1. The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management

Posted in academia,Bachelor Thesis,Brands and Business by thomas on the August 29th, 2011

This is the introduction to my bachelor thesis, which has the same title as this blog post. I thought I’d post it here, so that more than the two people grading it can read it and give feedback. I’ll probably also put the pdf online, but I want to layout it properly before doing that. You can see the table of contents here.

Creativity is an often used word in the context of marketing communications and brand management. There are magazines named after it, such as Creativity and Creative Review, there are numerous awards around the globe judging and celebrating it and there is the APG Creative Strategy award, which rewards creative strategy in the context of marketing communications and planning.

Creativity, of course, is also the selling point of almost every agency or agency-like company trying to make a living in the widening domain of marketing services.

“We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.” (Ogilvy & Mather 2010)

“Creativity Is The Most Powerful Force In Business. […] DDB’s pursues collaborative relationships with clients and partners to find the hidden potential of people, brands and business through creativity.” (DDB 2010)

“[Wieden + Kennedy is] an independent, creatively-led communications agency.” (Wieden + Kennedy 2010)

“We connect ideas and innovation to deliver award-winning results for the world’s leading brands.” (AKQA 2010)

„We are creative problem-solvers.” (Naked Communications 2010)

“We are a creative company with 186 offices and 7000 colleagues united around a single mission: To Resist the Unusual.” (Young & Rubicam 2010)

“Our industry is undergoing radical transformation. To keep pace with the changes being driven by emerging technology, it is vital to focus on collaboration, creativity and organizational flexibility.” (Brien 2010, McCann)

“Our philosophy emphasizes the utilization of strategy and creativity to drive growth and measurable impact.” (MDC Partners 2010)

Both independent agencies as well as large established agency networks claim to be at the forefront of creativity. More precisely, as Zurstiege (2005, p.179ff) puts it, what agencies aim to offer and what marketers ask for is effective creativity or creative effectiveness. Therefore, as the relationship between creativity and effectiveness is a regular topic of discussion between advertising agencies and clients, within agencies, the industry press and advertising conferences, there is a stream of research dealing with creativity in the context of advertising. Among the topics covered are the definition and perception of creativity (White & Smith 2001; West et al. 2008; El-Murad & West 2004; Koslow et al. 2003) the effect of creativity on advertising effectiveness (White & Smith 2001; Ehrenberg et al. 2002; Till & Baack 2005; Kover et al. 1995), and contextual issues that influence advertising and agency creativity (Koslow et al. 2006).

However, while creativity is the focus of awards, agency positioning and industry debates, and while there is work in advertising research towards “a general theory of creativity in advertising” (Smith & Yang 2004) the topic is generally not dealt with in detail in a broader marketing and brand management context. The seminal work of many leading scholars in this area (Kotler & Bliemel 2006; Fuchs & Unger 2007; Schweiger & Schrattenecker 2009) does not systematically cover creativity.

For this reason this paper sets out to critically evaluate the functions and premises of brand management and more specifically what “creativity” could mean in this context. This is done by first analysing the concept of brands and brand management as found in a literature review. In addition, the environment companies and brands operate in will be described and structured, followed by implications for brand management theory and practice. Then, meanings of creativity both in today’s advertising and marketing industry as well as in the broader management context will be examined. The last chapter will then merge the two streams and draw conclusions from the synthesis of the current state of brand management and a broader meaning of creativity in a commercial context.

AKQA, 2010. AKQA Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.akqa.com/10_company/assets/pdf/AKQA_Fact_Sheet.pdf [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Brien, N., 2010. Interpublic Announces Management Succession at McCann Worldgroup. Available at: http://www.mccannworldgroup.com/2010/01/interpublic-announces-management-succession-at-mccann-worldgroup/ [Accessed October 22, 2010].

DDB, 2010. DDB. Available at: http://www.ddb.com/timeline.html [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Ehrenberg, A. et al., 2002. Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(4), pp.7–18.

El-Murad, J. & West, D.C., 2004. The Definition and Measurement of Creativity: What Do We Know? Journal of Advertising Research, 44(2), pp.188-201.

Fuchs, W. & Unger, F., 2007. Management der Marketing-Kommunikation 4th ed., Springer, Berlin.

Koslow, S., Sasser, S.L. & Riordan, E.A., 2006. Do Marketers Get the Advertising They Need or the Advertising They Deserve? Agency Views of How Clients Influence Creativity. Journal of Advertising, 35(3), pp.81–101.

Koslow, S., Sasser, S.L. & Riordan, E.A., 2003. What Is Creative to Whom and Why? Perceptions in Advertising Agencies. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(01), pp.96-110.

Kotler, P. & Bliemel, F., 2006. Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung 10th ed., Pearson Studium.

