“Once you reach people, you still need to connect with them,” said Jeff Maerov, chief creative officer at Veritone One. “That’s where the creativity comes in.”
In fact, creativity has become even more important as digital media have proliferated—for a number of reasons. For one, the media landscape is more fragmented than ever, with audiences increasingly tuning out traditional advertising platforms.
“The only way to break through is with powerful ideas that tap into, take advantage of, and transcend the culture we exist in,” said Stevie Archer, executive creative director at advertising agency SS+K.
At the same time, as companies gain access to more—and more detailed—information about their audiences, consumers are demanding greater respect in these more intimate interactions.
“Brands are having to become more creative and more considerate at the same time,” said Jon Wilkins, executive chairman of Accenture Interactive’s Karmarama creative agency. “It requires a heightened sensibility around consumers’ attitudes and behavior—and a more enhanced contextual understanding of creativity at its core.”
Given creativity’s indisputable importance, CMO by Adobe spoke with a number of industry leaders about what they see as the biggest trends in creativity right now. Five solid themes emerged.
Diversity And Inclusion Take Center Stage
Historically, most brands created ads and campaigns the same way they developed best-selling products—for a mass audience. However, it has become clear in recent years that advertising and marketing must reflect the differences in the modern marketplace.
“Adding an [ethnic] face in your photoshoot in no longer enough,” Neufeld added. “Diversity and inclusion is evolving from just race and gender to include different lifestyles, careers, and ways of thinking to remain relevant to an authenticity-obsessed populace.”User-generated content is one way brands are attempting this.
“Handing the mic to the consumer—usually from various walks of life and letting them speak their truth—breaks down the fourth wall of advertising and makes the customer a main character of a campaign,” Neufeld told CMO by Adobe.
Most digital leaders also recognize the need to make more fundamental changes behind the scenes. After all, diversity of input yields diversity of ideas.
“As marketers, it’s our job to understand and craft messages that speak to people in insightful ways, and we can’t do that effectively if we only hire one kind of person,” SS+K’s Archer told CMO by Adobe. “Having talent that reflects society results in work that is relevant to society.”
Scott Belsky, chief product officer and executive vice president for Adobe Creative Cloud, agreed.
“People from the same backgrounds, with the same experiences, tend to come up with the same solutions to problems,” he told CMO by Adobe. “When you bring in people with different life experiences, they offer ideas that might first seem like they’re on the edge of consideration, but that you come to realize are at the center of an innovative solution.”
That means not only seeking out candidates of different genders, ethnicities, and ages, but those from varied geographies with different experiences and skillsets.
“Today’s consumers are more likely to purchase, invest in, and pay attention to brands that share their cultural beliefs and represent their points of view,” said Russel Barnett, CMO of My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream. “As business leaders, it is our obligation to ensure we are representing and honoring individuals for who they are and what they want, both in our workplace and in our marketing.”
AI Aids the Creative Process
AI will never replace human creativity, but it can accelerate it. Creative pros spend as much as half of their time on non-creative tasks, according to research commissioned by Adobe Creative Cloud. They’re scouring the Internet for source images, reformatting their work for platforms and devices, and hunting down every instance of a button or piece of art that has to be changed in an interface.
AI also enables advertisers to be more nimble, and adjust creative as needed.
“[AI] can be utilized to validate what’s working and what’s not by identifying what’s resonating with our audience and then quickly adjusting the media and messaging to mirror that,” Veritone One’s Maerov told CMO by Adobe. “With the power of AI, you don’t need to wait until the end of the campaign to figure out what happened because by that point, the campaign is over, and it’s too late to engage your audience and get your message across.”
AI can work hand-in-hand with human creatives. A well-curated, highly on-brand Instagram feed is an act of creativity. On the back end, though, AI is hard at work. “If you have the right tools, for instance, you can use AI to help you surface photos that are most aligned with that schematic that you’re building,” said Leo Strupczewski, marketing director at Curalate. “It’s a huge enabler for helping social teams act on that creative strategy.”
AI also is a particularly powerful tool when managing massive amounts of user-generated content, for example. It can also make it possible to serve up creative options in ways humans alone never could. McDonald’s, for example, used AI-powered weather-based targeting to offer different versions of Facebook ads based on a user’s local conditions. Domino’s did something similar in the U.K. using AI algorithms to offer variations of a video based on individual interests (e.g., family, Christmas, football), resulting in significant lift in view-through rates, online purchases, and return on ad spend.
Creative Democracy Gets Real
Creative democracy isn’t a new concept. Marketers and agencies have long suggested that good ideas can come from anywhere.
However, “our increasingly fragmented world, and its increasing demands on agencies to provide more solutions for more distinct audiences in more places, is making creative democracy even more of a requirement to function,” SS+K’s Archer said. “You simply can’t create enough smart work in enough places if you have hierarchies and silos that limit where ideas can come from.”
At the same time, technology has made it easier to democratize creativity. “[It’s] given us the tools to allow more individual voices to be heard, which is liberating but overwhelming at the same time,” said Brian Gies, CMO at Church’s Chicken.
The fact that it’s now simpler to design experiences is also helping to democratize creativity. Creative tools are now more intuitive and intelligent so that just about anyone can be a creator.
