Thursday, May 28, 2009

Musings on Creativity

At the Dawn of Advertising, a sage noted, “It ain’t creative, if it don’t sell!” As a strategy-driven copywriter and creative director, I couldn’t agree more.

In advertising and marketing communications, the bottom line is the bottom line. Period. Whether you’re selling products, services, ideas, or all three, making the sale isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. All else is window dressing, because if the cash register doesn’t ring, the creative executions aren’t worth the time, money or effort it took to create them.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can ignore creativity in favor of communicating things in ways that would make even Bean Counters yawn. You’ve seen the kind of advertising and marcom that results from that approach. Ugh!

Remember, you can’t bore Baby Boomers into listening to your marketing messages. So, if you try to tell or sell them something using Drivel and Pablum (I think that was a Kansas City agency that closed its doors in the ’90s), don’t expect Boomers to greet your efforts with anything but disdain.

Just remember that if creativity is magic, strategy-driven creativity that actually works is genius. But to get the job done, you’re going to have to hire the most creative writers, art directors and producers around, and that’s like panning for gold.

I’ve hired many creative professionals over the past forty years, and the truly gifted ones are rare indeed. If you’re looking for creative pros who can take your business to the next level, don’t bother writing tight, logical job specs for them (unless you’re forced to by corporate fiat), because they defy description. Irrespective of education or experience, the one common quality I’ve noticed, is that their creativity never fails them. Wake them up at 3 AM, give them a tough challenge, and they’ll quickly come back with a very respectable professional solution, if not something borderline brilliant.

Managing creatives is more art than science, but it’s absolutely necessary because they tend to be so enamored of themselves and their ideas that they’ll go off on self-indulgent tangents that might look and sound cool, but are quite likely to leave you scratching your head, saying, “Where did we go wrong?”

To ensure things function efficiently and effectively, you need a strong, visionary leader who has a natural flair for creativity, as well as a deep belief in the power of a well-wrought marketing strategy. This person must have the experience, expertise and guts to stand up to the most flashy creative type and insist, “Where’s the idea?” That’s the only sure way to craft advertising and marcom that’s as disciplined to the sales function as it is faithful to creativity. The creative leader also has to have the skill to deftly shepherd the idea (and it sundry executions) from creation through the various levels of management approval that threaten to emasculate it. That, in a nutshell, is what a good creative director does.

Creative directors of the future will be required to challenge their own prejudices when it comes to communicating with Boomers. Most of the hotshots in the field are just too young to understand or empathize with Boomers, and that will be their downfall.

Boomers are highly sophisticated, media-savvy consumers who have seen and heard it all. They simply won’t tolerate advertising or marcom that talks down to them. No business can afford to try to marginalize the Boomers, because there are just too many of them. And if you get on their wrong side, they can be as temperamental as teens. The difference is that they have a lot more money, and they won’t spend it as impulsively as younger, trendy consumers, so you better be spot on with the creative approaches you take.

Fortunately, Boomers are as hungry for creative communications as anyone, but they’re the toughest audience out there, so you need a lot more experience and expertise to reach them. And you’re got to know more than just advertising and marcom, too. You’ve got to know the principles of Gerontology Counseling.

Reaching Boomers can be rather difficult, but if you have the skill and wisdom to devise and stick with a sound strategy, and if you have the courage to express it in the most creative ways possible, you’ve got a shot at getting your share of the Boomer market. Just remember, when you’re communicating with Boomers, there’s nothing more compelling than a memorable message that’s actually worth remembering.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve talked about various aspects of Positive Aging, as well as other subjects related to Baby Boomers and the graying of America. In the future, I’ll be offering tips and tidbits about what I know best: How to be creative, especially as it relates to communicating with Baby Boomers. I trust you’ll find these blogs useful.

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