Why your creative agency must do more than make ads

Clint Bratton
By Clint Bratton | 14 August 2020

Clint Bratton is managing director at TRACK.

Creative departments have conceived and crafted campaigns which manifest through mega-brands. This has, in turn, fuelled global consumerism in post-war times.

The advertising creative is a role challenged to interrupt an audience engaged in consuming broadcast media (e.g. TV, magazine, radio, outdoor). The recipe is to do anything and everything to push the boundaries of each media channel and make a mark on their audience. Slogans, catchphrases, jingles and irreverence are products of advertising, each designed to create brand impact and preference.

The most creative brains on earth continue to be drawn to careers in advertising. Yet, today more than ever, the greatest ROI for a creative thought is achieved by conceiving innovative and disruptive business models. I'd argue it's wasteful for the world's most brilliant creative minds to be constrained to an advertising medium when they can be freed to add considerably more value by examining, challenging and re-imagining established business models.

Today, with upheaval from COVID-19, the survival of many business models is under threat. The need for innovation to satisfy changed conditions is essential. The potential to attract new customers through a disruptive proposition could not be greater.

The challenge is to exploit creative energy to foster innovation and disruption. Here, big business should turn to their creative agency partners to contribute to their innovation process and unearth innovative models to protect their future existence.

But it takes a skilled agency to be entrusted to design for innovation. That's because agencies must first revisit the norms of their process. As it currently stands, when a brief comes in, a creative team go off with an A3 pad and a sharpie to sit in a coffee shop or bar for two days. Eventually, they emerge with a bucket of ideas. The ideas will then suffer the inevitable filtering from planning and account managers, and those that survive are sometimes run past the innovation person to see what can be added.

The incumbent creative process has two big problems when it comes to designing for innovation. Firstly, by bolting innovation on to the end of a process, the agency is narrowing the options for exploring new solutions. Secondly, this process pigeonholes innovation as more of a technology add-on to a campaign, rather than a core outcome for clients.

While there's a place for innovative technologies to be used to support campaign activity, this narrow view of innovation limits the possibilities of working with clients.

Big business should also ask themselves if they are truly ready to execute on innovation too. Real competitive advantage comes from taking an idea and transforming it into a service for maximum impact. And an ability to execute on the idea is a core ability that large businesses must grasp if they are to win the creative economy.

As the late Prof. Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School explained, "you cannot disrupt yourself" and large businesses must consider structures to improve their chances of innovation design and execution to succeed. Again, this is something an appropriately structured agency can greatly assist the larger enterprise in resolving, especially with a funded lab model designed to create and launch a live, turn-key solution.

And in terms of an innovation agency partner, the agency with experience in technology and automation is genuinely advantaged. This is because technology always exists to unlock innovation to serve the customer better. It stands to reason, the people most capable of unearthing and realising that innovation, are the people and agencies with a technology backbone.

Marketers not paying attention to the seismic shifts occurring in technology, disruption and the startup world may as well be designing an email campaign for a new deckchair seat sale on the Titanic.


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