Let’s talk money. Seems slightly unsettling, doesn’t it? Growing up, I had trouble putting art and money together, it felt wrong – that how could something so pure, so genuine, be corresponded with something so austere as fiat. Having an academic and professional creative background, I can safely claim that to our fledgling, perpetual shock, ‘creative’ and ‘selling’ do go hand in hand.
I entered design school with the mind of a unicorn and came out with that transmuted into that of a horse attached to a cart. I get it, it seems like a dismal phenomenon – bubbles bursting, greens turning grey, paint bucket flipping; but it’s really not. It’s simple – creativity comes with reason too.
Let’s start with the ad industry. The masses would claim they are not exactly sure what’s happening over there, and oddly, that happens to be a prevailing debate amongst individuals from the very discipline too. Now the multitude alien to what goes on inside the four (ty-four) walls of an ad firm would imagine a bunch of people sitting in a hot pink office facing a spinning wheel with scores of concepts written on each section – client calls, spin the wheel, whatever the arrow stops at is your brand new idea for the upcoming campaign.
Pragmatism is rife in every fraction of the universe, and the advertising industry is no different. It’s imperative to note that while every wee bit of article that leaves a creative’s desk – be it a tagline from the copywriter, a TVC script from a concept executive, a JPEG from a designer, or a plan from the strategist – is rational, and also indefinite. The rules are simple – the client comes with a problem and you provide a solution. The creative industry happens to be a 24/7 business (let’s make that 25/7 for clarity); but it’s funny, rather enthralling, how no two individuals in the same agency, design house, or any other creative workplace, working on the same campaign at the same time, end up giving the same resolution to the goal at hand. The psychological process involved here is a tough one to track – what really goes on in their heads? Hence, we land on the presumption, that the creative selling business might be entirely based on reason, but it’s not explicitly 2+2=4 to the human mind – an abstract process, but not so arbitrary.
We had a professor in a university, a brilliant fellow, rarely on time – he was supposed to teach us a UI/UX course in a fall semester, but in our first class, he asked us all that we thought the design was. Naturally, most of us fresh daisies, so full of ourselves and equally oblivious of our naivety drew examples from Dadaism, Art Nouveau, contemporary plumbing, portrait billboards, bendable smartphones, etc. Postmodern minimalistic art was the class favorite, a conventionally ‘woke’ choice. It came upon as a revelation to us collectively, that design isn’t pretty pictures or sleek cameras – design is supposed to be just one thing, and that’s functional. Your creativity, regardless of the format, should serve the purpose. It’s not a shocker that we came out with an entirely different breed when the semester ended.
So if Velo wants to have Ahad Raza Mir spilling paint mindlessly all over the place that makes us all go woo, just to sell nicotine pouches; or Rooh Afza feels the need to congratulate us on living life with a sunny flare at the corner of the screen throughout the sequence, or Fahad Mustafa wishes to put his hands behind his head and bang his eyes with his palms each time he wants to say Chili Mili; that’s okay because they are meeting their goals – their target audience is happy, and their product is selling.
Having said that, I do personally feel that while these are a few examples, it’s important to note that change is inevitable. The problem–solution logic will always apply so as our market evolves, it’s important for marketers to follow suit, and act in conformity.
As a creative, you go through a concatenation of steps before your idea reaches the screen. It’s analogous to an action-adventure video game – your idea has to keep going on a narrow pathway – a number of hurdles, hungry daggers, limited lives, and you have to make it to the end. That’s where your proposition reaches the public. When you come up with a concept, sometimes you feel the need to read it out to those sitting next to you to make sure it doesn’t sound ridiculous, you head to your immediate senior; if they like it, you take it to the Creative Director; if they like it, the CCO, COO and the rest of the team sits down and religiously scrutinizes the idea; a severely paramount process. If all goes well, you would be presenting the idea to the client, and it’s the rarest occurrence that your client approves, but if that happens, after two hundred backs and forths, your idea will make it to be aired. A million ideas are fashioned in a creative workplace, and only a few make it out the doors. Why does that happen? We’ll come back to where we began – where there’s little room to explain 2+2=4s, the idea is at the mercy of individual understanding and perception. This is why some stellar, workable ideas don’t leave the room, and some inane ones end up on screens.
Speaking to Sheharyar Ali, Associate Creative Director at Ogilvy Pakistan, I realized that that the stance of the functionality remains corrected. He endorsed the hypothesis that creativity can’t all be abstract – the target audience should feel addressed and eventually, be led to the solution. He says, “It’s always a love-hate relationship until your creativity starts selling.”An elaborate explanation of this stratagem led him to say that the challenge is the fun bit – to sell something through creativity is invigorating because the problems and the solutions are on the same page – it takes something to have two divergent brands selling the same products and to exhibit it differently each time.
In conversation with Bilal Alvi, Creative Director at Adcom Leo Burnett, I landed upon an interesting insight – in his words, if the idea is great, one doesn’t need a circumscribe proceeding to sell it. Having said this, he postulates the power of the story. The methodology of narrating the problem, finding the right insight, hitting the right chord with the right communication is the way to go, and one does not have to have a hundred PowerPoint slides to do this. He put that he loves the potential we hold to change how a consumer thinks for good. Upon asking what he is not a fan of, he stated the unceasing creative problem that prevails in the industry – unrealistic deadlines.
The predicament of the creative world can be addressed by comprehensive planning and a lot of thought. Let’s put a halt to spending our millions on media spots and invest some thought into understanding the consumer. For now, I think as unsung change makers, it’s our moral responsibility to use this right. I’ll wrap this up by putting here the ever famous line by David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising – “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
Ever since I set foot in the design world, I was always skeptical of the magnitude of my position in society as a professional. It’s true that a doctor saves a hundred lives a day, but a creative holds the ability to change a billion lives in one go – potentially revolutionary. What’s more powerful? I’ll let you decide.
This article was originally published in Synergyzer Issue 2, 2021.
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