How to judge creativity

Written by Geeta Rao | Updated: Jan 27 2005, 05:30am hrs
The title of my piece is a bit of a paradox actually. Creativity by itself is a free-flowing concept, more used to trial by subjectivity rather than objective analysis. It is the issue that gets everyone into a tizzy when it comes to advertising creativity. After all, in Ad land-Bad Land, creativity has mixed responses. We dont want anything too creative that you ad types do, is often the complaint I hear from clients. It is almost as if we are afraid of what this creativity unleashed will bring in its wake. It will certainly break the conspiracy of mediocrity for one. On the other hand are younger malcontents who are likely to point out a series of successful creative ads and say: Why cant you give me something like this

Unfettering the shackles that brand managers can sometimes impose on the creative product then begs the question: what is creativity in advertising and how does one judge or evaluate it. Everyone wants to midwife great advertising but no one wants to be fully responsible for the birth.

Creativity brings risks. If it skirts on brilliant irrelevance, as David Ogilvy put it, it wont be of much help to your brand. On the other hand, if it passes like a ship in the night, without a big idea, then its wasted anyway. Brand buzz and brand vitality depend on the genetic encoding of memorable creative communication.

David Ogilvy remains one of the most vociferous spokespersons for the concept of advertising creativity. Always give your product a first-class ticket through life. Coming from a salesman, that is a terrific perspective on how one wants ones brand communication to be you owe the best to your brand. I recommend a re-read of David Ogilvy in the perspective of the hyper media age. He is still the king of relevant sound bytes.

But back to where we began. It is easy to do the safe, the tried, the tested, and the trite. It will work in focus groups and research, but in todays advertising age, such advertising is a dangerous luxury. It is mandatory to push the edges, to move to creating buzzing brand values rather than bland values. How does one know a piece of communication is creative, that it has the X factor that will make it stand out and has the staying power that will ensure that it stays in the minds and hearts of consumers. Here are a few signposts, some from Ogilvys famous five.

Did it make you gasp Did the idea or script or ad presented make you uncomfortable Did it make you burst out laughing at the sheer audacity of the premise Did it make you ruefully acknowledge that there is another way of looking at the brand, a way you never would have thought of The best ads will do one of the above, or at least gleam with the hidden light of some audacious gem waiting to be pulled out. And the best way is to trust your guts and instinct on first reactions. If it made you say it wont work because it made you uncomfortable, come back to it. Chances are it will work.

Dont judge by a committee democratic decision-making rarely makes for great advertising. Search the parks, says Ogilvy, and you will never find statues of any committees. Dont create in committees, dont evaluate in committees is a mantra that will work for all great communication. Committees create multiple layers of awful communication. Stay away.

Does it fit the strategy The reason agencies invest in planning departments and marketing departments invest in extensive research is to make the strategy tight, pure and minimalist, ensuring that advertising is tight, pure and minimalist in quality of ideas. A clearly stated strategy becomes a good way to evaluate whether the ad is within the demands of the brief or skirting the edges of irrelevance. Or worse, contributing to the competitions advertising. George Lois, in the book, The Big Idea, said the best way to define strategy was to state the problem in an interesting way. For Volkswagen, advertising in the 50s in America, he said the problem was that he had to sell a Nazi car in a Jewish town. Political rectitude be damned, defining it in this manner dictated the tone and manner of the advertising that was created. The choice was to be cute and sassy, not bold and chest thumping.

Adip Puri, national planning director, Saatchi & Saatchi, echoes this when he talks about the challenge brief a consumer challenge that will help you over the obstacle that exists in the consumers mind. Knowing what you are up against is a good way of evaluating how the communication will solve it in an interesting way.

Dont go by hindsight examples unless you have the guts to take risks. A favourite agency-client game is to look at successful advertising and say: We want something like this. Before you do that, ask yourself whether you would have the guts to run or approve an ad that breaks the rules with no guarantee of success. Orange, for example, changed some category norms with very simple communication. Cadburys changed category norms by making a strategic shift to adult consumption of chocolates. It was a risk at a time all communication looked only at children and gifting. Both these could have failed. Challenge is the key to creativity.

Dont tickmark the ads often people, both within and outside the agency, including consumers in focus groups, when asked to evaluate or respond to work, become examiners weighed down with the burden of playing judge. They sit down with a list of mandatory elements a laundry list, which must appear in the ad, including product features, logo mandatories, design specs, what the model should look like and so on. That is often the death of perfectly good advertising.

Finally, lists and dos and donts cannot substitute for pure gut feel and instinct, so work on that. Enjoy creativity and stay with Bill Bernbachs timeless quote...If your ad goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.

The writer is CEO, Paradigm Shift Asia and creative advisor, Saatchi&Saatchi Advt