The courage to be creative

by: Sam Hennig
Creative Strategist

Creativity is always courageous, but whilst being creatively courageous may be admirable, is that all it takes to make something that will sell your brand?

Now, I didn’t just write that sentence as a tongue twister, it really is a question worth asking. As a ‘creative’ myself I often grapple with what I like because it is courageous, different and on occasions, when I feel particularly proud of something I have done, even artful… Vs. what is right for the brand and for the client. What we are all, in truth, aiming for is that sweet spot that is all of those things, that magic centre on the Venn diagram where worlds collide and for one single moment the phrase ‘The Art of Selling’ takes on a special meaning all of its own.

Being ‘out there’ and different and a bit ‘wacky’ all have their place, but in themselves these things are neither great creative, nor useful to a client or their brand. ‘Strangeness’ may well grab attention, but if it isn’t grounded in truths about the brand and the audience then it will simply be a flash in the pan. Think of those flipping Meerkats for instance; at first, a Russian Meerkat puppet talking about car insurance might seem like the strangest thing ever. Indeed if you just saw one of the latest ads without the context of years and years of those campaigns, it would seem utterly bizarre, but there is a reason those ads have been running for all that time, and it’s not just because a talking Meerkat is a bit weird and different. There is a universal, relatable truth in funny misspellings – we have all typed the wrong thing into our search bars and had a laugh at the results that have come up. Imagine being the creative team who presented that initial idea to the client; they couldn’t just go in there and say ‘Meerkats; they are funny’; the only people laughing would be the client as they watched the agency walk off into obscurity. It needed to be grounded in great insight, understanding that the audience they wanted to reach would react to something like this; that they would ultimately end up looking for car insurance and not just cute pictures of Meerkats! Then, they needed to test it, there is no way that they just put out an entire nationwide campaign off the back of one meeting.

Make no bones about it, that was a brave campaign and whether you like it or not, it has clearly worked. Equally there will plenty of examples where people have tried something similar and it hasn’t worked because they haven’t done their research.

Because of this, the fear of failure and risk that prevents more courageous creativity is often there, but there really are some simple ways around this. Here are our top tips:

• Start small, always test or pilot big or risky ideas with small budgets to check they’re going to fly
• Use insights, and carry out audience testing, screening
• Test in parallel to see if the big idea worked better than the safer option (A/B test)
• Don’t waste big budgets on ideas that won’t fly – start small, quick tests, use insight

The thing about being courageous is that with it comes the bigger wins, sometimes we simply have to fail in order to succeed, and this is not limited to small brands. The biggest and the best brands find small pockets where they can fail fast (and discreetly) in order to innovate. We should always look to be creative and courageous, but we should also be aware that this should never be foolhardy. At the end of the day, this isn’t about creating art, it is about informing, connecting and speaking to audiences in a way that shows true understanding. Sometimes that is through art, and sometimes it is through Russian puppets!