Creativity isn’t dying — it just needs a reboot

Creativity isn’t dying — it just needs a reboot

In response to Omar Oakes’ recent piece on the death of creativity as a commodity, an agency chief argues that tech can actually help creatives prove their value.

“The death of creativity” is a dire prediction that’s been repeated many times over the years, but any assumption that advertising has become less effective or interesting in the digital age simply isn’t true — just look at the healthy debate provoked by the latest Apple ad.

That said, the ad industry does need to find better ways to extract maximum value from genuinely great creative if the creative shops are to continue to thrive. The alternative is an AI-led race to the bottom that foregrounds quantity over quality. If we get better at firehosing shitty creative into the market, guess what? We all get shitty results back.

This creative dystopia can’t just be discounted as alarmism, given the creative agencies that sit within the holding groups are demonstrably not growing at the same rate as other parts of those businesses. The main reasons behind this stagnation are that their services haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the changing media landscape or they’ve become massively bloated and are not offering clients value for money.

As Mat Baxter recently noted: “Agencies are some of the most traditional and legacy-entrenched businesses on the planet.”

Like it or not, a change is coming and now is the time for a future-facing conversation about the relationship between creative and media.

Creative thinking… about reality

In his comment piece last month, The Media Leader editor-in-chief Omar Oakes argued that creative has died as a commodity given most advertising becomes forgettable in the face of oversupply. While this argument has merit, a quick scroll through any of your feeds will show you that creativity can still flourish. We just need to empower creatives to learn from, adapt and iterate on what they do so brilliantly — and cut out any work that leads to waste and inefficiencies.

Having made the switch from the creative industry, I know first hand that creatives really do need to reassess their relationship with data and technology. And that will mean seeing it for what it could be — an opportunity, not a threat.

Typically, a creative agency cares most about the “big ideas” that are overwhelmingly still grounded in traditional media. If you walked into any agency or media group in the world, I’d guarantee 90% of their time is spent talking about TV. That leaves paid ads on social media as an afterthought, when the reality is spending on Meta alone (!) is on track to overtake linear TV spend by the end of the year, according to Warc.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes for a moment. Something doesn’t add up.

The death of creativity (as a commodity)

Minimising advertising effectiveness

Media agencies are not off the hook either. The bulk of budgets, energy and attention go into the lead-up to the campaign going live. When the media is “in flight”, that momentum is lost and many agencies don’t have the talent model, technology or processes in place to review the data to tweak the creative to drive optimum performance from the assets.

Digital platforms of all shapes and sizes have given brands the opportunity to test and learn from creative in a matter of clicks. And yet bloated agency processes mean simple changes can take days, weeks, months… or vague promises to implement in the next campaign.

This is wasted budget, pure and simple. But it’s still not as wasteful as not investing in standout creative in the first place.

Media agencies all too often view creative as a unit, something deployed to fill a media plan, but this shouldn’t be the case. In his presentation on maximising advertising effectiveness, Les Binet notes that there is incremental value on changing the audience or the platform. However, we are talking about really small building blocks — in other words, there’s only so far you can polish a turd.

By comparison, if you change the creative execution to find the breakout assets, it’s possible to increase the payback of your marketing budget by a factor of 11 or 12. Now, consider what that figure could look like if you’re testing great creative and then optimising it…

We need a mediator

So, why aren’t we all doing this? The answer lies in our industry’s silos. Media agencies are simply not talking to creative shops.

Creatives hand over the campaign and are then immediately briefed on the next one. Insights on how the former campaign performed — notably, what consumers responded to — is ignored, because presumably data is boring or, worse, presented without any actionable insight to make sense of. Every impression bought subsequently leaves huge amounts of value on the table.

I am of course biased, but let’s call it having seen the light. Technology would be a legitimate way to remedy this impasse, but adtech remains a dirty word. Media agencies resent how much of their revenues are swallowed up in the morass of the Lumascape. Worse, tech is actively feared by creatives who are fed up of being reminded that they’re about to be replaced by generative AI.

This is missing the point. Tech can be used to make ads perform better and make everyone’s lives easier.

Automation removes the friction that traditionally holds up the production and planning processes, freeing up resources for testing creative at scale. It gives media agencies control of their ads in flight, providing data feedback loops and actionable insights on creative triggers across platforms.

Proving value

We can’t hold back the tide. Yes, we may all be using generative creative to a greater or lesser extent in the future, but we could equally create more insightful reporting at pace. Paying attention to what we’ve learned on a campaign-by-campaign basis would make it easier to develop data-driven briefs for any platform and placement. It would also connect the dots between creative application and media performance far more effectively.

Let’s allow creative agencies to do what they do best: come up with brilliant award-winning ideas that no-one else — whether in-house or at media agencies — could hope to compete with. Let them prove their value with new tech-enabled products and services. And, over time, use these to create quality work that genuinely transforms brands across all platforms.

In turn, there’s an opportunity to occupy and reform the hinterland between creative and media. If we rethink the creative process, get everyone talking more and automate the dull, repetitive tasks, then creativity in all forms doesn’t die. It reinvents itself to reinvigorate agencies and combat fatigue.

Dan Moseley square

Dan Moseley is managing director, North America, at Automated Creative

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