‘Marketers must let agencies be creative’

Marketers and agencies need to work better together to allow more time for campaigns to be creative, rather than over-relying on research and targeting data, according to leading advertising executives.

John Lewis 2012 Christmas ad

Top creatives and planners speaking at Thinkbox’s ‘TV Creativity: the art of the heart” event in London last week expressed their concerns about marketers impeding creativity when they are faced with deadline and budget constraints.

John Townshend, creative partner at creative agency Now, said of one of his favourite ads – the 1990s “You know when you’ve been Tango’d” spot from HHCL – worked because the agency was given the license to be playful, relax and “have a laugh”, which does not always occur now.

“The thing that’s often lost in the process we go through is that most ads are over analysed and pasteurised and filtered by all of us until they’re not wrong – but what made [the Tango ad] great was that those guys were mucking around and playing and there was a bit that was wrong. The trouble is our process is so intense, with the pressure on clients to hit numbers [that] it is very hard to play when you’ve got nanny over your shoulder telling you not to muck around,” he said.

Another issue, raised by former Dare chief strategic officer Andy Nairn, was that creative agencies do not often get the time to get to grips with the real business problems of a brand because they are working “too far downstream”.

The problem of cutting out creativity could be tackled by allowing more time for creatives to conceive and sell their ideas to marketers as part of the early planning process, according to Paul Brazier, executive creative director at AMV BBDO.

He added: “[That will] give the client the best chance to understand the idea. If you want to do something surprising – but not necessarily frighten the life out of them – then take them on a journey, but say there’s a logic to it.”

Despite the apparent agency concern about the lack creativity allowed by marketers, there are some brands that appear to get it. Adam & Eve (now AdamandeveDDB) co-founder David Golding said John Lewis allows the agency to do “less planning”, “no [pre-testing] research whatsoever” and is “brave enough to feature almost no products” in its advertising. Its most recent festive ad, featuring a snowman journeying through snowy landscapes to find his partner the perfect present, helped drive the retailer’s 13 per cent increase in sales over the five weeks of Christmas trading.

Creativity is more than just indulgence, according to a 2011 study from the IPA and Gunn Report. It found of an analysis of 453 award winning campaigns, those with a creative element were 12 times as efficient than those without across a number of business metrics such as market share, volume and value. The IPA and Gunn Report will be releasing an update to these findings in June this year.

Debbie Morrison, ISBA’s director of consultancy and best practice, told Marketing Week ultimately clients get the agencies they deserve, and vice versa.

She adds: “If an agency feels like it isn’t being involved fully in the process it should try talking to their client. It’s a relationship after all and it’s hard to exert more influence if there’s been no dialogue. By the same token, we always recommend that clients brief their agency on the ‘business’ problem, not focus on channel-specific briefs; let the agency do its job, why have a dog if you are going to do all the barking?”


Lara O'Reilly

Marketing budgets are becoming increasingly squeezed and marketers are being tasked ever more to prove the effectiveness of their campaigns, so it is understandable they may try to apply logic and go for what is perceived as the less risky option rather than choose to spend upwards of 20 per cent of their media allowance on production by opting for the big creative blow out.

That said, creativity isn’t actually the risky option at all if it is allowed time and confidence to succeed. Memorable campaigns such as T-Mobile’s 2009 Liverpool Street station street dance spot generated a £15m increase in sales, while Cadbury Dairy Milk’s 2007 Gorilla ad achieved a return on media investment of 159 per cent, according to the IPA/Gunn Report.

Marketers should look to build a relationship of trust with their agencies at an early stage in a campaign’s development, allowing them to truly get under the skin of their business problems to turn those into positives – just think, Guinness’ “Good things come to those who wait” was based on the premise you had to wait an eternity for a pint – rather than simply ask them to “do me a John Lewis”, in order to be successful.

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