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Will the economy kill creativity?

By November 20, 2008January 21st, 202217 Comments

Breaking through the clutter amid consumer cynicism and information overload requires creativity.

Creativity comes in all forms. It can be beautiful, disturbing, fascinating, shocking, heartwarming, awe-inspiring, scary, fun—you get the point.

We all know that creativity isn’t always easy to sell. Sometimes it’s the budget. Other times it’s inertia. But whatever it is, experiencing something that evokes real emotion—good or bad, is special.

Here are three ads that are creative, for very different reasons:

This ad for Australian tourism feels like a trailer for a major motion picture. No surprise there: It was Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the man that brought you “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

While the country was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, advertisers were in an awkward position: How could they keep their brand in front of consumers without seeming insensitive about the situation? Budweiser pulled it off with this ad.

As one of the world’s most recognized consumer brands in one of the most highly competitive categories, the bar is always high for Coca-Cola. This ad was like nothing before it.

I’d hate to see visually interesting advertising like this go away. These are the ads that build long-term value in a company—that help ingrain a brand into a consumer’s mind.

On the flip side, when it comes to what drives sales, advertising isn’t necessarily the most cost effective form of promotion:

Promotional Cost Effectiveness graphic

The fact is, it is strategically responsible to move some marketing dollars from advertising to sales promotion to keep sales moving until the economy rebounds.

Marketing budgets shouldn’t be discretionary, but they usually are. With what remains, will sales promotion get all of the marketing budget, reducing advertising to nothing more than offers and dollars-off coupons?

It could happen.

Given the economy is that what should happen?

David Ogilvy once said “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative” but he wasn’t advocating promotional advertising. To the contrary, his point was that without creativity you won’t break through. And in a way, he was saying your advertising has to be creative to be ROI responsible.

So, what do you think?

Will the economy force marketers to move their budgets to short-term, sales-driven promotions? And if they do, will creativity take a hit?

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Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Carlin says:

    Wow, you pulled together a great set of ads. I think that especially in the viral video age we’re in, the only ads that will get enough eye impressions are the ones like you picked here. You make an ad that is entertaining, funny, shocking, pick your adjective here, enough that people will take the 3 clicks to send it to all their friends? You can’t put a price on that.

    What I can’t figure, is some of the really bad ads you see during something big like the Super Bowl. Shiny car… yawn. For what they’re paying, how can they just not get it? Oh right, detroit is in the drink now, maybe the Koreans will catch on faster, or who makes cars now 😉

    Ok, send me $5K, I’ll make you a great ad, and I’ll Tweet about it 😉
    Thanks for reading my comment.
    I’m Carlin from Seattle, and I’m a hired gun.

  • Yes, the horrific “Prices have never been lower! Buy now!” ads are invading our televisions. The worst is the absolutely grating Toyota “Saved by Zero” commercials, which make me lunge for my remote control faster than a hitman dives for his gun in a John Woo film. Ads like that make me wonder if their producers even watch television. They also make me want to call up some John Woo hitmen of my own — you know, just to put a little scare into the producers.

    (I say “producers,” because you never know who the truly guilty party is behind a commercial — the copywriters, the creative director, or the client. Though from my experience dealing with Toyota — and its dealers association — I’d say it’s the client.)

    Bad commercials are like spam: if people would stop responding to them, they’d go away. But Toyota keeps outselling VW, which has the most entertaining car commercials on TV. That doesn’t mean the commercials are responsible for the sales disparity; it just means that Toyota has no real reason to change course.

    I do count on some leaders in branding — such as Apple and Budweiser — to never stoop to simple sales pitches in their advertising. They may lower their prices, or offer more value (the better route to go) off the air, but they know that an esteemed brand is too valuable to waste. Unless a company wants to turn its product into a commodity, it will continue to emphasize and enhance its brand, even during tough times.

  • Annemarie DeMarco says:

    Hi Patrick – I think the correction will inspire creativity. Have a good weekend. Yours, Annemarie

  • Sharon K says:

    A copy of my reply to your LinkedIn query -Will the economy kill creativity? Will the economy force marketers to move marketing dollars from traditional advertising to sales promotion? Is this a good thing? And will it kill creativity?

