Adam Ferrier’s five tips to creativity

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 11 August 2023
Adam Ferrier on stage at AdNews' Perth L!VE.

Adam Ferrier, Thinkerbell founder and consumer psychologist, on stage at AdNews' Perth L!VE, gave the audience five tips to making creativity easier.

One, be accountable. 

The agency version of being accountable, is to understand the role of marketing communications, understand what business you're in and understand how it works and get language around that. 

“You need to be able to express the principles behind the work you're doing and how it's going to change behaviour and business growth,” Ferrier said.

For example, Thinkerbell is the only independent agency that sponsors The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. 

“It helps the agency realise we're taking this seriously and everyone has to bone up on marketing sciences. Plus, our clients like it because we get to explain how marketing works and have the language to do that.”

On the business side, Ferrier gave Brent Smart, CMO at Telstra, as an example of what accountability means. Smart’s modus operandi is to get Brand Finance, brand valuation consultancy, into every single project or brand he works on.

Two, get the brand right.

In contrast to when Ferrier first started in advertising, many businesses have lost the ability to uniquely position their company in the marketplace. 

For example, Thinkerbell’s brand is measured magic, where marketing sciences meets hardcore creativity. “Everything we do as a business is branded, and therefore allows us to know where we stand and go nuts with that,” Ferrier said.

“And make sure the whole organisation understands the brand, make sure everyone knows what's on brand and off brand, so then you can go nuts.”


Three, psychological safety is the foundation for good creativity.

Ferrier learnt this tip from Bianca Guimaraes, who founded creative agency Mischief in the US.

“McKibbin talks a lot about having safe spaces to create dangerous ideas,” Ferrier said.

“I love this concept as it really resonates with the people who I see developing ideas and the environment they have the ideas.

So instead of account managers Thinkerbell has thinkers, who think about business things and tinkers, who come up with creative ideas. A thinker and tinker sit on every account, and that's what drives the business. 

“We have got rid of the layers of account managers because they just get in the way of everything and slow everything down. They become a costlier way for the agency to make more money and don’t add any value,” Ferrier said.

“That gets you through the world of silos, gets through the layers and layers of account management, and it gives them permission to think as opposed to just administrate.”

Thinkerbell has also killed the creative agency brief because it’s a time waster.

“If your creative agency says they need to ‘ponder’ a brief and give a ‘reverse’ brief that’s probably bullshit and they are probably just wasting time going around, around and around doing nothing,” Ferrier said.

“If a brief is good then start building creative ideas off it. If it needs a changing, have a conversation around it.”

Four, get rid of advertising pretesting. 

Ferrier says there is no marketing science that proves any form of advertising pretesting adds to the effectiveness of the communications. Instead Thinkerbell uses an expert panel. 

“We give a whole lot of experts a structured questionnaire, the brief, the prep work and we ask them does this creative work fit this brief?” Ferrier said.

“If they agree we can move forward, if they don't they give us tips to adjust. 

“What we're trying to do here, whether it's right or not, is try to work on our systems and processes to give us the best possible output, and to reconcile doing really good, cost effective work.

Five, set the ambition. 

How does the brand act? Everyone thinks about what your brands going to say but there's not enough conversations about how it's going to act. 

Ferrier used Vegemite as an example where the brand wanted to grow it’s already established heritage.

Thinkerbell decided to take all the money out of paid advertising and go really, really hard on earned and shared media, doing collabs and stunted little things to just constantly be in earned media.

“And so the 3 million spent on advertising has been saved and we have put that into the creativity needed to kind of keep Vegemite grounded in popular culture,” Ferrier said.

“We made that decision once and it's worked really, really well.”

Thank you to our supporting partners for Perth L!VE: Boomtown, Nine, Longreach Media and MiQ. And friends of AdNews: Perth Advertising and Design Club (PADC), The Western Australia Marketing Association (WAMA) and The Independent Media Agencies of Australia (IMAA). 

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