“Intelligent tools will be key to helping companies amplify design creativity across the enterprise,” according to Chris Duffey, strategic development manager, Adobe Creative Cloud.
Along those same lines, digital marketing has leveled the creative playing field on which anyone can participate.
“Creative democracy is my Instagram story tagging @airbnb that gets recycled by the brand,” The Strategiste’s Archer said. “Creative democracy is the power to interact and create in the same space where brands deploy their marketing. What used to be a Marlboro billboard, high in the sky and untouchable, is where we can all play and communicate.
Creative democracy also can serve as a key differentiator for companies lacking multimillion-dollar marketing budgets and agencies on retainer. Startup Glossier, which began as a side hustle for a fashion magazine editorial assistant and grew to a $400 million business, owes some of its success to creative democracy. Even today, the company’s creative approach includes real-world content shot on smartphones, edited in apps, and featuring employees.
“The opportunity to disrupt is free,” Neufeld said.
The Rise Of The Multisensory Experience
Another way brands can stand out is to engage with consumers more deeply by stimulating their senses.
“Brands can use multisensory experiences to create authentic connections with their guests, which, in turn, can lead to stronger brand loyalty and advocacy,” said Christian Lachel, executive creative director and vice president at experiential marketing and design agency BRC Imagination Arts. “Fully immersive experiences that ignite all five senses and engage multiple parts of the brain leave an indelible impression. Brands can tell a richer story.”
For Lachel’s agency, that includes “brand home” experiences like the Jameson Distillery, a social space that combines storytelling, sights, sounds, smells, taste, and touch; or the Guinness Storehouse, involving a self-guided tour of the seven-story structure, the smells of barley and hops, a tasting lesson, and a panoramic view of Dublin.
“Brands that can pull off campaigns that go beyond the traditional elements of the visual and [sound] have a better chance of being remembered by the overwhelmed consumer,” Neufeld added. “[It’s] an interesting return to more traditional modes of marketing, like sampling or in-person events that build community around the product.”
In an effort to re-energize the Burger King brand, Gies, who was VP of U.S. marketing before joining Church’s Chicken, tried a completely different approach to appealing to consumers’ sense of smell.
“Brand awareness wasn’t an issue, but we realized after years of discounting our flagship product that we weren’t going to get consumers to fall in love with us again overnight,” he told CMO by Adobe. “So we started with building curiosity, to get them to want to know us—and what we should’ve been more famous for—better.”
Enter “The Flame” cologne.
Technology-enabled immersive experiences can deliver similar value. Cheese maker Boursin, for example, used virtual reality to take U.K. users on a multisensory journey through a refrigerator to explore its products flavor profiles and food pairings.
“I think we’ll also start to see brands taking advantage of actual 3D and immersive interfaces more and more,” Adobe’s Belsky said. “Augmented reality can be bigger than the Web because it bridges the physical and digital worlds. A shopper can hold a shoe in the store while accessing all the information she needs about the shoe’s materials, other styles available, and even get an exploded view of how the shoe is put together, all in a truly engaging and intuitive interface.”
Applied With Care, Data Helps Creative
“The right data creates balance and helps to bring understanding and context to the creative process,” Tilley told CMO by Adobe. A good SEO strategy, for example, is a convergence of creativity and data.
“You can also use the data you have about customers and other visitors to your site or app to inform the kind of creative content they see, ensuring they see content that appeals specifically to them,” Belsky said. “The caveat, of course, is that it’s a fine line between compelling and creepy. It’s cool if it feels like a brand knows you, but not if it feels like they’re spying on you.”
Therein lies the balance as brands navigate the golden age of data-driven personalization.
“Solid data is essential to inspiring creative that resonates with target audiences and drives desired outcomes,” said Patricia Hoag, partner, creative services at ICF Next. “It enables us to plan, create, and implement campaigns that deliver personalized, relatable experiences.”
The challenge is interpreting such volumes of data appropriately. “If we don’t have that expertise within the creative team, we collaborate with other teams within our organization to analyze data and put it to strategic use,” Hoag told CMO by Adobe.
With a misguided approach, however, data can thwart creativity.
“Data can help us to understand how decisions are made around buying or engaging with a category. They can help us understand the macro-triggers and barriers and act as a much richer insight for the creative brief,” said Wilkins of Karmarama. “[But] it can also massively hinder the end goal if used in a personal way to look at micro-behaviors and nudges.”
For example, if data suggests that people like a bigger image here, a red panel there, and a sub-$10 price point, the tail can begin to wag the dog, resulting in micro-changes and ultimately dead ends. “These insights are not useful, not brand-specific, and are so easily copied by all playing to a smaller and smaller pool of actions,” WiIkins said.
Ultimately, data—applied strategically—serves as a compliment to the creativity that is uniquely human.
“[Data] validates what is resonating with audiences and enables us to make adjustments to our creative strategy. It’s helping us to research what is trending and make better channel recommendations to our clients,” Veritone One’s Maerov said. “The end goal is connecting people with a message, a product, an image. Thus far, no technology can do that better than the human perspective when it comes to creating content that connects.”