Kover, A.J., Goldberg, S.M. & James, W.L., 1995. Creativity vs. effectiveness? An integrating classification for advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 35(6).

MDC Partners, 2010. MDC Partners [BETA]. Available at: http://www.mdc-partners.com/#agency/mdc_partners [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Naked Communications, 2010. Naked. Meet Us. Manifesto. Available at: http://www.nakedcomms.com/ [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Ogilvy & Mather, 2010. Corporate Culture | Ogilvy & Mather. Available at: http://www.ogilvy.com/About/Our-History/Corporate-Culture.aspx [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Schweiger, G. & Schrattenecker, G., 2009. Werbung 7th ed., UTB, Stuttgart.

Smith, R.E. & Yang, X., 2004. Toward a general theory of creativity in advertising: Examining the role of divergence. Marketing Theory, 4(1-2), p.31.

Till, B.D. & Baack, D.W., 2005. Recall and Persuasion: Does Creative Advertising Matter? Journal of Advertising, 34(3), pp.47–57.

West, D.C., Kover, A.J. & Caruana, A., 2008. Practitioner and Customer Views of Advertising Creativity: Same Concept, Different Meaning? Journal of Advertising, 37(4), pp.35-46.

White, A. & Smith, B.L., 2001. Assessing Advertising Creativity Using the Creative Product Semantic Scale. Journal of Advertising Research, 41(6), pp.27-34.

Wieden + Kennedy, 2010. Wieden + Kennedy London. An independent, creatively led communications agency. Available at: http://www.wklondon.com/ [Accessed January 4, 2011].

Young & Rubicam, 2010. Young & Rubicam. Young & Rubicam. Available at: http://www.yr.com/ [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Zurstiege, G., 2005. Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet 1st ed., Halem.

Why Coming Up With A Concept Isn’t The Problem

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,experience,planning by thomas on the Mai 23rd, 2011


When I started with all this stuff (comms, marketing, design, …), I designed and built websites, flyers and other things – amateurish in hindsight, but I learned a lot doing it. Then after school, I went into a more abstract role in an online marketing agency – somewhere in the middle of planning, account management and creative. After that, I thought I should work at a classic agency and did an internship in planning. And now, I’m working in a supposedly even more ‚detached‘ role at a brand and innovation consultancy. (No, I’m not working full-time yet, I’m finishing my degree). In a way, I sort of covered the whole spectrum from execution to strategy, from concrete to more abstract thinking and doing. Common sense would say I worked my way ‚up‘. I’d say this is utterly, utterly wrong.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past years, it is that the magic isn’t in concepts or PowerPoints or Keynotes. It is very easy to come up with some stuff and post-rationalise it, to make it look fancy or even convincing. You can learn pretty fast how easy it is to bullshit your way to the dark side of planning. With slideshare and twitter soundbites, and a lot of marketing people potentially (and often rightfully) not knowing what you’re talking about, I assume you can go far this way. („Some people are so good at learning the tricks of the trade that they never get to learn the trade.“ – Sam Levenson)

But from what I learned so far, the magic often isn’t in an idea or a concept itself. Advertising ideas or concept headlines these days often come cheap. Just look at what all the croudsourcing platforms out there do, or the theory of random creativity or Grant McCracken’s Culturematic. Coming up with a concept isn’t that big of a deal if you come up with many of them in the first place. (Coming up with a unique one is harder, but even that would be more a matter of quantity …)

So if the magic isn’t in the idea, where does it lie? I really believe it is in what happened before a concept and what happens with it afterwards.  What happens before is the strategic thinking that reframes the situation, identify an opportunity or a problem and construct the context in an interesting and inspiring way. Classic and still invaluable strategy stuff. This is answering the question of what it is the new thing we’re supposed to come up should lead to?

Then, and usually built on a concept, happens the execution and this is where all the process and thinking and phrasing before suddenly hits reality. But it’s not the plot-line, or the concept headline that is pushed out there in the real world – it’s deeper and more complex than that. Just look at Hollywood’s black list as an example.

“Centers on Edwin A. Salt, a CIA officer who is fingered as a Russian  sleeper spy. He eludes capture by superiors who are convinced he is out  to assassinate the president. While trying to reunite with his family,  he struggles to prove someone else is the traitor.”

“An illiterate kid looks to become a contestant on the Hindi version of  Who Wants to be A Millionaire in order to re-establish contact with the girl he loves, who is an ardent fan of the show.”

“After a zombie plague ravages America, a pair of ‘odd couple’  survivors team up to find purpose and combat the living dead in the post-apocalyptic Southwest.”

