Ask London advertising agency folk to name the most creative ad of the past year or so, and opinion is divided between Fallon’s “Balls”, for Sony’s Bravia LCD TV range, and Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO’s Guinness spot “Noitulove”, showing three drinkers evolving backwards through time to become primitive amphibians. The latter pipped Balls to take the Grand Prix at Cannes this year.
But the ad world’s creatives are aware of a cloud forming in the shape of the internet. As the Web continues to grow in power, and more money shifts online, clients are demanding their advertising is both interactive and accountable. Nothing scares creatives more than the idea of giving clients a way of quickly assessing what consumers really think of their expensive TV ads – witness initial resistance to the idea of putting telephone numbers on campaigns in the 1990s.
Creativity is not enough The truth is, though, that few clients have ever been seduced by creativity alone. Martin Jones, director of advertising at the AAR, says that of some 400 clients to see the matchmaker in the last two years, “I can only think of two who asked to see the agency’s showreel before they looked at the talking heads.” Jones adds that the latter reel features agency personnel talking about themselves, their experience and beliefs, and gives clients an idea of potential chemistry. He adds: “Invariably, it’s about personal relationships, not creativity.”
While Jones admits there are certain industries where products and services are so similar that “creativity in marketing can be the only point of difference”, he adds: “For most clients, creative awards are a turn-off.”
Indeed, one ad insider says: “A reception area lined with shelves groaning with creative awards could lead a marketing director to ask if the agency is more interested in spending its clients’ money on adding to its haul, rather than making ads that answer the brief, whether that be selling product or shifting perceptions.”
Eyes on the prize Dave Buonaguidi is creative director of Karmarama, which refuses to enter creative awards. He argues: “If staff have one eye on awards, you are going to end up with a completely different ad, from the creative treatment to the selection of media.”
True creativity, he believes, lies in making sure that an ad has “cultural resonances” and “maximises the impact you can make for your client on a limited budget”.
Michael Hockney, chief executive of D&AD – the global educational charity known for its Yellow Pencil creative awards – offers a robust defence of creativity. He says: “Good creativity is one of the most powerful tools a client can own and it has never been needed as much as it is today. Most products can be copied immediately. Great creativity gives clients territory that is very hard for rivals to invade.”
Bartle Bogle Hegarty executive creative director John O’Keefe argues there is ample evidence that creative advertising can shift product off shelves, but accepts there are creatives who makes high-concept ads more “for the sake of the Cannes jury” than for the client’s good.
O’Keefe believes that true creativity is only possible if an agency has “an absolute understanding of the brand and of what needs to be done to hit business targets”.
He concludes: “We are a factory. We produce a product – advertising – and if it doesn’t have an effect, we won’t sell our product.”