Strategy, creativity, or craft - which is more important to a successful ad? And how should they work together?
“It used to be like a relay race, with each department handing the baton to another along the production line,” says Five by Five’s strategy director Catherine McPherson. “But today it’s evolved into a team sport. Rather than strategy handing over a brief and washing its hands, we’re now running alongside the creatives and cheering them on."
To an extent, the secret to effective advertising has always been found in the relationship between strategy, creativity, and craft. Too much strategy can leave a campaign feeling more like a PowerPoint presentation, whilst unrestrained creativity risks derailing a brand’s messaging. Get the balance right, however, and you land on the kind of genius which works miracles in the marketplace.
“While there is a balance to be struck, there isn’t a simple formula,” notes creative director Ravi Beeharry. “You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis. Take the iconic Meerkat from Compare the Market, for example. You might look at that and consider it to be an example of creativity which went a bit out of control. What is a meerkat saying about that brand? But in practice it was enormously effective because the balance was right in that instance”.
Above: The first ever ‘Compare the Meerkat’ ad for the insurance comparison website Compare The Market.
Knowing which element should take prominence, the pair agree, comes down to your definition of success.
“Does success mean winning at Cannes, or does it mean driving sales in the short-term? Or is it brand recognition? It might sound obvious, but being intentional about the end result is the first step to getting the balance right”, says Catherine. “Something we’ll reference quite often at Five by Five is Peter Field’s research into the recent decline in creative effectiveness, and one takeaway from that has been that we don’t look for compromise between strategy and creativity but rather look for harmony. They should feed into one another”.
“The best creativity bounces off strategy like it’s a springboard”, notes Ravi. “And craft is the execution - actually, let me rephrase that. Craft is good execution. Knowing the precise balance between those elements will ultimately come down to judgement and context. It all adds up to having strong ideas, clearly communicated”.
‘Strong ideas, clearly communicated’ is Five by Five’s strategic approach to briefs. It’s what ensures their clients’ brands get noticed, processed and recalled - and it's ultimately what delivers effective campaigns.
And as Ravi notes, when it comes to measuring a successful campaign context will always be king. However, in recent years a fracturing media environment has made identifying that context all the more challenging.
One reality of the modern industry is that an idea can no longer realistically be designed to live in one place. The seemingly endless proliferation of channels and platforms which occurred in the last decade has created a marketing landscape with more nuance than at any point in the industry’s history. But, according to Catherine and Ravi, there are still ways of finding the right balance between strategy, creativity, and craft.
“Something which we’ve lost sight of, I feel, is precisely what we should be using these different platforms for. They don’t need to be additional challenges, they should be seen as additional tools”, she says. “If you’re going to take one single idea and contort it to fit a TV screen as well as a mobile phone, then I’ve no doubt that storytelling and quality will suffer as a result. But if you work out how to take a central idea and present it in a bespoke way for different formats, then you’re far more likely to have an impactful campaign”.
For Ravi, there’s an opportunity for brands to become more memorable by elevating creativity and craft across multiple platforms. “It’s probably true to say that there’s a focus on promotion over entertainment at the moment”, he says. “And perhaps much of the culture and capabilities of social platforms, for example, lend themselves to promotion. But look at what Nike put out just recently after Nadal won the Grand Slam. There wasn’t a single pair of trainers or shorts advertised, just a celebration of a sporting achievement which played into Nike’s brand in such an obvious way it doesn’t need underlining. I came across that video on Twitter, so that’s a great example of using a social platform to drive results through entertainment. It’s a great execution of strategy, creativity, and craft”.
Above: Nike celebrated Rafael Nadal’s 21st Grand Slam with this epic film posted across multiple channels.
In the words of both Catherine and Ravi, these kinds of pitch-perfect ideas are the cumulative result of a long-term approach to each of strategy, creativity, and craft.
“McDonalds is another example of a brand that gets this consistently right”, says Catherine. They run a lot of product-focused ads on the high street but they also regularly and consistently come out with beautifully-told stories based on human truths which are designed for TV. It’s creativity, strategy, and craft working in perfect harmony over the course of many years. And it’s because they’ve nailed their brand-building that the shorter-term promotions work so well”.
That long-term approach, then, is perhaps as close to a ‘winning formula’ as a brand is likely to get. But, as Ravi points out, the best insights are invariably based on a kind of magic which can’t be bottled.
“At Five by Five we have an unprecedented number of tools and analytics available to us”, he says, “but those genius ideas which link strategy, creativity and craft together can’t come out of a formula. If they could, it wouldn’t really be genius”.