October 1, 2017

Creativity is everyone’s business

It’s time for a change, for businesses everywhere to take equality seriously. No, I’m not talking about diversity or gender bias (and I’m certainly not diminishing their importance), I’m referring to a different kind of subtle discrimination. The domination of knowledge over imagination, of thinking over dreaming. It’s seen in the reverence of data, the preference for all things quantified and dominance of rational arguments supported by a mountain of information. Browse the business book shelves and you’re bombarded with strategies, best-practices and methodologies. Just don’t mention the C word.

Creativity isn’t a dirty word but it certainly knows its place. It’s usually confined to a tight turning circle, boxed in and kept in check. You’ll find it in design studios, in the form of products or packaging. You will see it bubbling up in the marketing department as they work in-house or with agencies to promote and sell whatever it is companies make. Where you’ll rarely come across it is in the boardroom (apart from in presentations). Even brainstorms are conducted more like the The Hunger Games, a competition for attention or validation where he who talks loudest wins. What if creativity had an equal seat at the big table? Right next to business strategy. In a time where every business is talking about transformation – we need the transformative power of the creative mind to truly succeed. The ironic thing is, everyone talks about innovation but ultimately, innovation always starts with imagination. The tech world is full of dreamers. Some dream in code or in circuits but what they do takes an incredible amount of creativity.

This was the starting point that led me to write a very short book called The Axis of Success: Where Business Strategy & Creativity Collide. Mostly aimed at startups and small business entrepreneurs, it is a manifesto for thinking differently. Even Einstein knew the power of creativity and used thought experiments to imagine answers to mind-boggling problems. As I explored the power of imagination, I took a decidedly non-rational journey from theoretical physics, stopping off in the Roman Empire, a detour via mysticism along with some great learnings from big businesses that have used creativity beyond the superficial or traditional ways.

Having a 360-degree vision of business and being able to pivot effortlessly between strategic and creative ways of thinking can help anyone take more control of the forces that impact success. Being able to visualize all the moving parts of your organization, in both concrete and abstract ways, can lead to brilliant solutions to complex problems that the normal approaches might never stumble upon. Get ready to say yes to more mental fluidity, being open-minded for left and right brain equality, allowing yourself to be illogical and irrational from time to time. We are all born with imaginations. Unfortunately, for most people, it is suppressed in favor of more “serious” occupations as we grow up. It might be sleeping but it’s still waiting there. You just need to poke it.

I hope that The Axis of Success will stretch your mind and help you open up to the possibility of more creativity being used in every aspect of business. Knowledge and experience alone isn’t enough, information is a level playing field. But imagination, that’s the true game changer.

E-book available now:

on Amazon Kindle

on Apple iBooks

December 8, 2016

Only the brave

In the advertising business, either traditional, digital or somewhere in between, every so often you come up with an idea that you know will be amazing. So you do everything in your power to convince your client that it will be brilliant. You tell them passionately why it answers their brief, why the audience would totally love it, why it would get everyone talking about your product and that it can actually be made. Yet something happens, the client shows a flicker of fear or confusion, they might whisper to each other and you know that something isn’t going quite like you imagined it would. In your mind you pictured the client moved to tears of joy, leaping out of their seat to embrace you as suddenly you’re transport to a stage where you’re receiving that Grand Prix. But instead you’re faced with quizzical faces and a damp squid descends eerily over the meeting. Today that all came rushing back when I saw this project for Lexus featuring a car covered in LED. It’s a year since I presented the very same idea to a client. OK, it’s only advertising. But when you live and breathe this every day it’s heartbreaking to see that another client was brave enough to say yes – let’s do it.

How do you help clients be more brave, to take leaps and try things that have never been done before? Some agencies have a knack for it but then clients for there expecting it from Droga5 or R/GA. For many mere mortal agencies it’s a real challenge. Many clients have limited budgets and want to make sure that your project will get results. When you’re presenting an idea that is innovative there are no prior examples to use as backup. So you have to anticipate the arguments that will come up in the client’s mind. If you’re doing something new with technology try creating a prototype or demo to show something is feasible (this is how we sold another project to the same client which was a huge success). Your client’s priority is not being brave but selling cars, toothpaste, computers or whatever. Put yourself in their shoes and show how bravery can also lead to amazing results. Don’t just expect the client to feel the same way you do.

