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It seems self-evident that powerful creative work can be a core driver of impact for brand. How else can attention, mental availability and conversion be seized in a world characterised by fragmentation and self-defined spaces?


But marketers are still underestimating the importance of creative quality, despite research highlighting creative quality as the second biggest factor in marketing effectiveness. The focus has instead been on issues such as media mix allocation, balancing brand vs performance marketing and targeting.


Fighting established perceptions can be an uphill task, made more difficult by the fact that drawing a line from creative work to impact on business bottom lines remains a roundabout process.


But is this never-ending quest a lost cause?


Ronnie Wu, chief creative officer, TBWA\China notes that one would be partially correct in believing creativity is not one of the powerful drivers of brand growth.


“Creativity is about generating ideas to solve problems, it’s one important part for the solution, not the only part. Without fundamentals such as products, services or brand value, without proper strategic thinking or right media channels, creativity is nothing but a sandcastle. When you look closely, creativity does exist in all the above listed factors,” he says.


This perception gap may also be because “creativity” is only perceived for its meaning in a narrow sense of the word, says Takahiro Hosoda, chief creative officer, TBWA\Hakuhodo.


“In business, the word creativity doesn’t only mean ‘creative advertising expressions’, it covers each and every process of realizing brand’s vision - of what it should be like in the future,” he adds. “Creativity isn’t just a wrapping for the brand to look nice; it is what refines the contents within and in that sense, there’s no brand that doesn’t require creativity.”


Annika Park, senior strategist, TBWA\Hong Kong believes the disconnect exists because so much of creativity feels personal.


“We intuitively know when something speaks to us or moves us to action. It’s often towards a vision of what we believe must be that calls upon us with a powerful new idea. How do we bottle that?”, she says. “Our responsibility is to continue allowing audacious, courageous, and rebellious minds to push against a world that finds it harder than ever to accept that what’s most personal is the most creative.”


Parixit Bhattacharya, chief creative officer, TBWA\ India notes that a brand, eventually, is its voice. A voice registers when it is differentiated and cuts through the noise. Creativity helps get to this voice.


“With time and patterned interventions this voice resonates more, and the brand grows. Technically, no voice means no brand. No creativity means no voice,” he explains. “However, a super short-term lens can prevent someone from seeing that creativity is one of the most powerful drivers of brand growth.”

Data-led or creativity-led?

It's no secret that marketers are increasingly concerned with data and measurement models to tie marketing efforts to the business bottom line. According to Gartner, 26% of CMOs surveyed consider marketing data and analytics as a top-three capability gap, with 22% citing marketing technology – indicating an overall emphasis on shoring up in-house capabilities.


This means that conversations had with marketers as creative partners, need to tackle brand challenges within this context in mind.


Hosoda points out that truly meaningful data is always a source of creative inspiration. 


“It gives us hints on how to move people's hearts and minds,” he says. “However, it is important to not be completely beholden to data, rather using it as a springboard to make a creative leap. The creativity of human beings supported by data is invincible.”


Wu agrees, adding that data and measurement models are important tools to a creative – It can help identify truths and offers another perspective to find insights.


“It can help us to understand why an idea doesn’t work or it works well. It tells you the truth, but it still needs us, human, to find out what is behind the truth or what can we get out of it,” he adds.


Chayada Suntong, creative group head, TBWA\Thailand notes that without creativity, data is just raw information waiting to be transformed and illustrated in more interesting ways.


“Creativity helps articulate the data, helping draw conclusions and making the data more meaningful, and easier to understand. It is important for creativity and data to work together to bring the most effective business results,” she adds.


Park agrees data and measurement models are powerful tools to determine creativity that works against a predetermined objective but argues that the current pressure to “sell in” creative ideas with data and measurement in mind cheapens the importance of this process.


“Creativity is the art of personal persuasion, but we must never forget that our responsibility is with persuading our clients’ clients – the customer. It’s not ‘selling it in’ if it’s a bare minimum of our responsibility; to ensure that ideas work to move the customer to thought or action,” she says.


Melvin Mangada, managing partner and chief creative officer of TBWA Santiago Mangada Puno has always believed that imagination and intuition are game changers.


