Good Creative Gets Out of the Way
We all know creative work is a lot of fun to do. But what role should it play in marketing...if any? On one extreme you’ve got the curmudgeonly “clever ideas only get in the way” school, which holds that creative — especially if it’s funny — is nothing but a distraction from the sell. Sure it grabs attention, but once the audience has consumed the fun they move on without remembering any important messages. You see this attitude a lot in the direct response and promotions world, where getting to the point is job one.
On the other extreme is the gung-ho “any-attention-is-good-attention” school which holds that virtually anything that manages to break through the clutter is good — the more creative the better. Any attention you get from the consumer is at best a gateway to a sale, at worst a show of the brand flag. You see this strain of thought at work in a lot of traditional ad agencies, especially if they do a lot of broadcast, most especially if they produce Superbowl halftime ads.
The sweet spot between the two is the “good creative gets out of the way” school. It’s an offshoot of post-modern industrial design, in which flourishes or doodads that distract a user from efficiently interacting with, say, an automobile dashboard, are scrupulously avoided. Smoothing the path from thought to action is the goal. Which is not to say the dashboard isn't designed well, it’s just designed for usability.
Effective creative works the same way, smoothing the path from a consumer’s unmet need to the meeting of that need. To do that the creative component has to be clear first and foremost: about what’s on offer, and what the benefits are to the consumer. If the creative can be fun on top of that so much the better, both for the consumer and for the brand.
But when developing creative, it’s helpful to take a lesson from the fussy postmodernists: how much fun can I have before I start to lose the point? How much of what I’ve just created is relevant to my goal of getting my point across? What can I get rid of to increase the power of my message? In that balance lies the difference between creative for creative’s sake and creative that artfully gets out of its own way.