Opinion: The age of adland's creative chameleons

Adland has seen the equivalent of a few evolutionary ice ages in the last two decades. The birth, puberty and adulthood of multiple social media platforms. Augmented reality that conjures up mind-bending alternate worlds in a legal way. Artificial Intelligence that spits out more data than most computers can digest in a buffet of bytes. ECommerce that turns the world into an ultra-mega-abracadabra shopping mall. And as if all this wasn’t enough, the pandemic has sowed its own seeds of chaos and uncertainty.

This has naturally changed the expectations that clients have of creative departments in ad agencies. It’s time for the mammoths of the past to evolve into creative chameleons: a mutated, yet highly evolved nimble breed of creative professionals that will be prized and sought after by clients.

Creative chameleons will possess five key evolved skills:

1. Lateral thinking to solution thinking

Clients always need creative solutions. They don’t always need ads. So, changing the shape of a coin slot in a donation box to only accept notes is a smart creative solution if you want to increase donations. And turning an immigration stamp into a pledge for more responsible ecotourism is also a clever and cost-effective way to achieve the desired result. Ideas can transcend media channels. Thinking in a media-agnostic way isn’t just good, it’s sometimes necessary.

2. Brand advertising to brand experience

Understanding what a brand is and creating the right creative work for it has never been easy. Top creative professionals have always understood that a brand isn’t just a logo. It’s a living entity, just like us, with its unique sense of values, personality traits and voice. They understand that if a brand has a warm, paternal personality, presenting a creative execution in which the brand talks and behaves like James Bond would clearly be inappropriate. (This may sound like common sense, but it’s not that common when you consider the many schizophrenic creative executions at odds with a brand’s personality, that proliferate in the market.)

But this alone, difficult though it is, isn’t enough. A holistic brand experience needs creative chameleons to adapt and tailor this brand sensitivity through every step of the consumer experience. A consumer’s experience of the brand doesn’t start and end with a film or a social post. It includes every interaction with the brand. Across every consumer touchpoint. This involves an integrated brand experience not just across every media channel but even a humble auto-reply, which you receive when you write in to a brand. The response, even here, needs to feel like it authentically came from a unique brand with a distinct personality.

3. New media to next media

While it is advisable to think in a media-agnostic way, many ideas are brought to life through media channels which may be good vehicles for the idea. As a creative professional, you need to be familiar with the channels and know how they work. But creative chameleons need to not just understand how TikTok ticks, what’s instaworthy, what’s tweetalicious and what’s the right brand face for a connected world on Facebook. They need to go beyond. They need to find fresh ways to evolve what’s new into what could come next. Creative chameleons evolve fresh ways of using the platforms while keeping in sync with a brand’s unique personality. Volvo’s Twitter Intervention and Tide’s Super Bowl work are great examples of zigging when the rest of the brands are zagging.

Creative chameleons also don’t try to emulate geeky nerds who thrive on drawing elaborate consumer journeys and doing 100 daily posts on a channel. They know that while clients love reach, frequency, precision targeting and analysis, clients most importantly want a creative idea that can deliver all of the above. Delivery efficiency and results analysis is necessary hygiene. But a great creative idea is of paramount importance.

4. Global to local

“Same same, but different.” This colloquial expression best sums up the fact that we are the same to some extent. But so different in so many ways. Our cultures define who we are. The Thai brand of humour is unique to them and may not translate easily in societies with a stiff upper lip. Our ideas, and executions of these ideas, need to thread the needle of culture accurately to resonate with the audience. It’s something to keep in mind especially for creative talent in regional hubs like Singapore. Often, the work created is more suited to a consumer in the West than in the South East Asian markets for which it is intended. Creative Chameleons are adept at putting on a different hat based on the markets for which the work is intended.


5. Creative craft never goes out of style

While the world we live in today calls for many changes, the one thing that is just as relevant today as it was in yesteryears is creative craft. With the democratization of technology through affordable smartphones, the innate skills of many everyday people can shine through. There are amazing images being shot and wonderful films being put together in the palm of a person’s hand.

So, the quality of creative output by agencies needs to transcend that created by the talented everyday person. This is a strength possessed by top creative talent in ad agencies. But sadly, it is being undervalued by most agencies. Advertising today is plagued with buzz words. If you walk into most agencies and say, “I have a great film script” you may encounter a lot of frowns. But walk into the room and say, “I have an idea for great content” and you would get some of the biggest smiles on the planet. Adland is wrapped up in a love of jargon. (Crazy, but sadly true.) The important thing to remember is that a great idea, packaged as moving images is brought about through skills honed over years in what were the agencies of yore. Some of the people best qualified to create great content have been grounded in classic adland skills. Look at the Instagram account of @jasonmpeterson. His black and white images are extremely graphic and have a great design aesthetic. No wonder he has over a million followers. Not coincidentally, he was the ex-CCO at Havas, New York.

Creative chameleons use these timeless skills in effective ways in today’s media channels to create the most impactful output.

jason peterson 1jason peterson 1jason peterson 1

The rare few creative professionals who possess all these five skills will be prized by clients. These creative chameleons will always find a prime seat in clients’ board rooms. For the agencies lucky enough to have them on board, the colour of a balance sheet will be a deep black. Never red.

The author is Farrokh Madon, chief creative officer, PIRATE.