The fact is, you’ll probably lose more battles than you win. As a creative person you are the one that needs the most bravery. Not to come up with groundbreaking ideas but to see them burn down in front of you – only to come back later and haunt you. So I will leave you with this, another painful episode involving an idea we tried to sell to the same client and failing – then seeing it done a year later.


January 16, 2013

Cross-culture creativity

Thanks to the internet we now live in a global culture. Anyone can see the same thing at the same time. Even with the “great firewall” the Chinese have ways to access to the same content as someone in New York, London or Sydney. Because of this more and more brands are seeking to communicate with one global voice because it’s impossible to put up walls between countries.

So how can we create campaigns that cross cultures and are meaningful wherever you are in the world? First we need to be sensitive about cultural differences

It’s not just about translating text from one language to the next. We need to consider cultural values, etiquette humor and slang. A global agency needs local people to help develop a truly universal campaign. Otherwise this might happen…

When Pepsi entered the Chinese market, the translation of their slogan “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life” was a little more literal than they intended. In Chinese, the slogan meant, “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.”

When Kentucky Fried Chicken first opened stores in China, it didn’t take long before they discovered their slogan, “finger lickin’ good” translated to “eat your fingers off.”

When Ford introduced the Pinto in Brazil, they were confused as to why sales were going nowhere. The company later learned “Pinto” is slang for “tiny male genitals” in Brazil. Ford ultimately changed the car’s name to Corcel, which means ‘horse’ in Portuguese.

Can a brand campaign be universally understood and loved? Look at this recent example from the world of music to see how something can cross cultural boundaries. Gangnam Style has become the most watched video on Youtube. How can a tubby man singing in Korean become a global hit? He stuck a universal chord by combining a simple tune with a dance move anyone can copy. Is it meaningless fun? Of course! But it went around the world like wildfire.

Coincidentally the recent launches of Microsoft Windows 8 and Surface were essentially marketing messages wrapped inside music videos. Easy to use across cultures but can the message be more meaningful?

Global campaigns need to touch the hearts and minds of everyone no matter what their culture of language is. We could learn a lot from Pepsi who recently launched a new global campaign. Their new theme of “Live for Now” is a rallying cry as well as a clear brand spirit that is embodied by a pop-culture-focused campaign. It’s centered around a social and content curation platform called Pepsi Pulse.

“Live for Now” came out of “the desire to build a global positioning for our flagship brand Pepsi,” says president, global enjoyment, brands, and chief creative officer of PepsiCo, Brad Jakeman. “It’s the culmination of 9 months of work around the world to understand the unique place that Pepsi already owns in people’s hearts and minds.” Jakeman says the research revolved around finding out how Pepsi “loyalists” defined themselves, and he says that what emerged as a theme was “the notion of making the most of every moment.”

The Nike campaign “Find your greatness” is a great example of a message that resonated with people anywhere in the world – especially during the London Olympics when ordinary people could only admire the superhuman athletes performing. Running across 25 countries the campaign sought to inspire everyone to find their own moment of greatness and push themselves a little further. The underlying message is simple – if you have a body you are an athlete.

Cross-culture creativity relies on universal human insights to develop a message that connects with people. It can be on a deep or superficial level. But it comes down to understanding the humanity that unites us beyond language, culture or traditions.

Finally, a brand can’t just say something, it has to live it too. So find your truth and then make it real. In every message, connection and action – be true to who you are.

June 8, 2009

Creativity online

This interesting white paper (sponsored by HP) takes a look at agencies pushing the boundaries of creativity online. It includes interviews with industry experts from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Crispin Porter + Bogusky  and BBDO. Read case studies about award-winning projects such as Doritos Hotel 626 among others.

It’s fascinating to get an inside view on how digital is transforming brand communication.

Download the white paper here.

Thanks to my good friend and ex-colleague David Brown for sharing this with me.