to give your brand a creative edge, check out the full episode of Lab Leaders here.