48 ways to transform creativity #5: Think like a shaman

January 25th, 2022

shamanThere are 48 techniques that can transform the creativity of the work that you do.  Here’s the fifth technique:  Ask yourself, beyond the brief, how does this deliver really long-term success?

Shamanism is one of the oldest belief systems.  Beliefs incorporate a strong sense of family, ancestry and animism, the idea that spirits exist in every natural object, making respect for the environment core.

“Mankind does not end its existence because sickness or some other accident kills it animal spirit down here on earth.  We live on.” Nalungiaq, Netsilik woman.

Clearly with this perspective comes responsibility to the spirits of your ancestors that still surround you, and a long-term perspective about your descendants and their environment, reaching aeons into the past and into the future.

Contrast this with the immediate and short-term results driving many careers.  Does your boss set you objectives with key performance measures checked monthly or quarterly?  Do you only get a reward or bonus for meeting or exceeding them in the next 12 months?

Is the brief you’re working on focused on immediate returns or does it have any kpi for the longterm?

The ad business is in sharp growth in the UK.  Brian Wieser, Group M’s Global president of business intelligence, has admitted surprise at the growth of the ad business in 2021, saying: “It is expanding much faster than we anticipated”.  The UK is the fastest growth territory with 35% forecast for 2021 (despite only 2.6% decline in 2020).  And no let up in 2022.   More than three quarters of ad spend is digital, digital media where immediate results are available fastest.

Does this mean short termism is inevitable in UK marketing and media?

Not of course if you take lessons from the IPA databank, where businesses are advised to split long versus short term investments 60:40, and where digital businesses are called out to a bigger long term cut of 70:30.

Not if you look to many corporate businesses’ recommitment to the long term in their annual reports.  Some chief executives now consider not only the triple, the quadruple but even the quintuple bottom line as a priority.  So not just profit (and stakeholder management), but also people, planet, ethics and equity (ie fairness for society at large).

Belonging, best seller in business ethics, is packed full of evidence that if you start with people, ethics and equity you will drive profits in the medium and longterm.

But, of course it’s not just about what your boss or business says.  Its what motivates you to get out of bed each morning and bring your best self to work.  Feeling like you belong is crucial.  You must also consider your personal legacy.

Best selling academic and business consultant Clayton Christiansen (creator of the theory of disruptive innovation) wrote: “On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction…. One of the theories that gives great insight on the first question—how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements.”

Faced with any challenge, however short term the brief might appear, try and see the bigger, more long term, more expansive picture to get to a truly creative and truly satisfying solution.   Late in 2021 The Trade Desk SVP Professor Philippa Snare reported that one top marketer told her “I don’t think that you can build legacy brands without taking a longer-term view”.

Take a longer term perspective.  Ask: “How does this deliver really long-term success?”  Think like a shaman, consider what legacy your work on the brand delivers for the wider world and for the next generations.

Welcome to the 5th age of advertising

January 10th, 2022

relevanceThere have been roughly 4 ages of advertising.  We have now entered the 5th age.  The Age of Relevance.

In the  1st age in the 1950s, in the Age of Interruption, consumers were happy to pay attention to advertising and essentially to do what it told them to do because they actively sought the reassurance of brand names and tended to trust what big companies told them.  Culturally advertising represented an antidote to the scarcity of the war years.

In the 2nd age, the Age of Entertainment in the 1960s and 70s people would still pay attention to ads, but they needed to be entertaining.  This was the first golden age of creativity in advertising.  People actively sought out entertaining advertising, school kids acted the great ads out in playgrounds and some of the brand building effects of this resonate today.  Many people can still recite the slogans from ads in those days;  (were they in fact ad slogans or mini poems to brands?  “a million housewives every day, pick up a can of beans and say: ‘Beanz means Heinz’”).   John Webster’s Smash Martians ads still top leagues of favourites.  Dave Trott’s “Ariston and on and on” still sings to us (even though you may have a Bosch now).  People actively looked forward to the new Cinzano, Hamlet or Gold Blend execution.  The age of entertainment waned, as the IPA has reported and mutated into the 3rd age of advertising.

In the 3rd age, the Age of Engagement, in the 80s and 90s, the relatively rapid rise in the number of media channels meant that reaching people at the right time and place was crucial.  Then the rise of social channels and ecommerce changed things fundamentally in the early 2000s.

In the next era, in the Age of Dialogue, dialogues between consumers could and often did have more effect on brand growth than advertising.  In the old paradigm when you popped into a department store to buy a new dishwasher other customers didn’t come up to you and tell you what they thought of it.  That’s exactly what they do online.  As I wrote in “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool” the consumer had become an expert, in finding out price comparisons, sourcing provenance and discovering other people’s opinions.  Social media and researching and buying online changed shopping for ever.

