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Is Creativity the Key to Effectiveness?


Mick McCabe, Chief Strategy Officer, Leo Burnett USA

Is Creativity the Key to Effectiveness?

So often when the subject of effectiveness comes up, eyes glaze over. It’s all that number stuff, right? Social media jargon, analytics and desiccated business talk. Not so, according to Leo Burnett’s Mick McCabe. Laura Swinton caught up with him to discover why creativity is the driving force of effectiveness and why smart clients realise it’s about more than short-term sales figures.

LBB> Could you tell us the key factors that, for you, make for a truly effective advertising campaign?

MM> It's safe to say that many ingredients can get you there, but a few blindingly simple, easily ignorable ones to swear by are as follows:

- Think people first, brands second. Brands need people to succeed and things go astray when we forget this. Think of it like being a good party host, where the goal is not for the host to talk endlessly about themselves, but to make the guests feel special, important, satisfied and alive. 

- Cut the jargon. Find your own idiosyncratic language. Words put all human beings in motion including agencies, clients and the people we are trying to connect with. It happens every time, we get excited when someone articulates something in a meeting that tastes good and unusual - not just the same old meat and vegetable marketing rinse and repeat. There’s lots of examples, “Can hate be great?” "Protect yourself from Mayhem,” even "Choosy Moms Choose Jif.” All have distinct, own-able language. I'm not saying it ends with words, but it starts there. It worked for Shakespeare, Churchill and Seinfeld.       

LBB> Does measuring an advertising campaign’s effectiveness always come back to increased sales or should it be considered in broader terms? What sort of measures do you use?

MM> Ultimately it does and should come down to increased sales, but that is a blunt, crude and short-term measure of effectiveness. If increased sales are the sole criteria for advertising, then we just do coupons and circulars all day long. Effectiveness needs to have more complexity and complexion to it. I happen to think that most clients are smarter at recognizing potential in ideas and do indeed look at the broader range of measures from brand health, to future purchase interest, to sharing and participating in the brand, to even customer digital data that a relationship can start with at a later date. Not every campaign starts by sprinting. Even legends that almost always get it right learn to be patient. A few weeks ago at the AAF Hall of Fame induction, Dan Weiden said the first Nike ad he presented to Phil Knight with the line "Just Do It" was met with Phil asking him "does it really need that line?” Glad he didn’t just think of short-term sales.  

LBB> The tide is turning on the way people are thinking about social media – what are your thoughts on how the number of likes or tweets a brand gets can measure how well a campaign has done? 

MM> I think people jump on bandwagons quickly. It’s great, right? No, actually, it's terrible. I've never thought that using social media as the sole measure of a campaign was smart, but nor is dispensing it as one indicator of potential effectiveness among many. I think any time you can either capture a piece of data that can provide you with a means for a meaningful chat later or get someone to use their valuable time to retweet something is not wasted time at all.   

LBB> How do you see the relationship between creativity and effectiveness? 

MM> I believe that creativity is the single most powerful force on the road to effectiveness. Sure, analysis and best practices and rigor help, but creativity is the Floyd Mayweather in the process. The best pound for pound provider of effectiveness. Sure, there’s a chance it won’t win, but knowing its track record, and its uncanny ability to have unlocked every problem in the history of the world, it probably will. People tend to want to place strategic sounding words next to effectiveness. But, too often this manoeuvre ends up being a business word salad. Using Creativity to solve a problem or imagination around the good, the bad and the ugly of human beings is what leads to effectiveness. 

LBB> Effectiveness seems to be a buzzword of growing importance to agencies and clients, and even production companies and post houses. Are there any misconceptions you come across from those who are somewhat later to the party?

MM> I think production companies and post houses have plenty of intuitive, bright people that can smell what's good and liable to be effective. The one thing people sometimes do which I think can be problematic is to forget about creating a real brand platform first.  They run to an execution-first mentality which I think sometimes leads to lots of little tactics in search of an idea.  My experience is that being on solid ground first leads to a long runway to be prolific, and ultimately to sustainable effectiveness.

LBB> In terms of projects you’ve been involved with at Leo Burnett which are the ones that stick in your mind for their effectiveness and why? 

MM> I've just arrived back at Burnett, and so I'm in no position to take credit for the recent effective work done for Allstate, Coke or Kellogg's, but the last thing we did before leaving first time around was the launch of Nintendo Wii. It's success was really on the back of an unusual product, clients who knew their brand, a passionate core agency team and a committed strategy to throw away the old video game rules that existed in favour of new ones where movement, the human joy of play and inclusivity ushered in a new way for millions of people to think of themselves as "gamers”. I think we all felt humbled when it proved to be the best-selling console launch ever and also won the Grand Effie that year.

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Leo Burnett Chicago , Thu, 23 May 2013 14:11:28 GMT