Why media agencies should be obligated to creativity
Will Parrish, Chief Strategy Officer at UK media agency Initiative, says that the past reliance of media agencies on data and automation tools got in the way of them helping find creative solutions, but they can - and should - play a vital role in promoting creative ideas.
The issue of creativity in our industry - or the lack thereof - is back on the agenda, and some are pointing an accusatory finger at media agencies.
After all, we are the guys who come to the creative table bearing the questionable gifts of data, technology, frameworks, and automation. So, it’s no wonder the industry laments the demise of creative solutions when it’s assumed that the anoraks will machine-learn the magic out of any idea with the wave of their addressable media wand.
I can see a clear way forward, one in which the media agency plays a vital and undervalued role in promoting and progressing ideas and creativity.
I can certainly sympathise and see some truth in this perspective. But, if we put blame to one side, I can see a clear way forward, one in which the media agency plays a vital and undervalued role in promoting and progressing ideas and creativity. And, you will be glad to hear, a way forward that addresses the perceived straight jacket of data and technology by reframing it as a benefit to the magic of great advertising and marketing ideas. Simply put, we bring the audience to the table.
Above: Creativity can work with data for an enhanced result, but shouldn't be in thrall to it.
Media agencies have a deep understanding of the audience. No other party has such a clear and comprehensive picture of who we are trying to engage, and this is our role to play in the creative process. As media agencies we have an opportunity or, rather, an obligation to support ad agencies and other partners to find creative solutions that are embedded in culture and resonate with the right groups of people. Sounds simple, so why isn’t it happening as much as it should?
Data has to be used in the right way and with real skill and imagination, just like any other creative task.
Too often, the brilliance of the audience understanding we have as a media agency leads to automation as the answer. This comes from an over reliance on the role of data, connectivity and automation in marketing. Used properly, data is a driver of creativity. It validates and scales insights that are the fuel of creative ideas. But data has to be used in the right way and with real skill and imagination, just like any other creative task. You can’t circumnavigate or substitute creativity with data, and you shouldn’t make its primary function to fuel automation. Equally, creativity mustn’t be limited by the assumption that the solution is a familiar advertising output just because past learnings are telling us it’s the only way.
Data alone is unintelligent, and doesn’t give up its secrets easily.
Fundamentally, we mustn’t lose sight of the consumer in all of this. Advertising is all about informing, entertaining and persuading a consumer, so we must be consumer-centric in our creativity. It’s about getting under their skin, walking a mile in their shoes before we dig into the terabytes of uncut customer data for answers. Once we understand what they are thinking, we have a clear view on what will drive future success for a brand. We can’t just rely on what the data is telling us about now. Data alone is unintelligent, and doesn’t give up its secrets easily.
Above: Initiative worked with clients on the Mean Tweets campaign for Carlsberg.
As creative people in media, we must immerse ourselves in culture and come armed with a human hypothesis from which to build and scale solutions to business problems. The media agencies must work collaboratively with ad agencies and other partners to form these ideas. It’s on us to shape, develop and test them through the lens of the audience.
With our knowledge and understanding of audiences, media agencies have an opportunity to apply learnings about millions of individuals to help drive creativity.
This approach requires a culture of creativity, where everyone can apply creative thinking; something that is sorely needed in media agencies. We need to encourage creative thinking, placing trust in people and giving them the freedom to be creative. We must let our people colour into the margins and think outside of their normal discipline. With our knowledge and understanding of audiences, media agencies have an opportunity to apply learnings about millions of individuals to help drive creativity across all areas of marketing, sales, product development and beyond.
The more we can lean into partner ideas, bringing our expertise and fuelling an iterative process, the more they will connect with the right audiences and deliver relevancy and impact. We must help develop our partners' ideas, not kill them. It’s the way we at Initiative are kicking off our new relationships with Bupa and NatWest, and its been the driving force behind the best work we have produced for our clients, from promoting negative tweets about Carlsberg to announce they were ‘Probably not the best beer’ to creating a fund for out-of-work creators with Converse.
Each supplier brings their specialism to the table and, in media, we may be guilty of not sharing with the rest of the class.
Ultimately, creativity and creative thinking must be focussed on doing great work for clients. Each supplier brings their specialism to the table and, in media, we may be guilty of not sharing with the rest of the class. We all have a right to play a part in driving creativity, but we all have to work better together to achieve this.