Short tenures, bad briefs, risk aversion: The common pitfalls holding back creativity, study finds

To help foster creativity, advertisers are advised to repeat winning formulas, allocate resource against outcomes not inputs, and help the C-suite understand the commercial importance of brand, according to a new study by Thinkbox.

TV advertisingShort-termism, an over-reliance on data and lack of understanding among CEOs have all been highlighted as stifling the creativity of advertising, according to a new study by TV marketing body Thinkbox.

Led by advertising strategist Laurence Green, the common factors identified as holding back creativity include advertising talent being tilted towards science, not art, resulting in what the study describes as “logic squeezing out magic”.

Short-termism is also a problem, with advertisers often too focused on performance marketing and immediately measurable activity rather than long-term brand building.

Industry awards have also been raised as problematic as they may perversely encourage teams towards “tactical activations” as these are more likely to win, pushing brands away from “strategic brand-building”.

To overcome some of these challenges, creatives are encouraged to “go long, not just wide”. Thinkbox suggests brands should be looking to repeat winning formulas and not move on from successful projects too soon. “Don’t just chase the new,” it warns.

Elsewhere, short tenures and churn, the rise of project work rather than retained relationships, hybrid working and lack of access to senior decision-makers have also been singled out as problematic. As is a climate of risk aversion. The study, which is based on in-depth interviews with brands and agencies, finds this urge to play it safe is being fuelled by fears of potential backlash on social media.

Bad briefs are also highlighted as an issue, with Thinkbox suggesting the work should be clearly set out and agreed upon upfront. Agencies and clients should be “ambitious friends” it says, working towards a shared mission.

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To allow creatives to do what needs to be done once an idea reaches production, marketers are also urged to take a step back, allowing the production team the space to work on the brief and empower them to use their skills.

Taking action

In order to overcome some of these challenges, Thinkbox has outlined seven actions it believes will help promote creativity. These include focusing on how transformative great advertising can be and aspiring to create better briefs. It also encourages long-term thinking and suggests teams must avoid moving on from successful campaigns too soon.

In addition, Thinkbox recommends allocating resources to outcomes rather than inputs and encourages teams to spend time together discussing work and anything potentially holding them back. The trade body also underlines the importance of helping CEOs and CFOs understand the commercial importance of brand building.

Lastly, creatives are encouraged to think about their Christmas campaigns, when the role of a brand and what audiences feel are both put in focus.

Creativity is one of the most powerful drivers of advertising effectiveness, it’s in everyone’s interests to see it thrive.

Anthony Jones, Thinkbox

In order to glean these insights, Thinkbox carried out deep-dive interviews with 34 senior agency and client marketers in April and May. On the brand side this included marketers from McDonald’s, Boots, Channel 4, NatWest Group and Sage, alongside representatives from agencies BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett and Mother.

Anthony Jones, head of research at Thinkbox, says the study draws on the “collective wisdom” of people from “both sides of the creative development process”. He says he hopes that the results will help to encourage discussions around the best way to facilitate great work.

He adds: “Creativity is one of the most powerful drivers of advertising effectiveness, it’s in everyone’s interests to see it thrive.”

While Green acknowledges this consultation is “not the answer”, he does provide some answers. “We need to start with the barriers, because there are many… some can be tackled, sometimes even just by raising awareness of them,” he says.

The full results of the consultation will be shared in a whitepaper.