Question of the Week

Breaking Boundaries: A Blueprint for the Ad Industry to Embrace Creative Risks

Sitting at the crossroads of creativity, the industry must choose to innovate, entertain, and inspire—or face the risk of being overlooked. How should marketers foster a culture of daring creativity?

By Dani Gibson

In today's tech-driven landscape, 85 per cent of CMOs recognise creativity as a key driver of economic growth (Dentsu's 2023 CMO Report). But 60 per cent of CMOs believe that the industry is not taking enough creative risks, signalling a hesitancy to depart from traditional approaches.

Whether that hesitancy resides generally more with the marketer community than agencies is moot. And of course sticking with 'traditional approaches' might be the riskiest strategy of all. One thing's certain, as the emergence of AI brings us to a new crossroads of creativity, the industry is presented with a clear choice: innovate, entertain, inspire, or risk being ignored.

So what steps should marketers take to foster a culture of innovative creative risk-taking, considering the industry's acknowledgment that traditional approaches may no longer be the safest or most effective strategy.

Nadja Lossgott, chief creative officer, AMV BBDO

The data, the algorithms, the technology can tell you what to say and where to say it. But they can tell your competitors that too. What they can’t do yet is tell you how to say it. That is what makes the difference. And that’s the job of creativity.

Creativity is the key emotional driver of innovation. Without it you could say that there is no innovation anyway.

Creative new visual languages and forms of storytelling are bubbling up on all different formats, using all new tools. And it’s happening all the time. And everything is accelerating exponentially. So, we need a compulsive curiosity for the world around us. The only way to stay on top of the acceleration is to take the risk of going on a wild ride. Because the biggest risk of all is being bland.

To do that we must distinguish between risk and risky. Creative risk is trying something new. Following the emotion. A willingness to challenge convention.

Versus risky behaviour and being shocking for the sake of it. Just trying to get attention without the discipline of how it builds the brand and the business.

That of course is the easy part. CMO’s and CCO’s can both agree about creativity. But between the two of them is an entire industry, with its pressures, and lobbying, and interests, and complexities that often makes it easier said than done.

Julian Vizard, creative partner, St Luke's

The word “risk” is woefully overused. In advertising, the only true risk is being invisible and, lets face it, the bulk of ads are. The game we're playing is all about winning attention and maintaining engagement.

Augmented Reality (AR) in social media is proven to be highly engaging - on TikTok alone, since 2022, an incredible 21 billion videos have been made with AR effects, generating a mind blowing 8.6 trillion views! Surprisingly, many clients overlook this impactful route to market. The gains from incorporating AR can be enormous, with examples abound.

What's striking is the minimal barrier to entry in terms of cost - just 6-10k for production that can be shared millions of times. If an execution doesn't immediately gain traction, it can be swiftly replaced.

In a landscape where visibility is the true currency and with such manageable production costs, the question becomes, what exactly is the "risk"?

Alex Grieve, chief creative officer, BBH

One of the reasons we’re in such a pickle lies in our industry’s blind, unquestioning adoration of another industry: Silicon Valley.

There they preach the gospel that failure is good.

I loathe the word ‘failure’.

The very real truth is that nobody wants to fail.

You fail exams. You fail to get a job. Your marriage fails. It’s a word loaded with feelings of pain and shame.

I feel the same about the word ‘risk’ or even worse when people talk about ‘brave’ work.

I feel pretty certain that no client really wants to embrace risk.

To risk it all. To be brave and run headlong into a burning building.

Let’s leave that to the Fire Services.

Risk suggests something extraordinary, dangerous, heroic with a high probability of, here’s that word again, failure.

Sure, some people may thrive on that type of adrenaline but most of us don’t.

Life is stressful enough.

What we have to do is normalise the ambition to do great work by framing it not as irrational and risky but logical and sensible.

And to do that we are better served by using words such as distinctive, different or, forgive the self-promotion, by suggesting that when the world zigs, zag.

Because the real risk is spending millions of pounds pumping out vanilla work into a world that neither notices or cares.

It’s time we all paid more attention to attention.

Jules Chalkley, chief executive creative director, Ogilvy

A businesses competitive advantage will often exist in the creative space that competing brands can’t play, or above all, don’t dare to play. So do the don’t. Lean into the creative spaces that separate you from your competitive set. Look at the prevailing behaviour of brands in the same space and find ways to disrupt it. It’s about solving the problem not filling the media requirement.

When you look at game changing moments, REI’s OptOutside was entirely in opposition to the prevailing Black Friday trend. Lean into your flaws – human beings have an inbuilt appreciation of imperfection – Guinness and Marmite celebrate what makes them different with enormous confidence.

But let’s not talk about creative risk. Let’s view it in terms of not accepting other peoples or other brands limitations. Banish the idea of a ‘creative process’, a process is a system by which we try to replicate, with efficiency, the same thing again and again. Creativity is slowly being sanitised and yet creative friction is the wellspring of fame and profit - and let’s not forget fun. I would argue that too many creative brand and agency relationships aren’t actually thinking, they’re just being logical. That is not the creative act. It may be a nice relationship. But I seriously doubt it generates any significant impact or competitive edge.

Dan Watts, executive creative director, Pablo London

The more rapidly the landscape keeps changing the more important it is to step back and hold on to a few constants. The power of human insight, surprise and dare I say it…the IDEA. This is where you will always find the cut through.

The cost of a dull idea is still a high cost whether you’re in 1945 looking at a press ad for the new Ford or in 2035 looking at a the latest VI brain scanning hologram selling you low fat yoghurt.

Embracing the latest technology and innovation is exciting and important but it must follow the active brand platform, not the other way round. It’s how we have always worked at Pablo. How can you push the boundaries of the idea and not just the tech or the media? Its not enough to ask ‘have people seen this before’ you have to ask ‘will anyone ultimately care’? All the Gear with No Idea - that's your biggest risk.

Pablo González de la Peña, executive creative director, Accenture Song

First and foremost, let’s eliminate 'risk' from the term 'creativity.' Creativity isn't a risky venture; it's a necessity in today's unforgiving market. It's survival.

However, until recently, creativity has been considered an elusive concept—too subjective and esoteric to be quantified. In these times, though, companies that abandon the abstract are the ones that thrive. Some of the most successful think about creativity as a scorecard.

Take Ab Inbev, for example. Among other initiatives, they rate their campaigns from 1 to 10, from damaging to culture-shaping. This isn't a flawless system, but it at least allows people to discuss creativity in terms that every team member can understand and improve. This practical approach democratises marketing brilliance and elevates ideas. Who doesn’t want to be involved in a culture-shaping project?

Being part of an agency which has made one of the most significant investments in commercial creativity in the past decade gives our talent access to an environment that facilitates an ‘anything is possible’ mentality. Thriving on data and tech, we understand the power of bringing in people together – who like us - are obsessed with creating long-lasting cultural impact.

More than anything, we cannot underestimate the role that ‘play’ holds in the quest to creating brilliant things; giving people the permission to dream, debate and do things that don’t always make sense immediately. We need to understand the potential of creativity as a ‘creator of value’ for brands and showcase this through true measurement. Being part of a proposition like this at Accenture Song at a time when we are entering a new era for tech is beyond fascinating.


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