And where are we now?

We are at the dawn of a new promise.  The age of Relevance.  In the age of Relevance ads are served to the right people at the right time and in the right format and place fuelled by brilliant live personal data insight and not the proxies we used in the 1990s.  If this is combined with a renewal of brilliant creativity informed by our data led understanding of what gets a brand talked about, what resonates culturally and what is truly personally magnetic, then we have a future ahead of us where no one dodges advertising because the advertising that they are served is the right message, at the right time, in the right place with the right relevancy.  We will be in a new golden era for creativity across the whole purchase cycle.

And consumers themselves will contribute to this age of relevance.  By editing their own ad preferences, by skipping ads they find disruptive and by being careful of their privacy they will ensure that the work that cuts through is rewarded.

There’s work in our Creative Systems department that shows where data, media and creative are optimised in concert effectiveness increases significantly – I find this really striking and a real signpost for the future.  A future where new data delivers new effectiveness.  As Stef Calcraft, global ceo creative transformation says: “The truth is that with new knowledge comes competitive, creative advantage”

There’s a bright positive future for those brands that get this right. Those that don’t will find themselves increasingly irrelevant.



The 4th way to transform creativity: be iconic

December 13th, 2021

audThere are 48 ways to transform creativity.  Here’s number 4: Make an Icon.

We are surrounded by icons, we navigate our lives by their light.  In his book How brands become icons Douglas Holt says “The crux of iconicity is that the person or the thing is widely regarded as the most compelling symbol of a set of ideas or values that society deems important”.  James Dean or Harley-Davidson bikes represented 1950s American rebellion against crushing mores of convention.  Budweiser became the beer that championed overlooked ordinary men.  VW Golf created iconicity around independent womanhood in the 1980s.   And when a brand becomes an icon it becomes mythical.  Holt explains: “when a brand creates a myth, consumers come to perceive the myth as embodied in the product.  So they buy the product to consume the myth and to forge a relationship with the brand.”

This is one way to be creative about a brand.  Consider how it can become an icon.  What pressure in society can it represent an escape from?  How can it represent the spirit that the zeitgeist needs?

Should you put the product on a pedestal?  Sometimes elevating a simple everyday product with the most gorgeous of advertising is enough.  Hovis’ representation of nostalgia took a humble loaf from a commodity product to a taste of homecoming.

Telling the unvarnished truth can transform brand salience.  Pot Noodle worships at the altar of truth.  In a series of campaigns it has represented youthful overturning of restrictive adult family meals.  It has a wilful perversity that is celebrated with advertising designed to annoy controlling authority figures that think they know better.  Planner Andy Davies wrote in an IPA submission in 2003: “With a personality other youth brands would kill for – bold, irreverent, subversive, it is an icon for young people.”

Be consistent.  Some brands deliver ruthlessly in terms of eternal iconicity.  Celebration is nothing without Moet.  It’s not the same celebrating with a cup of tea.   It never has been, and it never will be.  True eternal icons resist fundamental change.  New York is an iconic city, it never changes but it continually reinvents.

There are some media choices that elevate brand icons.  Cinema is a medium that was invented to build movie star icons and creative work shown in a cinema can deliver more desirability than the same work shown in a social feed.  Naïve media people may wonder at the premiums that glossy magazines demand for front section advertising if they don’t understand the associations that make that environment worth it.  While TV retains its role as a channel for iconic advertising who doesn’t adore seeing their brand on an outstanding billboard, literally your name in lights.

Match your brand with another icon.  Partnerships and influencer campaigns can deliver brilliant associations in this respect.  So too can the right kind of stunt.  My 1990s campaign for Converse Allstars revolved around projecting the advertising onto the edgiest clubs of the edgiest cities around Europe.

Acknowledge the brand icon fans. Every icon needs acolytes and it’s essential to consider them in the marketing of an icon too, without losing control.

Controlling context is also crucial.  Be careful about what the brand is near.  Even the most spot on sponsorship associations might be next to ads that lower the tone or lose the association completely.  Great icons are careful about the company that they keep.

Above all be respectful.  You can create icons, but icons can also fall.  Think about how the brand can be iconic as a means to inject real creativity, but respect the icon that you create.


Style or Swagger?

November 26th, 2021

bry“It’s all about the detail”

This could be a comment about media planning, or advertising.  Strategy is fine, but its nothing without the detail.

But in fact this what Bryan Ferry said to me about men’s tailoring.  Ferry, a pop star and fashion icon, first came to my attention when he was on Top of the Pops as lead singer of Roxy Music in a blue leather suit.

I met him, years later, when I was a plus one on a trip to Paris where Mark Edwards was interviewing him for the coolest magazine of its era, Arena.  The interview ran late, I wangled myself an invite to dinner, and Ferry, who could not have been more charming to this interloper, explained men’s fashion to me, of which he is an icon of course.

