At Advertising Week, Making the Case that Creativity Still Trumps Technology

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The topics at Advertising Week New York tended toward the technological. Session after session explored data, marketing technology, mobile, native ads, and programmatic. But there were voices at Advertising Week still making the case that creativity and ideas were still more important than any technology.

“People can be taught these digital skills. The thing you can’t teach is the creativity,” Jeanie Caggiano, EVP/Executive Creative Director, Leo Burnett, said during a panel, “From Legacy Business to Disruption Enable: Meeting the Challenges of the Digital Age.”

While digital technology enables the disruption of legacy businesses, both the disruption and the strategies for fighting off the disruption had their origins in ideas — ideas generated by decidedly analog human beings. On a panel titled, “Disrupt the Disruptors: How Companies Can Inoculate Themselves Against Disruption,” Ben Clarke, President of The Shipyard, made the case that in this age of exponentially increasing innovation businesses should become idea factories.

He says the businesses most likely to thrive in this atmosphere are the ones that create a culture of constant experimentation with new ideas. A company that completes 1,000 experiments and fails 995 times may still be a success if those five successes turn into viable businesses. “Companies are handling disruption by using experimentation as a business model not a temporary way to deal with episodic disruption,” Clarke said.

Ad agency creatives, perhaps unsurprisingly, vigorously defend the enduring power of ideas. John Mescall, Global Creative Executive Director, McCann Group and creator of the celebrated “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign for Metro Rail in Australia, said on a panel called “Creative Carousel” that copywriters and designers must defend and protect their ideas. He said ideas can be very fragile and if they are altered or poorly executed, even the best concepts can turn out all wrong. “Everything has the possibility of being terrible if you don’t know how to protect the idea,” he said.

But agencies may have to change to adapt to these transformative times and continue to supply ideas to their clients. Too often, agencies, which are businesses after all, are concerned with invoices over inspiration. “Providing value at agencies: It shouldn’t be about what you bill but what you build,” said Geoffrey Colon, Communications Designer, Microsoft.

But the bottom line is that agencies are not headed toward obsolescence and corporate marketers still seem them as a source of ideas and creativity. “We need agencies,” said Patti Ziegler, Chief Digital Marketing Services Officer, Scotts Miracle Gro. “The creative people they can afford to house, we can’t really do that in corporate America. So it’s a symbiotic relationship.”

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