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Uncommon sense: creativity in advertising

RBH’s Head of Creative Michael Vines has all the answers about creativity and how to come up with a breakthrough piece of advertising work.

What is advertising? How do you summarise a whole industry? In a single sentence, the task of advertising is to make a key message come alive in a fresh, memorable, compelling way.

Good advertising is something that engages consumers on rational and emotional levels and is capable of affecting change in their thoughts and behaviour. This is a familiar take on what we do and it seems pretty irrefutable. It does however beg the question, “How do you do that?”

The answer is, “Creatively.” Ian Bradley – one of the founders of RBH and the source of the middle letter in our name – spent just about all of his career as an advertising creative. As such, he thought a great deal about creativity itself. At various times he put his thoughts down into memos that were distributed across the agency and, several years after his retirement, continue to be shared and read.

“Advertising with an idea,” said Ian, “is better remembered than advertising without one.” For an idea to be memorable, it has to be original. Creative people know – consciously or not – that new ideas rarely come into existence without a struggle. If there is no struggle – then creatives instinctively know that they are merely following a well-trodden path than shaping a new one. A struggle because something genuinely new or unique doesn’t come easy.

Creativity is, in essence, problem-solving. But to come up with a breakthrough piece of creative work, the solution arrived at should be divergent. It needs to be strikingly unusual and out of the ordinary.

In order to produce a steady stream of uncommon solutions, agencies and networks all over the world use proprietary approaches or tools that define them and set them apart as being the holder of the key to successful creative solutions. From Harry McCann’s ‘Truth well told’ to TBWA’s Disruption formula or Saatchi’s Lovemarks, there is an attempt to make a science out of creativity, when, perhaps, it is more of an art.

It is notoriously difficult to measure the success of a piece of creative advertising. Or, rather, it is notoriously difficult to judge if a creative idea is going to be a success or not. We know when it’s been a success but we don’t know why it’s been a success. And how do we measure success? Brand recognition? Recall? A spike in sales?

As an agency we produce measurable campaigns all the time, which we know through reporting are successful and provide a clear return for our clients. Right now, though, we are talking about those magical, world-changing ideas that cannot be measured with numbers and figures. You can’t measure ‘Just do it’ or ‘Think Different’ and you would be wrong for attempting to do so.

Perhaps the right question to ask is if people, generally, recognise a great idea. I really think they do. It’s like a joke. Everyone appreciates a joke, don’t they? Everyone likes to laugh.

David Ogilvy said that the best ideas come as jokes. He was right, of course. They behave like them too. When you think about it, you laugh at a joke because it creates a new context for something you have always taken for granted – a behaviour, a custom or a convention. These jokes may not always be funny. Some are constructed to make you think. Whether jokes are laugh-out-loud funny or not, you appreciate their cleverness and we all get that little glow of satisfaction at having comprehended the expression of a singular thought.

The same is true of a great creative advertising idea. This idea might look at everyday objects and encourage you to see them as if for the first time. It might reframe your perception of something – what it means to be, say, an athlete.

We find ourselves in an exhilarating new creative era. Two decades into the 21st century, advertising ideas take on a startling array of form, from something like this to something like this. It has probably never, in the history of advertising been so much about the idea over the platform or the channel. These ideas must be powerful and attention-grabbing and new. Always new. To make creative advertising that is new, you need uncommon sense. A sense of the absurd. A skewed sense of perception. A daring approach – much like the one we at RBH take.

Written by Fizz Bingham

Digital Partner and Lifelong RBH-er.

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