“But creative work is powered by data and insights. Agencies sell ideas grounded on human truths and behaviour,” he says.

The path for partners

Despite some flares of optimism at the start of 2022, the overall economic outlook remains gloomy, as political uncertainties, inflationary pressures and supply chain woes continue to dampen recovery efforts.


When asked about a recession, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton famously said: “I thought about it and decided not to participate.”


It could be argued that in such uncertain times, the importance of marketing and advertising becomes heightened, as businesses work harder to convert and retain wary consumers. Conditions that can underscore the true value of an inspired creative idea.


Creative-led agencies are actively reframing the role they play in client partnerships.


“As agencies evolve and innovate in the ever-shifting landscape, the challenge is to gain the respect of clients as a vital partner beyond advertising,” says Mangada.


As Bhattacharya points out: “As creative consultants to businesses, the ultimate result we deliver is growth. We just need to constantly reiterate with our work that the path to sustained growth is through creativity.”


New York Times - The Truth Is Worth It

“New York Times was ahead of schedule when it hit goal of 10 million digital subscribers – proving how crucial it is in business innovation to clarify and stand strong with their brand significance. While many corporations proceed with digital transformation, it is important they ask what the purpose of their innovation is, and to implement creative processes with an eye on the future.” – Takahiro Hosoda, Chief Creative Officer, TBWA\HAKUHODO

Beco - Steal Our Staff

“This such a simple idea by using the CVs of Beco’s employees in the form of packaging design to show what their disabled staff can do. The campaign doesn’t use a typical advertising format, but it actually makes a real impact. More importantly, the campaign is changing the disability employment gap in any type of businesses both big and small. This shows that just a simple creative idea can help the business to not only sell the product but also improve brand images at the same time.” – Chayada Suntong, Creative Group Head, TBWA\Thailand

NRMA - Safety Hub

“NRMA protects its customers from disasters, by providing the right tools and tips via daily missions on its app. It helped to maintain the reliable image of an insurance firm should have, it helped to build a good precaution mindset for the people, and helped to sell more insurance service, it helped NRMA to save a lot of money, and more importantly, it helped NRMA to build a caring brand image. Sometimes, if we want to boost or strengthen the brand image, maybe our first step is to level up the products or services, because they are the first things our consumers will interact with the brand, these are the substance of a brand’s existence, and sometimes, it takes a long run. The trends or hashtags may help a brand to generate social buzz in a short period, but after seven days, no one will care about it anymore.” – Ronnie Wu, Chief Creative Officer, TBWA\China

Lexus - Small Business Drive

Adventure-seeking drivers were feeling uninspired by the cramped sameness of their city. For them, Lexus created a data-personalised test drive experience that not only convinces prospects of what a great Urban Explorer (UX) can do, but also connects them to undiscovered small businesses driven out by high rent and hidden away in the city’s inner edges. In the end, reinvigorating a very human desire to venture, explore, and discover what’s new. The results speak for themselves. Within the first three months, Lexus had reached its sales quota on the UX – making it the best-selling medium-luxury SUV for the quarter. – Annika Park, senior strategist, TBWA\Hong Kong

McDonald's - Ride Thru

Efforts of McDonald’s Philippines over the past two years were meaningful and relevant to its audiences. Kindness Kitchen was launched at the height of the pandemic, utilising its inundated stores to address a basic need for a safe, hot meal in sectors most affected by hunger. The M Safe programme was created from the insight that their customers will be safe if employees are safe. Rebranding the Drive-Thru service to Ride-Thru was an acknowledgment of its changing market from the usual four-wheeled vehicle patrons to bikers and skateboarders. Late last year, the company converted 14 stores across the archipelago into vaccination centres when the government needed help to push its vaccination program aggressively. These were just a few creative solutions to real human concerns (not limited to campaigns) that both the agency and marketing mounted, clearly differentiating the brand spirit of proactivity and strengthening its values as a company. In the first quarter of 2022, at the height of the Omicron surge, the company posted a double-digit sales growth of 29% versus last year.  The company has also achieved 100% of its sales recovery plan versus 2019. – Melvin Mangada, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer of TBWA Santiago Mangada Puno


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