Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Creativity is in the details

We have heard or read about the painstaking efforts of geniuses like Bernbach and Ogilvy to create campaigns that are talked about even now. Their homework included getting into the details of the product or service and most of the time they did it themselves (There were no Account Planners then!) Bernbach, Ogilvy and people like them were in all probability the original Planners.

This approach to creativity is not confined to advertising or the expressive arts. It cuts across various fields from high-technology to teaching to gardening. If anything, this is mandatory in most other fields. Why should it not be so for advertising (wherever and whenever possible)?

As far as advertising is concerned, modern day legends like Lee Clow or Alex Bogusky seem to belong to the Ogilvy-Bernbach approach to creativity. And it shows.

However, there are two other schools of creative that seem to increasingly dominate the market-place. There is one that seems to depend heavily on style more than substance. And award juries seem to be their target audience. There is yet another which is driven by Marketers (the I-know-it-all kind) whose single-minded obsession is to perpetuate mediocrity. They justify this sort of work with mind-numbing research and uninspiring strategy.

The effort that goes into the development of either kind of work is no less strenuous but is unfortunately misdirected. I also feel the capability of the creative team is not fully utilized and a lot is left to chance. I call this the ‘shot in the dark’ approach. The success of the work largely depends on the ‘strike-rate’ of the creative person and the agency.

How can creative teams (and agencies) get out of this kind of trap and yet produce work that succeeds in the market-place as well as be personally rewarding?

Here’s a brilliant piece by creative legend, Dave Trott, on how his efforts to understand the client’s product (Tower Pans) led to a successful campaign. The fact that it got featured in D&AD should be proof enough for the awards-obsessed crowd that due diligence can be rewarding.

What I liked about Dave Trott’s example was his questioning of the brief, followed by the homework (details) he did which led to a successful campaign. In today’s environment, the homework is left to the Planning and Account teams who for all practical purpose spoon-feed the creative team. But something seems to be missing somewhere and the work falls short of being magical. Dave Trott also explains why Marketers (or clients) may not be of much help and shows how a determined creative person can surmount all obstacles.

Scamp has a different and interesting view from that of Dave Trott especially with respect to ‘homework’. The conversation that followed only reinforces my view which led to the topic under discussion.

I believe that creativity is in the details. This is not about stating facts or getting verbose in the creative. This is about hitting upon the right combination of facts and insight that leads to an inspiring piece of work. This way there is a greater probability of a winning creative emerging. If anyone doubts that, just ask Honda and Dove.

(Image Courtesy: Umesh Prasad)


  1. Fab piece! And I mean yours as well as Dave Trott's. Once at an Abby's panel discussion in Bombay Neil French was telling the audience that a creative guy doesnt need planners, or even suits to tell them what's to be done in an ad. Common sense is all you need. A guy from New York said 'In all my years in advertising I've never come across such a creative superhero who's servicing, planning and creative all rolled in one.' 'Where do you work?' asked French. The man replied McCann. 'There you are then' said Neil French, leaning back on his seat, his argument over.
    - Joshi

  2. Thanks, for the compliments and inputs. I was just building on the fabulous piece by Trott and Scamp