    Money doesn’t equate to creative thinking.

    A tighter economy will mean that businesses will look more carefully at their marketing dollar and where that spend should go. Many times, it is the marketing budget that suffers over a sales budget. The ‘creativity’ needed to retain those dollars within marketing is to show potential for ROI.

  • No, I think bad times tend to boost creativity.

  • Gary Unger says:

    Not if “they” all read my book. 🙂
    Seriously, no. Creativity is not dependent on money. But if the mood changes to a bad or depressed one, then I would say a lot of creativity will not come about. A country’s mood has more to do with creativity than money or resources.


  • No the economy will not kill creativity.

    Stephen R. Covey says …”Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.”

    There is that ‘change’ word again and yes we all have that power and nobody can take that from us.


  • Renate Kriegler Edwards says:

    I agree with most respondents. I believe – and experience – that the so-called ‘hard times’ (which I rather look upon as a welcome tide of change) shake us up out of our comfort zones, to literally make us ‘think outside the box’ and respond to changing conditions with a new attitude, new ideas and new solutions. I think creativity will surge!

  • Hello all,

    Advertising and publicity are the only ways we can make people responsible for their own actions and therefore we can link creativity with a social purpose making “economy” become true. A less awarding method in the present, versus a long term approach with a social vision. In a word longsightedness. We just don’t sell products or services, but we also empower truthful and thoughtful decisions on the part of the consumers who are aroused awareness and improve their lives. The first ad wants to carve into our hearts that “walkabout” is the only solution to find ourselves again. If we don’t stop, and discontinue with our “old” concept of Oikonomy we make money, but we forget about ourselves and our love ties. We have an “olistic” interdipendent environment instead made of respect for ourselves, the others and our ecosystem. You have to loose yourself, before you can come back to senses and re-discover who you are. Footprints of the aborigen are of mud and soon disappear, footprints of the businesswoman leave a more definite track and they remain but the truth hidden is the opposite. The two footprints cross magically to spotlight two different worlds apparently so far away and impossible to communicate to each other. Sometimes brick and mortar is less stable and permanent than mud which recalls who we are: humans made up of mud and sand. The teaching here is given by an aborigen kid to an adult VP of an important company. A simple aborigen kid is savvier than an high post businesswoman. Plunge yourself into the water, forget about yourself, find who you are and the ties that are meaningful to you, then you will be re-born. By re-emerging from water you gasp, you breathe as if you were born again like a new born baby. You are born to a new life, if you have the braveness to die at the previous condition. So here the word holy-day is really a “sacred” day where you decide you will plunge into the pre-natal water to discover who you really are. We all need a holy day to go back to our roots. Holyday could also make reference to a hole – day.. time with an empty space or time to fill in with important can die as a VP of an important company to be born again with your bare name and find out who you love and who you want to be. Economy is important but economic activity needs a creative break as well as a creative approach toward social responsibility or else it will become a nightmare. Our roots are lost and dust will never change into a light powder. This is what I find an enlightening ad as not only it sells a “holyday” as a service but it stimulates awareness and “serves” our deeper needs.

    I hope I could give some interesting points of view.

    Take care
    Maurizia Gregorio

  • A poor economy is a motivating force to put marketing dollars out of traditional advertising, into a more productive form of advertising that incorporates public relations as well. For example, a baseball game billboard advertisement is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per game and is only economically practical for large companies that can afford it.

    In 40 cities across the country small and large companies gain a major presence at Major League and Minor League baseball games by sponsoring Disability Awareness Night. It is only $5,000 to $10,000 for the sponsors, gets attention from local newspapers, gives sponsors a booth at the game to distribute material to promote their products among attendees, and most importantly, it is also the right thing to do and leaves a lasting impression. How much of a lasting impression does a $100,000 billboard ad at a baseball game leave?

  • Howard Huang says:

    Hey Patrick,
    I just recognized the boy from the ad, he is actually in the upcoming movie “Australia”! Also directed by Baz Luhrmann. Talk about product placement and creating a buzz 🙂

  • The economy may not kill creativity, but it will beat it around for a while.

