Opinion

Cut the bullshit about the death of big ideas and the demise of the creative director

In the ever-changing marketing landscape, one thing hasn’t changed, and that is the role of the creative director. They remain the guardians of the brand/consumer relationship and technology isn’t about to change that anytime soon, says Spinach’s Frank Morabito.

The role of the creative director in today’s ad agencies hasn’t fundamentally changed, nor should it. The people that believe it has don’t understand what the most important part of a creative director’s job actually is. A CD’s job is to define, build and protect the relationship between brand and consumer. That hasn’t changed and no amount of technology coming into our business is going to alter it.


Technology is undoubtedly playing a much bigger role in what we do and agencies now have the power to use it to continually optimise ads based on what’s performing best. That said, building a powerful brand story is more relevant today than it’s ever been. You can’t curate your way to a meaningful relationship unless you provide some direction first.

There’s a lot of bullshit going around about the death of big ideas and how consumers should be a part of the creative process. But the risk of engaging different voices with individual perspectives on a brand is that not much of it is any good. Each year a few isolated things make an impact but most goes unnoticed. This kind of criticism about advertising is, of course, nothing new. People have been saying it for generations. And it will continue to be said in the future when Creative Robots start generating random concepts like an abstract artist throwing buckets of paint on a canvas. One piece may turn out to be brilliant, but most will be shit. In today’s digital world, it’s important to remember great creative is a social catalyst. Great creative seeds ideas and the good ones bloom. A creative director’s role is to help generate the very best.

Embrace the change
I’m excited about the changing creative landscape and the role technology plays. A good creative knows that you can’t have too much information. So bring it on, tell me everything you can about the person I’m trying to have a conversation with. And that’s the point: I want data and intelligence to help me understand what matters to a consumer. Which messages have the best chance of striking a chord? Which messages will resonate and which the consumer will find interesting and surprising.

What makes data and intelligence exciting is its ability to reveal the unexpected. When it can show you that, you’re on your way. When it allows you to focus on individual needs and desires to help generate genuine moments of interest and surprise, then advertising has no excuse for creating bland ideas.

Tech takes us back
The other great shift, which for me isn’t so much a shift as a ‘Back to the Future’ moment, is the critical integration of creative and media. I’m old enough to remember when agencies had media departments in-house. It meant you could have a conversation with a media specialist to discuss the pros and cons of a particular direction, consider the benefits and limitations of different options and agree on the most relevant and effective media.

Today, a media person in a media agency couldn’t distinguish a creative person from their local bearded barista. That has to change in order to take advantage of the unique characteristics of different platforms. Data, creative, technology and media must work together because getting the right message to the right audience in the right way is critical.

Keeping on top of developments in the digital world is a challenge but it’s made easier when words and acronyms like data, programmatic, media, and DMP become part of the agency vernacular. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who understand what it takes to make a campaign work across multiple platforms. It’s about championing the power of brilliant creative ideas because, with ever-increasing demands on people’s attention, you need great ideas to cut through the noise. Yep, that hasn’t changed either.

Ignoring technology isn’t going to get you anywhere in this business. Consumers certainly aren’t turning a blind eye to it and one of the fundamentals of this job has always been to be a consumer as often as you can. Act like a consumer. Pick up your phone and search. We have to remember that most of the action is in mobile. For many people, it is the main way they view news, watch clips and see advertising. As a creative person, if you’re not regularly viewing things through a mobile device you’ve got your head in the sand.

No matter what, stay curious
Just as the role of the CD hasn’t shifted, the basic requirements for a creative entering the business remain. Above all, you have to have burning curiosity. You have to be the kind of person that needs to know how things work and what drives people to do the things they do. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Every person entering the industry, whether they’re labelled creative or something else, must remain passionately curious. It will drive you, for example, to uncover everything you can about a client’s product. It will spur you to learn how new developments like programmatic works, and impel you to ask the big, scary questions.

Lastly, creatives in this digital world, with a constantly expanding palette of storytelling tools at their disposal must remember that we’re here to sell stuff. Certainly, you should tell stories in elegant ways, but at the end of the day, ideas need to sell. That’s something that is never going to change.

Frank Morabito is the creative director at full-service agency Spinach

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