Ferry has always worn outfits to stand out.  So too has Tabboo! – a multi-disciplinary artist whose works are in MoMA and who became famous as part of New York City’s drag scene in the 1980s.  Tabboo! dresses as a “Manifesto for life”.  He says: “Most part everybody now wears sweatshirts or gymwear, even to fancy events.  I’m the one dressed to the nines.  To the twelves! The fifteens!  They say what are you all dressed up for?  My answer is, today.  This could be the last day of my life and this is how I’m living.”

Of course, many people stopped dressing for work when they began working from home.  Not so GroupM Emea CEO Demet Ikiler, who told me, on the Connected Podcast, that she’s been getting ready for work every morning whether she has been going to the office or not during lockdown.  She’s been dressing for herself.

We’re in transition back to real life meetings.  How is this affecting what people wear?  Will the casual fashion common to many when working from home remain pre-eminent or will dressing up for the office return?

In my first conference in real life this year, there was a big divide between how the women on stage dressed versus many (but not all) of the men.  Many of the men on stage were in very casual clothes, worn in jeans and trainers.  Most of the women were dressed to those nines and fifteens.  I commented to the chair of my session that one reason for having more women on stage is that you could count on them to dress up.  Ellie Edwards Scott, co-founder of the Advisory Collective, replied:  “Ah but those men on stage don’t feel that they need to dress up – they have the power.”

I don’t know if this is the case.  I do know the difference was stark.   And if Ferry’s main lesson about men’s clothing was it’s all about the detail, this wasn’t evident at this event.

There may be other reasons for the difference.  Another wise commentator said she thought that the casual look was meant to project youthful trendiness, not power.  Certainly, men’s clothing is traditionally a uniform – from the pinstripes of the business world of the last century to the frayed jeans and casual sweatshirts of today, it may all be about fitting in.

As a woman in business perhaps it is crucial to stand out still, and this may be also true for other groups that are under-represented in senior leadership.  Either way, it will be true that there’s more diversity in dress as well as diversity of thinking if women and other groups are represented on stage at conferences as well as in business.



There are 48 ways to transform creativity. Here’s number 3. Use an old idea.

November 15th, 2021

smashRecently the grand ad man Dave Trott gave a potted history of great advertising at the excellent ZeeMelt21 conference.  This is a masterclass in what was the golden age of advertising as entertainment, and effective transformation.  Any strategist who is concerned with the role that TikTok will play in their 2022 plans would do well to start by going back and looking at the standout strategies of the past.  Before you try and cut through in the metaverse, it is powerful to consider how cut through worked in the world before computers.

One of the new studies from IPA Effectiveness Week this year also reminds us all that an old idea can be a great idea.

The report from WARC, developed in association with Royal Mail Marketreach, is an analysis of successful UK case studies that use direct mail.  It takes a look at what direct mail can offer in today’s world, in the context of changing consumer behaviours post-COVID and technology innovations, and explores the best strategies for measuring the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns.

And some of the results might surprise.  For instance, that including direct mail in the campaign mix will uplift results significantly.  And that digital natives welcome direct mail in the mix.  We all “love” a Frankenstein word, and this report hails the rise of Phygital (I know, I know).   Those aged 15-24 are most likely to trust direct mail (out of everyone surveyed).  For people who are accustomed to interacting digitally, a physical invitation to buy proves both novel and effective.

There is much to be said too for recycling old ideas.  Every hardened planner has the ideas that didn’t get through selling process and didn’t get made.  There’s a huge amount of effort that goes into generating new ideas for new briefs.  But there is value in keeping a note of those ideas that didn’t quite make it, and seeing if they have value in a new context.  This does not mean shoehorning an idea that does not fit.  It isn’t time for the Glass Slipper to be forced onto the slightly less attractive sister’s foot.  It does mean revisiting an idea that fell by the wayside and seeing if it can be built on to satisfy a new brief, audience or tech platform.

There is lots of rhetoric about the speed of change, however fundamentally nothing has changed.  People are the same, human nature has not changed and we can only produce great work if we have true human insight for our professional target audiences (and for each other as team mates.)

In my ZeeMelt21 talk I spoke about evolution.  500 years ago the amount of information and data the average person was likely to see IN A YEAR probably equates to what, 60 minutes of scrolling through social media now.  But our human brains just haven’t evolved that much in that time frame.  Which is why we blank out and ignore nearly everything that we see and just retain the tiny amount that interests or entertains us.

Cutting through the clutter is more crucial as a skill than ever before for communication.  A distinctive old idea, one that stirs us emotionally and triggers our memories, may well be a good place to start.