They all don’t sound overly exciting, or do they? Sure, those are summaries of plot lines, nicely written and to a certain extent triggering your imagination – but then again, they’re only words. And they can be transformed into a very dull or a brilliant movie. They aren’t Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, they aren’t Angelina Jolie (guess there’s been some focus group testing there), they aren’t the OST, the art direction, the … well you get the picture: It needs imagination, craftsmanship and taste to make something exciting based on them. It needs the how.

Or to let Mr. Feldwick and Mr. Heath, who have been preaching and proofing that for a long time, speak:

Most advertising practitioners intuitively believe that advertising influences behaviour not simply through the conscious processing of verbal or factual messages, but by influencing emotions and mediating ‘relationships’ between the consumer and the brand. This leads to a benign conspiracy between client and agency in which creativity and communication are able to coexist (Heath 2004). To support this conspiracy, huge resources of corporate ingenuity are squandered in retrofitting successful campaigns to ‘information processing’ strategies. So we are led to believe that Heineken’s famous ‘Refreshes the parts …’ campaign worked mainly because it communicated the ‘benefit’ of refreshment, that the Guinness ‘Surfer’ ad is merely a dramatisation of the ‘benefit’ that Guinness takes a long time to pour, and that the Andrex ‘Puppy’ is no more than a branding device that improves recall that its toilet paper is ‘soft, strong, and very long’. It is a bit like saying that King Lear is a great play because it is about families. (Heath & Feldwick 2008)

However, while it’s the strategy ‚before‘, and the execution ‚after‘ a concept that make for great outcomes, I’d argue there often isn’t really a before and an after in the first place, which renders ’set in stone‘ concept themselves somewhat irrelevant. While surely the goal – the what – should be fixed at a certain point (if it’s agreed upon in the first place), I think in general one can’t separate concept from execution. There’s a nice deck about what this could mean for ‚digital‘ solutions by Stuart Eccles of Made By Many accompanying the talk he held at the Google FireStarters. And you should definitely read Martin Weigel’s post, which was finished before this post made it out of the drafts and is saying what I wanted to say way better anyways.

Sources:

The Black List 2007: http://blcklst.com/tbl/lists/2007_black_list.pdf

Heath, R. & Feldwick, P., 2008. Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising. International Journal of Market Research, 50(1), p.29.

The theory of random creativity is explained in:
Rossiter, J.R. & Bellman, S., 2005. Marketing communications: theory and applications, Prentice Hall.

On „Changing Education Paradigms“

Posted in media, culture and society by thomas on the November 21st, 2010

Excellent talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

What I find most interesting is the fact that the system we live in seems to be so institutionalized that it kept working for quite a while, and still does for now, even though we haven’t put a focus on divergent thinking, nope, we even systematically destroy it and the life and openness it brings about. Montaner even goes so far as to say that the social and cultural capital our society has created appears to compensate what is usually measured as „declining intellectual capabilities“ – such as reading and maths – among my generation.

Standardization is in high demand for this system. The question is how long it’s going to survive.

„The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management“ aka my Bachelor Paper and Planning Barcamp topic

Posted in academia,Bachelor Thesis,Brands and Business,planning by thomas on the August 25th, 2010

This weekend, I am going to fly up to Hamburg to meet with a bunch of interesting people at the Planning Barcamp, a mini/un-conference around the overarching theme of „Context“. As Michaela asked us to come up with topics, I thought it might be a good idea to suggest the title of my bachelor paper that otherwise nobody else would probably read anyways. So, as a preview of what I am going to talk about on Friday (in a less academic and hopefully more interesting way), here’s the preliminary introduction to my „thesis“:

(Thanks to Christian Riedel, and Michaela for organizing and to the APGD and the Good School for supporting it.)

Creativity is an often used word in the context of marketing communications and brand management. There are magazines named after it, such as Creativity and Creativity Review, there are numerous awards around the globe judging and celebrating it and there is the APG Creative Planning award, which rewards creative strategy in the context of marketing communications and planning.

Creativity, of course is also the selling point of almost every agency or agency-like company trying to make a living in the widening domain of marketing services.

We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.

Creativity Is The Most Powerful Force In Business. […] DDB’s pursues collaborative relationships with clients and partners to find the hidden potential of people, brands and business through creativity.

[Wieden + Kennedy is] an independent, creatively-led communications agency.

We connect ideas and innovation to deliver award-winning results for the world’s leading brands.

We are creative problem-solvers.

We are a creative company with 186 offices and 7000 colleagues united around a single mission: To Resist the Unusual.

Our industry is undergoing radical transformation. To keep pace with the changes being driven by emerging technology, it is vital to focus on collaboration, creativity and organizational flexibility,

MDC Partners fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of our Partner firms by encouraging creativity and autonomy while providing human and financial resources to accelerate growth.

