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Picture: 123RF/melpomen
Picture: 123RF/melpomen

For many, creativity is thought to be an art form, and not a form of business. In fact, in the advertising industry we have labelled the people on the service side of our organisations the “business people”, and those on the product side, the “creative people”. And in doing so we have unconsciously positioned creativity as the opposite of business and forgotten that creativity actually is our business.

The second distinction I would like to make is the importance of excellence in our field of creative communication. Let’s face it, most people are able to create a piece of communication in the same way that most people are able to run. Yet few can claim to be excellent runners. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, as one example, can claim to really run. Why? He has eight Olympic gold medals to show for it, and his official world record for both the 100m and 200m sprints, achieved in 2009, stands to this day. For me, our world of advertising has been upside down long before Covid hit our shores.

Over the years, I have watched the admen and adwomen of yesteryear systematically being replaced by hordes of people obsessed with admin. I have seen revenue and bottom line become more important than big ideas and cracking headlines, as heads filled with logic slowly but surely started to overrule the guts filled with magic.

The net effect of losing our hearts is an industry experiencing diminishing financial returns on time and effort invested, with hardly any profound creative campaigns to show for it. Which is frightening, given that our clients are backing our product as a sector to the tune of more than R60bn a year.

Based on this state of our communication nation, I would argue that there is a devastating pandemic spreading through our industry. One that is hitting with increasingly bigger waves. And this disease is called mediocrity. Because if you are not in advertising to create ground-breaking creative campaigns for your clients, what are you doing here in the first place?

So, whether you want to fight the spread of mediocrity, a decrease in sales, the ailing engagement of your audience, a failing economy, or even Covid, creative excellence always is, and always will be, the most potent cure.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Creative excellence grows clients

No matter how you look at it, creative excellence generates business value. Don’t take my word for it. Rather take the word of the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, which examined 213 advertising case studies over an eight-year period, proving that gold-winning work wins 11 times more at the tills.

Yet I still need to argue the importance of our work being of a calibre that is award-worthy. It seems most clients believe that agencies only want to do great work to win awards. “No,” I answer emphatically, “it is because award-winning work really does work better than the wallpaper we mostly produce.” 

Just like Beyoncé’s 28 Grammys played a massive part in her selling more than 118-million albums. Just like James Cameron’s Oscar-winning film Avatar grossed almost $3bn at the box office. Why? Because Grammys, Oscars, Cannes Lions and Loeries are awarded for creative excellence.

That is what creative excellence does. It has a double bottom line. It increases revenue and it increases fame. For brands, marketers and agencies alike.

2. Creative excellence grows people

If there is one pearl of wisdom that we have gathered from deep below the surface of this raging Covid sea, then it is to block out the noise, the news and the chaos, and place our focus firmly on that which we can control: the calibre of the product of our organisation. And through our collective endeavour to be better than our best, and then better, we made a second discovery: when people are given the freedom and support to express their creative excellence, they become true forces of nature, responding to problems with solutions, as natural as growth responds to the devastation of a veldfire.

Through creative excellence, we have not only managed to navigate the current economic storm but also enabled the growth of our people like never before. Because creative excellence makes people feel worthy. It puts the imposter syndrome to bed. Creative excellence builds self-confidence, self-esteem and self-belief, and engages our people through making their work lives more fun.

3. Creative excellence grows our country

Whether you are an above-the-line, below-the-line, public relations, activations, digital or integrated agency, creative excellence is the key ingredient to growing a sustainable concern. It is the gift that keeps on giving. The more we focus on bringing creative excellence as a value to our clients and our people, the more our revenues and margins will naturally expand, and in doing so, grow our businesses. And when we grow our businesses, we can support the dire need for transformation, through the creation of much-needed jobs, and play our part in the growth of our economy.

South African Elon Musk, one of the wealthiest people on our planet, said that if what you are doing is not making your product better, then stop what you are doing. My sincere wish is that 2022 will be the year that we won’t only put the pandemic to bed, but that we as an industry will also wake up to what is ultimately our duty to our clients: the creative excellence of our product. 

Pepe Marais is the founding partner and group chief creative officer at Joe Public United

The big take-out:

If you are not in advertising to create ground-breaking creative campaigns for your clients, what are you doing here in the first place?

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