Creativity in Marketing: Stepping Outside to Look Inside

Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.
-Leo Burnett

I’ve been involved with marketing now for about a year.  I’ve taken in advertising and marketing initiatives of all sorts, from local to national to international levels, and there’s a whole lot of wonderful stuff I’ve seen.

Even going back to that commercial I saw during the 2004 Summer Olympics, for the financial services company TIAA-CREF.  Since then, no piece of advertising has ever come close to affecting me in such a profound way.

The ad was done by the Boston agency Modernista!, which unfortunately folded in 2011 following the collapse of the auto industry (GM was one of its major clients, and when that relationship ended, it seemingly failed to generate enough new business)¹.

When I read the article that referenced this – it got me thinking…what should companies really seek from advertising and marketing agencies?  Oftentimes in the relationship between the two, each side has specific needs.  The company seeks the aid of the agency to fulfill marketing and sales objectives, long- and short-term, through inventive and effective multichannel communication strategies.

The agency has their needs, too, however.  Many professionals who work in the agency world have the business acumen, i.e., account executives, strategists and analysts.  But there are so many artists in the agency world that love to create.  There are more of them than in the former classification, I’d say.  And to be honest, I’d say they’re the backbone of marketing, because one of the main pillars of marketing is creativity.

The best ads I’ve ever seen are honest.  They explore all aspects of humanity without any fear or concern for what the masses will say.  Granted, there is some marketing strategy within this, for they have to reach a highly targeted and concentrated demographic, but their depiction of the psychological and emotional implications of the product or service on consumers constitutes not just a commercial, but a short film.  The notion and execution of it can be quite extraordinary.

I think this goes back to what Leo Burnett said above.  The willingness, and sometimes innate need to be creative comes from the desire to explore life and understand it inside and out.  Sometimes we may not like what we see or live through, but we take those experiences with us moving forward because that’s what it means to be an artist and a human on this Earth.  Every day we have to push forward the boundaries of our knowledge and our emotional depth, and when we do so, we expand our humanity.

So how can businesses be more creative when they market themselves?  First of all, don’t do what’s comfortable.  What’s comfortable may not get you what you really need.  Don’t be afraid to hit your consumers and publics where they really live, be it on social media, at particular stores or leisure events that reflect their lifestyle, or even alongside the road when they travel.  You never know from whence your next customer will come, and how they’ll come to you.

Secondly, play into emotions.  You may have heard the old adage (or a variation of it), “In a hundred years, people may not remember what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”  This reiterates the artistry of marketing.  I attended a seminar last month conducted by Don Schultz, Professor Emeritus-in-Service of Integrated Marketing Communication at the Medill School at Northwestern University (whew, say that five times fast).  He concluded the seminar with something very interesting – he said, “people nowadays think in images and sounds more than words.”  We cannot communicate anymore with just words and information.  Think about how your business can communicate through the combination of the right images and the right sounds so as to evoke emotions.  This serves a business purpose, of course, since it plays into consumer affect and cognition.  If you hit a consumer’s jugular with your marketing, it’ll form an affective response, which will sooner rather than later become a cognitive effect as they consider your company as one of several alternatives in their next purchasing decision.  In time, if they develop a relationship with your company, this will lend itself to creating brand equity.

Thirdly, stay curious.  Get out of the office and walk around during the day.  People-watch.  Go to anything and everything that’ll broaden your horizons – concerts, plays, films, clubs, bars, games, fancy restaurants.  Fall in love.  Fall out of love.  Laugh.  Cry.  Dance.  I know it sounds silly, but it’ll help you in your work.  Consumer behavior just can’t be totally pinned down by statistics.  In fact, stop seeing it as consumer behavior.  See it as human behavior.

When I think back to what might have happened to Modernista!, it very well might have been the case that an agency grounded in creativity didn’t find its footing among a market whose needs could not have been fulfilled by that type of creative agency.  Perhaps the market was only interested in maintaining the status quo.  It’s unfortunate, since that’s my favorite commercial of all time.

But I think businesses need to always look for that greater truth when devising marketing strategies.  They shouldn’t just examine what their competitors have done, but what everyone has done.  They need to understand how their company functions in the cultural discourse as well as the national economy, then use this to understand how their consumers function on a micro-level.  There may be a risk in this, but you know what?  To get what you never had, you have to do what you’ve never done.

So I’ll leave you to think about it.  What role can creativity play in the marketing of your business?


¹Beltrone, G.  (2011, April 28).  Modernista! Shutters.  Adweek.  Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/modernista-shutters-131102.


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