"We are no longer creative people. We are inventors!"
The cyber jury president at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity proclaimed this four years ago, but today I argue it couldn't be further from the truth. Contrary to conventional wisdom, and despite the disorientation that digital technology has wrought, "traditional" conceptual thinking is still fundamental to marketing.
Today's digital era calls for change—but not to bow to the algorithmic salvation of big data, or to the gee-whiz draw of viral video. Our mandate now is to achieve harmony between timeless brand-building truths and new digital technology opportunities.
To do this, we marketers must debunk these five platitudes:
Myth 1: Traditional media is dying.
Marketers spend more than $250 billion a year on broadcast advertising. Now, our goal must be to align yin and yang—or "top-down" (broadcast) and "bottom-up" (interactive) platforms. When digital and traditional creative are conceived separately, brands lose focus, which confuses people. In addition, each achieves complementary objectives. Top-down shapes preference. Bottom-up deepens engagement—or time spent with an idea—that leads to loyalty.
Myth 2: The "brand idea" is an anachronism.
The brand idea is not a static positioning statement. It's a commercial life force—a product's soul, invisible but omnipresent. It forges order from chaos as new media burgeon. The brand idea is long-term, a relationship between consumer and brands that remains consistent over time. And relationships are mutual. They are "interactive." So are digital media. Brand ideas therefore are the underpinning of two-way engagement between consumers and brands.
Some brands get it. In both digital and traditional media, Axe deodorant promises "irresistible attraction" to guys looking to score. In both digital and traditional media, Coca-Cola transcends the physical plane of quenching thirst to embody "moments of happiness." If there is no brand idea, engagement devolves into transactional carpet-bombing.
Myth 3: Copywriters are dinosaurs.
True, technology and creativity must be fused in new ways. The old-fashioned partnership between copywriter and art director is indeed approaching its sell-by date. But in a world transformed by digital, today's marketing needs a similarly cohesive partnership between creatives and experts on today's broader range of media platforms. One suggestion from R/GA's chief creative officer Nick Law is for agencies to be populated with pairs of "conceptual distillers" and "systemic designers." The former ensures a brand's thematic focus. The latter enables a brand to blossom in the full range of three-dimensional experience.
Myth 4: Big Data will save us.
Big Data has become invaluable to media buying and planning. Algorithms can target consumers precisely, in real time, and can even predict behavior—for example, which website a surfer will go to next. But good old consumer insights, not data, best answer the question "why?" Compelling creative is about ideas that motivate people to change behavior. Marketers can't reach consumers if they lose sight of how to inspire them.
Myth 5: We are all inventors now.
New forms of technological engagement are not, in and of themselves, creative ideas. Technology must be harnessed to make ideas more powerful. The Nike+ ecosystem resonates because it breathes life into a brand idea. Through technology, "Just do it" is always on. Google Glass makes the world a small place, adding dimension to Google's mission of "bringing the world together through technology."
Marketers have always been consumer advocates; they will always be idea masters. And that's not just reassuring. It is something to be proud of.
Tom Doctoroff is CEO of JWT Asia Pacific and author of Twitter Is Not a Strategy (Palgrave Macmillan, Nov. 11) and two previous books: Billions and What Chinese Want. Based in Shanghai, Tom has been intimately involved with some of Asia's greatest marketing successes, from Nike's launch in China to Ford's rise to produce more than 1 million vehicles a year in China. (For more, visit www.tomdoctoroff.com.)