L K Gupta2018-06-05

Advertising is part science and part acumen, but most of all it is about a winning creative idea. And then, it is about razor sharp execution of a winning idea. Generating a great creative idea depends on individual brilliance. This needs the right-brain function – creative, intuitive and subjective. The best creative ideas and their execution this world has seen, whether art, cinema, music, writing, even scientific inventions, have come from individuals who dream, conceptualize and execute them to perfection.

On the other hand business and brand management in companies have evolved to be more left-brained functions – analytical, logical and objective. Hence, you need to work in teams with defined hierarchies and cross-functional co-dependence. Management processes, therefore, lean toward taking multiple inputs and approvals, clear cut division of tasks and a lot of times, getting a consensus. In such an environment when new ideas or problem solving are required, a good boss will look towards either individuals or small groups of workers designated to do focused thinking and come up with solutions different from what a large group may be able to achieve.

The above two – creativity and management – are very different in approach and purpose, and the challenge is to make them work together when it comes to designing ad campaigns. I’ve often found that companies end up marrying the two, i.e. taking a consensus approach to evaluating advertising. The results then are at best imperfect message delivery, and at worst creative hara-kiri.

Why does that spell disaster? Democracy by nature functions by taking all constituents into account and more often than not works through creating compromises. This leaves little room for individual brilliance to shine and deliver. How then should brand management approach this sticky issue? Here are four ideas to manage a campaign and yet not stifle true creativity.

  1. Agree on a single-minded brand proposition and key messages before briefing the agency –  This is internal and has nothing to do with the agency to begin with. The brand manager must get all important stakeholders aligned – sales, product, marketing director, CEO – to the core message/s before the agency is briefed. While briefing, agree with the agency the broad creative strategy, brand personality, tone, etc. and update leaders of stake-holding teams about these aspects. Once the agency starts coming with creative ideas on campaign, there must be no new debates about these basics.
  2. Don’t subject creative ideas to a committee –  It is a fact that more than 75% of the people in a company fancy themselves as marketers. And when it comes to advertising, 100% of the people believe that they are geniuses. It’s also true that they’re not! So, if you’re going to have fifteen people sit and discuss a storyboard where everyone gets a say, that’s like throwing a cow into a river full of piranhas. It’s one thing to show an idea to people to quickly assess whether it works in the desired way or not; it’s altogether another thing to give many people the power to vote and demand changes as if it’s their right. The brand manager needs to take inputs, distill the valuable insights and decide for themselves what tweaks to make. And they must be empowered to work this way.
  3. Get consumer response, but don’t follow them blindly –  The key word is response, not opinion. At any of the stages of creative development, the consumer should respond to a stimulus so that the brand manager and agency know what’s working and what’s not. The consumer does not know your objectives or strategy, or the insight that you’re working with, and hence, is never meant to give you a thought-through input. That’s not his role. Democracy gets even worse when you start expecting decisions from consumers instead of their reactions. On a related note, do not fall into the trap of expecting your research agency to take your decisions for you. Their role is to cull the insights on how consumers think and behave and react, with some recommendations. It is for the brand manager to synthesise all this and take the decisions.
  4. Finally, err on the side of risk –  If you started off with wanting great cut-through and an insightful piece of advertising that’ll shake the market, you will have to take the risk of accepting that which is not necessarily approved by the majority. As long as you’re certain that the intended message and brand personality is being communicated, take that risk and go against what your committee is saying.

It is true that all the above is easier said than done. The process of decision making is determined largely by company culture, established internal practices and maturity levels of stakeholders. Because of the relatively subjective nature, marketing and advertising will always have more input givers than you care to have. But think of it this way – Sales works in the way sales objectives are met; Finance works in the way that financial objectives are achieved; then why shouldn’t the brand manager work in the way that brand objectives are best met?

Would love to hear your thoughts too.