Creativity: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

The only quote about advertising I’ve ever committed to memory that wasn’t uttered by Bill Bernbach is this wonderful thought from the late Jay Chiat: “Creative is not a department.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Creativity in the Wild: A Bowerbird Nest

Creativity should never be the sole provence of one group.  Some of us were lucky enough to grow up with teachers and parents telling us we are creative.  That simple encouragement can open a child’s imagination.  At the same time, not hearing that, or worse, being told you definitely are not creative, inevitably leads to restriction, to setting governors on expectations, even for ourselves.  That’s no way to live.

Creativity is the fun part of life.  It’s the chocolate sprinkles, the fresh daisies in a canning jar, the grin-inducing scribbles in the margins of daily life.

And if you believe Harvard Ph.D.’s, it’s also a necessary skill for thriving in our modern times.  This Huffington Post article by Shelley Carson outlines her overview on the many ways she thinks creativity has become more crucial to all of us.  In many ways, her thesis echoes Daniel Pink’s from his wonderful book “A Whole New Mind.”

Business people should need no more evidence than today’s Apple’s earnings report.  Driven by the phenomenal success of their new iPad, they were able to report their most successful financial quarter in the company’s history.  And what is the iPad?  It’s a tablet computer, but those already existed.  It doesn’t have any USB ports or a camera and it famously doesn’t support Flash.  But it is beautiful.  In the words of the toy industry, “it has exceptional play value.”  In other words, in a world of electronic devices, the iPad takes a far more creative approach to function.  And they’ve been rewarded handsomely.

The best part about increasing our emphasis on creativity is that it just makes life more interesting.  And frankly, that’s a worthy goal for any human being.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Without Creativity, Even Writers Can Be Replaced

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RyanA fascinating article in the May 9th issue of Bloomberg Businessweek asks the question: “Are Sportswriters Really Necessary?”  This provocation leads a story about a new type of software that converts sports statistics into actual prose articles.  An outfit called Narrative Science just North of our city in Evanston now sells this program which produces “Machine Generated Content” that requires neither a human writer nor editor.

We’ve seen these kinds of stories before, but then we always watched as the ‘miracle car that parks itself’ does that through an excruciatingly slow series of twenty-point turns.  The reality of these kinds of grand promises is always impractical…or so I thought until I took the quiz below.  Can you tell which of these three sports items was written by a computer?

A.  The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.

B.  Michigan held off Iowa for a 7-5 win on Saturday.  The Hawkeyes (16-21) were unable to overcome a four-run sixth inning deficit. The Hawkeyes clawed back in the eighth inning, putting up one run.

C.  The Iowa baseball team dropped the finale of a three-game series, 7-5, to Michigan Saturday afternoon.  Despite the loss, Iowa won the series, having picked up two wins in the twinbill at Ray Fisher Stadium Friday.

The correct answer is ‘B” and don’t lie to yourself and say that was obvious because it’s not.  Since this software converts boxscores into articles in less than three seconds at a cost that’s far more affordable than a human being requiring benefits and vacation time, you can bet you’ll be reading a lot more content like this in the future.  Perhaps you already have; the Big Ten Network and Fox Cable are already clients.

No, Narrative Science software can’t interview Paul Konerko about his early season homerun tear, but it can handle a lot of boilerplate writing functions.  When the objective is as simple as clean, communicative prose, that can be programmed.  Today, it’s converting boxscores, tomorrow it could be writing SEO friendly web content for major corporations.  As Daniel Pink opined in his wonderful book A Whole New Mind, automation will replace everything that can be learned by computers.

Happily, creativity, inspiration and the evergreen delight of surprise can’t.  Those only come through sidestepping expectations and convention, delivering unexpected inspiration.  That’s something we all better really start emphasizing in our writing.  Because that’s all that keeps us from being replaceable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  For anyone who may be concerned, no–I didn’t start reading business publications.  My friend and colleague Toby Smalley passed along the article; he’s the smart one.

A Whole New (Planning) Mind…or…Fun With Context

The best planners demonstrate what Daniel Pink coined “A Whole New Mind”; they pull together seemingly disparate ideas to reveal something new and imminently useful. Sure, planners still turn to old standbys like syndicated research, but the most inspiring and creative ones comb all sorts of digital sources for insights. (On a separate note: can we finally please kill focus groups?  That methodology is sooo over…)

Not Actual Size

Not Actual Size

The vast amounts of user generated content on the web provide easy entry into the personal lives, interests and values of various people.  Sites like Flickr and YouTube hold a wealth of visual information, much of it within innocuous background detail, letting us inspect homes, offices, desks–even purses.  Since few people activate their security settings, Facebook and MySpace provide detailed troves of personal opinions, such as which TV shows they like, and which they claim to be ‘fans’ of. Comb and you quickly learn who mentions you, plus what else they are twittering about, who they follow, and in turn, who those people follow.  Even something like Pandora can be illuminating: anyone who has ever shared a dorm room knows musical tastes reveal inordinate amounts of deeply personal information.

Handled clumsily, this is all merely deck-clogging data.  Considered creatively however, an insightful planner can extrapolate meaningful human truths to shore up one very critical aspect of every brand story: the context.  When planners draw fresh personal insights from these unfiltered sources, they guide creatives and insure the brand stories they craft will be deeply relevant and meaningful to their audiences…that they will gibe harmoniously with their lives.

After all, while most people like stories, everybody loves stories about themselves.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

I Don’t Have All The Answers. But The Internet Connects Me To Smart People That Might…

People like Ad Age’s Randall Rothenberg certainly provide good, informed opinion and perspective around this whole marketing convergence thing.  Today, he posted a long, incredibly thoughtful, and refreshingly blunt assessment on Interactive Advertising Creativity.  Or rather, the horrific dearth of it.

...But Not Daniel Pink's

...But Not Daniel Pink's

Randall cites a number of valid reasons for this medium’s anemic achievements as a creative medium, starting with the direct marketing culture bred into its DNA.  From the outset, the web has been a metrics maven’s dream, easily measured and quantified. On one hand, we should take comfort that the industry avoided making up putative measures of creativity and imagination like so many over-reaching testing methodologies in the traditional ad world.  But still, the accepted practice has been an over-reliance on the logical, the rational and scientific, as opposed to the magical, the thrilling and inspired.

The industry’s finest mind, Bill Bernbach, nailed it years ago when he wrote:  “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  Amen sir, amen. It’s too bad the logic-bound left brainers insist on grafting intellect into every sell, when the most fundamental decisions of humanity belie this conceit.  I did not marry my wife for measurable reasons like her IQ or her time in the mile–I fell in love and changed the course of my life based on the emotional imperative of passion.  Lucky thing too.  We go to war, we choose religions, we get surgery for dying pets for entirely emotional reasons: how can a logical mind dismiss emotion’s impact on buying decisions?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.  Do yourself a favor and read Randall’s blog.  It’s smart.  And timely.  And a clarion call for a resurgence of creativity in online.

You know, the kind that would come if traditional agency creatives focused their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

Or rather, the kind that WILL come WHEN traditional agency creatives focus their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79