Advertising is applied art with a purpose

Actress Elaine C Smith featured in the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland's breast cancer awareness campaign executed by the Leith Agency
Actress Elaine C Smith featured in the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland's breast cancer awareness campaign executed by the Leith Agency
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Creativity in communications makes the complex simple and the admired beloved, and gets the important issues heard, says David Amers

‘Creative without strategy is called ‘art’. Creative with strategy is called ‘advertising’.” – Jef Richards, professor of advertising, Michigan State University

Advertising is applied creativity. It’s about ideas that serve a purpose, usually commercially but also socially.

Clients come to an advertising agency because they have an objective to meet or a problem to solve. Strategic planning is the up-front problem solving process.

It clarifies what the purpose of the advertising is, the audience it should target and the message that should be communicated.

Once this is agreed, and captured in a creative brief, then the thinking gets turned into advertising.

The people who are responsible for coming up with the ideas – the creative teams – are much more likely to hit creative highs if the brief they are given from the planners is an inspiring one.

Inspirational briefs have several things in common.

They mix clarity and focus with simple but liberating insights. Ronseal “gets the job done” found its creative expression in a phrase that’s now part of modern vernacular. That “crisps are irresistible” (try not reaching for one when someone splits a bag open) was creatively interpreted as “so irresistible, they’d even turn Mr Nice Gary Lineker, bad”.

They make the complex simple. They have what Maurice Saatchi called “a brutal simplicity” that allows people to imagine ideas immediately. In the original brief for Kwik Fit, the answer to the question “What does the advertising need to make people feel?” was “that you can’t get better than a Kwik Fit fitter”. Simple, direct and, ultimately, very influential.

They feel intuitively right. No matter how good you are at your job, if you don’t believe in it you’ll never be truly great at it. If the creatives don’t feel that the brief is right, then the work won’t be great.

And, they take a fresh look at the way a brand or issue could be advertised.

Look at John Lewis and the way its Christmas ad has become a national event. Compare what it does to typical high street retail advertising. John Lewis identified that, although it was a familiar and admired retailer, it wasn’t loved. Acting on this insight, the advertising’s role was focused on giving the brand more heart via tugging on our heart strings.

An inspiring brief demands a bold and inspiring client. Fortunately at the Leith Agency we have many, including Barr’s, who have encouraged us to bring the cheeky spirit of Irn-Bru to life for more than 20 years, and the Scottish Government, who have worked closely with us to tackle issues such as knife crime, drug dealing and breast cancer in powerful ways.

Inspiring planning is originality of thought brought to life in highly effective ways. The problem is, it’s harder to find new and fresh things to say after decades of advertising.

What haven’t you heard a beer or a car or a bank say in its advertising that is of relevance to you?

This challenge is what drives us. A planner needs to be interested in the wider world, in people and what makes them tick, in solving problems, and in creativity in all its forms. They must have a restless desire to find new things to say or, alternatively, new ways of making marketing more effective.

At the Inspiring Planning event on 22 May in Glasgow, part of the Marketing Society Inspiring Minds programme, the theme will be “how great planning leads to great creativity”.

Chaired by me, it features talks by Merry Baskin of Baskin Shark planning consultancy, along with William Mitchell, design director of 4C Design Ltd.

Merry is one of the industry’s best-known planning figureheads, having worked at some of the world’s leading agencies. This session is a great chance to see the most downloaded author on Warc since 2011 in action.

Amongst his many achievements, William is justifiably proud to have recently been part of the team that designed and made the Queen’s Baton for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. He will be talking about the role that inspiring planning plays in the design process.

For anyone who wants to find out how they can enhance their planning skills and help inspire great creativity in marketing and advertising, or for those who are just interested in getting to know more about the planning process, the Inspiring Planning event in Glasgow is designed to live up to its promise.

• David Amers is planning director of the Leith Agency and a fellow of the Marketing Society


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