Marketers, how should you judge a creative?

While Mad Men and other cultural depictions of the advertising world suggest that creative meetings are high adrenaline boom or bust affairs, it's not usually the case

Published: Apr 19, 2017

Marketing passionista, collector and raconteur of interesting stories. Lucky to have worked with some of the best brands and brains and happy to share experiences with fellow travellers. Enjoy solving business problems and working with bright, positive people. Interested in sustainability business, women in leadership and all things digital. Running is my meditative escape and humour my go-to defence. Enjoy travelling and food experiments with my family.

mg_95591_shutterstock_450490798bg_280x210.jpgA creative piece needs to arrest attention before it is permitted to tell the brand story
Image: Shutterstock.com (Image for illustrative purposes only)


I remember the first time I was formally asked for my opinion on an ad film at work.

A bunch of fresh faced trainees, we were called into a packed room one late evening. There sat the Head of Marketing, the ad agency team and the brand team. The air was stiff and tense as the ad played.  And then, twelve pairs of eyes turned my way as I spoke. I really wanted to sound intelligent but not too critical. It wasn't hard. It was as run of the mill as ads can get.

The last trainee to get his turn nervously blurted out that the family dog in the ad wasn't barking “authentically”. Apparently, he knew a lot about dogs. He always had dogs growing up. And, most importantly, he loved dogs.

The Head of Marketing didn't know this. He assumed that my fellow trainee was a smart alec.  So, he was asked to demonstrate what an authentic dog bark sounds like. It was a lesson in how to not run a creative presentation.

For marketers, sitting in judgement on creatives is part and parcel of the job.

A word in sympathy here for the creative teams that are at the receiving end of client feedback - it can’t be easy sitting across the table as you hear your work being dissected.

Rookie marketers - and sometimes senior non marketing managers - find it confusing and don't quite know where to begin. The rest of us mask our confusion well and develop a method to the madness.

Here’s what I look for when I evaluate a creative:

1) Does it cut through the clutter?

A creative piece needs to arrest attention before it is permitted to tell the brand story. Would your consumers press the skip button or give you the chance to say your piece? For videos, I have the five second rule - the first five seconds need to grab my attention for it to work.
    
2) Does it solve the problem?
Apparently, 60 percent of the content created by brands is just clutter that has no impact on either consumer lives or business results. The problem is that most ads stop at explaining product benefits. The trick is to show how the product benefits the consumers’ lives.

3) Would it still work if I replace my product with my competition?
This litmus test tells you whether your hopefully unique product positioning is shining through. Most ads fail this test for two reasons. Either the brand has nothing unique to talk about. Or the content has not been crafted well. In the first case, clearly you need much more work upstream to discover why the brand should be bought at all. In the second case, you need a better creative team.

4) Will it travel well across media or is it limited in potential?
This one is a big question to ask given the mind boggling contact points your consumer could have with your brand. Not every idea works well across. Some will deliver a high impact on a few key media and not on others. Creative and media plans feed into each other. While we all know it, creating for you most important media channels is the secret sauce behind great campaigns.

5) Can it be built upon or is it a one shot idea?
Brands are built over time. It is better to have a mediocre creative that pushes the brand story instead of a superlative one off idea which can’t evolve the brand narrative. The best ideas can be mined over a few years as they make your brand story stronger for consumers.

6) Does it pass my “gut feel” test?
Finally, trust your gut and develop respect for your intuition. Not every idea you hear can be researched. Ideas are frail, delicate things when they are thought up and presented like newly hatched chicken. If something tugs at you, protect it from being stomped over and defend it courageously till it grows strong and powerful. Equally, if all the idea does is tick the boxes without saying anything fresh that excites you, culling it early is the best thing to do.

Communication and content development are by no means the only thing you’ll do as a marketer. Yet, it is the most visible part of the job and its worth developing your own personal creative checklist to put your best foot forward.

A quick note here about how you run creative meetings. While Mad Men and other cultural depictions of the advertising world suggest that creative meetings are high adrenaline boom or bust affairs, it’s not usually the case. Sure, I’ve heard ideas which have electrified the room with their impact and brand fit. However, usually there’s enough to sleep over and refine.

Resist the pressure to make a snap judgement. Get some perspective before you react to the creative.

Go home. Show it out to your spouse or kid. Or even the dog if authentic barks are essential to the story.

(Anamika Sirohi is a Business Strategy and Marketing professional. Views expressed are personal.)

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