Creativity Redefined

Creativity and design are converging in integrated forms of marketing that were previously not thought possible. This has resulted in a redefining of creativity, as architecture, product design, fashion and information design meet. The impact on advertising and marketing is huge, which is why, more than ever, we need creative leaders with backgrounds in multiple disciplines.

One thing’s for sure: The roles of creativity and design are changing. Mastery of the multichannel world is a prerequisite for creative directors today. Just look at what is happening in the traditional agencies, with David Lubars, who brought the world BMW Films, assuming creative leadership of BBDO, an agency formerly known mostly for its prowess in creating Super Bowl spots. Or Ty Montague assuming creative leadership of JWT New York after creating Sega’s offbeat Beta-7 campaign at Wieden + Kennedy. This new wave of multichannel creative directors is replacing the “old guard,” who were rooted in 30-second spots and print advertising.

In the new definition of creativity, clients and agencies need to think bigger—about longer chains of customer experiences in ever-increasing numbers of channels. Such experiences need to be architected and designed across all likely customer pathways. The creative director’s challenge is to build a framework for universal concepts—ideas that can travel across channels. Today’s successful creative directors must understand not only the multiplicity of channels but how creative ideas are expressed in each channel—from inception to production to implementation to adaptation in local markets. That’s a pretty tall order and a radical departure from the old role of the creative director operating in a single channel. This is the kind of creative leadership the industry needs to move forward.

In my own company’s primary discipline of interactive, creativity is being similarly redefined—from something you get to only through your computer to something that affects every aspect of life. The famous information-design visionaries of the past, like Edward Tufte, author of the classic text Envisioning Information, and Richard Saul Wurman, who invented the term “information architecture” and authored the Access Guides, are the equivalent of the old guard in advertising. Their expertise was in architecting information for print. But a new wave of information designers are emerging from the multichannel interactive world, where customer experiences must be unified among Web sites, mobile phones, physical locations (like retail stores) and events. This challenge is as complex as the one described above. The creative stars emerging from interactive might, in fact, end up being the best candidates for unifying the entire customer experience across all channels, based on the complexities they confront today in the interactive medium.

As I think about these challenges, one creative discipline I draw inspiration from is physical architecture. The world’s great architects, like Renzo Piano and Frank Gehry, take a systematic approach to creativity, yielding structures that tie together many different strands of human experience. In a sense, architecture is the greatest example of a converged medium. So it’s no surprise that some of the most interesting examples of marketing creativity are emerging in physical environments that seamlessly blend architecture, product design and advertising. In New York’s Time Warner Center, Samsung showcases new products by encouraging people to immerse themselves in the experience without actually buying anything. Another great example of systematic marketing convergence is the Apple Store in SoHo. Here, products, architecture, interface design and advertising are all seamlessly integrated to maximize customer engagement. The brutally long lines at the cash register are a testament to the success.

Clients want customers to “swim with the brand,” and these kinds of experiences deliver on that desire. Ultimately, they are created by a new breed who are drawn into advertising from filmmaking, architecture, product design, graphic design and fine arts. They see advertising and marketing as a place were all creative disciplines converge. We see this creativity expressed in the well-designed products that are flooding the market—from Mini to Sub-Zero to iPod to the Sharp Aquos. The sudden wealth of great product design is perhaps one reason we lack so many good fine artists, sculptors and painters working today. Where 25 years ago such individuals might have become fine artists, today they are becoming designers.

All of this is part of a larger trend of creativity and design entering the mainstream. BusinessWeek and Newsweek both publish annual issues showcasing the importance of design. Target proclaims “Design for all” in its latest campaign, showcasing dozens of design-driven everyday products. For Target, great affordable design exemplifies the brand attribute of “Expect more, pay less.” If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that great design has become a differentiator. In advertising, too, great creativity is the key differentiator. Great creativity and great design go hand in hand, and the agencies that are built to address this new reality are the ones that will thrive in our converged world.