David Abraham: We still need the big creative idea

David Abraham: We still need the big creative idea

David Abraham believes we still need the “big idea” and the creative agencies behind them, amid a fragmented media landscape and an increasing feeling that this industry is no longer “fun”.

Abraham co-founded Wonderhood Studios — which, as he explained, is the UK’s only top 20 independent agency that is also a top 20 independent production company — in 2018 and is a former CEO of Channel 4 and UKTV.

In his keynote interview at The Future of Brands this month with The Media Leader editor-in-chief Omar Oakes, Abraham talked of advertising that “can reach you at such a deep, emotive level that you’ll remember that core idea that surrounds that brand for the rest of your life”. So a big idea “actually creates memory structures that create brand equity over time”.

That’s where creative agencies come in. Despite the rise of brands in-housing certain capabilities, when it comes to the true “cultural impact” ideas, “having brand strategists that have the agility to work across different industries, it definitely is a benefit to go externally”.

Too much technicality

Joking that he did not wish to pick a fight with media agencies, Abraham said we have “fallen into the trap” of focusing too much on “the technicality of all of those media choices”.

He continued: “To say we put the right message in the right point at the right moment, and all it is is a tile with a pack shot — this isn’t creativity. That’s brilliant creative media planning and buying.”

Indeed, Abraham added: “I’m not convinced that media agencies can attract the kind of high-end creative talent that a really good creative agency can do.”

In this era of advanced technology and plenty of data, there is a danger of paying attention to the wrong things. “When we are scrolling in a very fleeting way and we see a tile with a brand and a pack shot on it, we mustn’t over-measure that and say that is a meaningful level of impact,” he said. “It may be an exposure, but without the big idea that reminds you of a memory structure, it’s nothing other than clutter.”

This is why both creative agencies and the big idea remain vital to this industry. “We all know that if we are in any of the environments where we’re having media pushed at us as an interruption, we’ll do what we can to avoid it,” Abraham stressed. “So, to me, that reinforces the need for entertainment and big idea and amazing craft to make all these messages more memorable and palatable.”

The room where it happens

And how do creative agencies maintain this crucial role? “To be relevant, agencies need to take a client conversation to a place that the client knows it needs to get to but can’t do so on their own, in a collaborative way, by introducing strategic thinking and creative talent into the conversation,” Abraham explained.

So the big creative idea must function in tandem with other parts of the industry, such as media, for it to work. “The key challenge has been the quality of the collaboration with all the other functions surrounding the client, both internally and externally,” he said.

Using his tenure at Channel 4 as an example, Abraham remarked: “When we made a difference, whether it was the Paralympic Games or launching shows like Gogglebox, it was because we successfully joined the dots together — of all the different creative ideas, technology platforms and data layers in a holistic and coherent way. And it is hard.”

And so it comes down to literally “getting everyone in the room”. Amid all the changes that have taken place in the industry, this has not changed: “If we do that well, we can have real impact on culture, we can have real impact on business and, let’s face it, we’ll have fun.”

For Abraham, the industry hasn’t stopped being fun, but things have “got more technical and more challenging — more data and analysis involved in everything we do”.

He concluded: “Which is part of the reason why we should remind ourselves that it needs to be fun and it should be an environment where people can express themselves.”

Watch the full speech

Media Jobs