Both independent agencies as well as large established agency networks claim to be at the forefront of creativity. More precisely, as Zurstiege (cf. 2005: 179ff) puts it, what agencies aim to offer and what marketers ask for is effective creativity or creative effectiveness. Therefore, as the relationship between creativity and effectiveness is a regular topic of discussion between advertising agencies and clients, within agencies, the industry press and advertising conferences, there is a stream of research dealing with creativity in the context of advertising. Google Scholar, which searches for scientific literature such as journal articles, displays around 100.000 entries for “advertising AND creativity”. Among the discussed topics are the definition and perception of creativity (D. C West et al. 2008; El-Murad & Douglas C. West 2004; Scott Koslow et al. 2003; White & B. L. Smith 2001), the effect of creativity on advertising effectiveness (Ehrenberg et al. 2002; Arthur J. Kover et al. 1995; Dahlen et al. 2008; Till & Baack 2005), and contextual issues that influence advertising and agency creativity (S. Koslow et al. 2006).

However, while creativity is the focus of awards, agency positioning and industry debates, and while there is work in advertising research towards “a general theory of creativity in advertising” (R. E. Smith & Yang 2004) creativity is generally not dealt with in detail in a broader brand management context (Kotler & Bliemel 2006; Fuchs & Unger 2007; Schweiger & Schrattenecker 2009).

For this reason this paper sets out to critically evaluate the functions and premises of brand management and more specifically what roles “creativity” could play in the ever-more-complex environment companies and brands are embedded in.

This is done by first analyzing the concept of brands and brand management as found in a literature review. In addition, the changing environment companies and brands operate in will be described, followed by implications for and a critique of brand management and research on the topic. Then, different meanings of and perspectives on creativity, both in today’s marketing industry as well as in the broader business context, will be examined. The last chapter will then merge the two streams and draw conclusions from the synthesis of the current state of brand management and a broader meaning of creativity in a commercial context.

(Will update the sources later.)

So much for the introduction. The good thing is, I’m not finished and will therefore have to present half-baked thoughts as discussion material. Of course, I’ll share the thesis here, once it is finished.

This – too – Is Advertising.

Now I haven’t posted an ad here in a while.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little fed up with advertising recently. Not because I’m surfing on the „advertising is the price that you pay for a bad product“ wave. I don’t. Or because I’ve been preaching „social media“ on a daily basis only to see people now abandoning their former golden calf. I don’t do that a lot either. Not even because I’ve typed myself silly about the „new customer„, agency models or how innovation is the new black. I think I’ve kept all that to a reasonable minimum.

Rather, it’s been precisely those debates and discussions that have made me a little tired of the bulk of the advertising discourse. Looking at twitter, blogs and AdAge It seems like everybody who’s holding at least a senior planning position in agencies big or small is busy hopping from conference to conference talking about the demise of the industry. Of course, not every stream of that discussion is dull and I’ve learned a lot from reading people who are incredibly smart and generous with their knowledge and experience. I’ll attend a planning barcamp myself this summer. And anyways it’s probably more an outsider perspective than an informed insider view. But still, my impression is: a lot, a lot of talk.

(Disclaimer: The next sentences may come across as a little bit of ass-kissing. And I agree. But then again, credit where credit is due.)

When I talk about exceptions, one of the agencies that has always been impressive in my eyes is – of course – W+K. Yes, they blog. Yes they retweet when their work is mentioned. Yes, they even have an opinion and voice it from time to time. But in general, their planners seem to be more busy (unsuccessfully) helping Labour to win elections than further contributing to the echochamber. Or repeatedly doing awesome stuff. And this is, in my humble opinion, a very good thing.

Now that was a very long prelude for a video. Here it is: Nike „Write The Future“.

This fully integrated campaign, spanning TV, cinema, print, digital, out-of-home and non-traditional executions is the culmination of an 18-month long collaborative effort led by W+K Amsterdam with support from W+K London and W+K Portland. While digital teasers were released on May 15th to build buzz ahead of the campaign, the official unveil is this epic 3-minute film called “Write the Future,” launching online tonight. The global broadcast will debut during the May 22nd European Club Final, a feat that required seven versions and 30 cut-downs to accommodate distribution to major networks in 32 countries.

Put simply: it’s an awe-inspiring peace of film. (Read their full background info here.)

From what can be seen in the admitedly media-biased twitter search people are loving it. They talk about it. And they will implement it in their lives. Heck, the whole set-up with different slices and pieces of film for different culture is brilliant. This is probably what Ehrenberg meant when he wrote about „Advertising as Creative Publicity„. This is what Lannon/Cooper meant when they wrote about humanistic advertising and asked the question „What do people do with ads?“ – in 1983. And this – too – is advertising.