Creative. We say it all the time: "It's good because it's creative." "We have to do this because it's creative!" But more times than not, the word "creative" might just be messing things up. It may be why it's getting harder and harder to get great work approved. Why agency and client relationship tenure continues to decline. And why clients so often cite "creative differences" as the primary reason for an agency review.
To help articulate this idea, it's interesting to go back to 1898.
By all accounts, one of the greatest books ever written was War and Peace. The author was Leo Tolstoy whom critics and authors often say was one of the greatest writers to ever live. Toward the twilight of his career Tolstoy wrote a book that sparked lots of debated called, What is Art? In it he attempted to define which classic pieces were truly works of art, and which ones were not. His approach: instead of taking what was generally accepted as great works of art and then backing out why that they are so, start by defining art in a vacuum and then see what applies to the definition. Going down this road, Tolstoy comes to such thought-provoking conclusions as stating that The Illiad is, indeed, art, while Romeo and Juliet is not. It's a fascinating read... and I believe it applies to advertising.
In his quest for defining art, Tolstoy questions the words we use when describing things. For instance, he argues that when we look at an amazing piece of art, or read a great book, we often describe it as "beautiful." Great...but what does that mean? Beautiful is a word of open definition. It's subjective in that it defines a certain kind of pleasure. It's objective because it infers perfection, but that circles back to subjective interpretation. Tolstoy writes: As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused the conception conveyed by a word with the greater self-assurance do people use that word, pretending that what is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is not even worth while to discuss what it actually means.
In advertising I feel we use "creative" in the same way the art community uses "beautiful."
Agencies present work under the definition of "it's creative," universally assuming that the client is in complete agreement as to the definition. They aren't. Like "beautiful," the word "creative" is undefinable. It's so open to interpretation that everyone gives up on the actual definition and, in turn, uses it freely assuming we all agree what it means.
Perhaps we should stop using the word creative to define work. Perhaps we need to get specific. This means agencies need to take extra time to specifically define the work instead of hiding behind the "it's creative" cloak. Specifically defining the work fortifies it when feedback comes and allows for more concise client leadership.
After the need to get specific, Tolstoy issues his definition of art: To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced and having evoked it in oneself then by means of movements, lines, colours, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others experience the same feeling.
There's lots of debate if advertising is an art form. Regardless of if that's true or not, the above definition of art can be attributed to the feeling consumers feel with brilliant branding.
Whenever we execute a brand expression--either through advertising, web, pr or otherwise--we should ask ourselves: Is the emotion of the brand and the clarity of our message received in the EXACT way we intend by our consumer? The great stuff is. Consider: The moment you breeze into an Apple ad, you know it's from Apple and you feel the way they want you to feel. Same thing for Target and American Express and Nike. The soul of those brands come through succinctly. The message is clear. No thinking. No distillation of high-concept. No doing multiple pop culture reference leaps.
By living entirely through the word "creative," agencies are taking the easy road. And by taking the easy road perhaps we're causing confusion and not really knowing it. More times than not we're failing to communicate with our clients and consumers in the ways we intend. Let's build in the extra time to truly understand what it is we want to say and use words other than creative.