    It is time for the accountants to do battle with the marketers. For the past 15 years or more the Accountants have had to dream up projects to suck the life out of companies (SOX, Y2K, etc.). Meanwhile, Marketers have been able to run rampant with poorly performing ad campaigns and nary a concern for their own brand. It didn’t matter. The economy was so strong and people were so crazy about spending every last dime and then some (a lot of some apparently), that no marketer could do wrong.

    Now it’s time for the Accountants to have their revenge! Over the next year or more every Marketing effort will be pecked to death and creativity will die.

    So – it is time for Marketers to “start again” and do some navel gazing to make sure they are doing the right thing. The right place to start is to clearly understand your brand and to be able to own a word in the consumer’s mind with respect to your brand. From there, you can start again on your marketing plan.

    Great blog Patrick!
    Dave J.

  • Hard times will reward creativity.

    Creativity may be killed in the places where it is already mediocre and non-productive. But new creativity will be ispired in new places, and barriers to bolder creativity will fall wherever there is the wisdom to avoid being a part of the ordinary majority in a time when ordinary is a precurser to vanishing.

  • I think many business leaders will feel pressure to move money into sales promotions in 2009. Why? Three reasons:

    1. Good deals drive consumer spending in the short-term.
    2. Also, some leaders may not see a clear distinction between marketing and sales promotions.
    3. And for those who do, they may not yet have proof that anything other than sales promotions is effective.

    Is it good? It is good in the respect that it will identify which organizations need stronger marketing teams. For the companies that go the sales promotion route, it will be obvious that marketing is not driving the organization in a meaningful or a measurable way.

    Marketing at its most basic level should be designed to create customers and keep them. Sales promotions on the other hand are usually designed to create transactions. Which one is best suited to the business need during a struggling economy?

    Consider that there may be some organizations that view their customer relationships as merely one-time transactional events. These would be businesses that don’t have a strong customer following or seek a fair exchange of value for price. Also they may not invest in customer service, product quality, customer loyalty, or satisfaction. In companies like these, sales promotions may be the best thing to invest in – in a struggling economy. After all, they have nothing to lose.

    Will it kill creativity? I don’t think so, although, it may challenge it. If that happens it will be a good thing. Creativity and accountability are not supposed to be mutually exclusive. In fact, creativity that can’t be held accountable isn’t good for anyone.

  • Ray Miller says:

    No, I actually think tough times spur innovation and creativity.

  • Christmass message for the Global Economy

    Christmasstide is a holy-day; a day which carries a holyness in itself as a baby child is born to show people the way for healing heart and soul. A little “global” baby forces us to look down at him. Humility is the virtue which stems from this looking down at a baby who needs our nurturing approach to grow sane and strong. We all need to stay more contact with our inner land, our humus which leads us into a renewed capacity to see with global eyes the simplicity of a baby who can only become adult if we are responsible enough to nurture him at full maturity. Our globalized world is like a baby who needs to grow and develop and it will only do so through our support and energy. Salvation is the possibility for this weak child to grow strong and humble and open to share ideas, values and wealth. This global economic crisis should teach us to remain rooted to our inner land which is made of simple things and opportunities based on real wealth creation and equanimous distribution of resources produced. Financial tools should only be employed to nurture our global economy not ex-clusively for speculatory aims. Entrepreneurs should learn through this inner child to create working opportunities based on “global” wealth generation and sharing, so that every day is a christ-mass-tide. A tide of love and wellbeing shared among people who take part to a “global” play game having a “holy” objective: make the world a better place for every-one.
    Novilinguists wishes to everyone a saint holiday season with the strong wish for a better 2009 to start with new employment opportunities and improved economic situation backed by humble politicians, companies, lay people.

    May God inspire you a spirit of cooperation and sane sense of belonging to the same “human” family.

    Maurizia Gregorio
    Novilinguists Multimedia snc
    Global Vision to Local Insights

  • Art Boulay says:

    I agree with those who say, “quite the opposite”. It is realtively easy to be successful in a market where money is cheap, inflation is low, energy is cheap and so on–now people have to figure out ways to deliver services differently, build products more efficiently, maintain or grow profits on fewer sales and lower prices…necessity is the mother of invention.

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