It takes more than a beard to be a male ‘creative’

We used to employ a sign writer who, long before it was made fashionable by Shoreditch hipsters, sported a luxuriant beard that made him look like a Greek philosopher or some other Old Master.  He confided in me once that he had grown it solely to meet his customers’ expectations that he was a ‘creative’ and thus qualified to advise on the aesthetic niceties of their signage.

‘But actually’ he added, ‘I haven’t got a creative bone in my body!’  His frankness amused me, but it did rather beg the question of how many so called ‘creatives’ live up to their name.  I run a company that has the chutzpah to call itself ‘Simpsons Creative’, but what, you might reasonably ask, gives us the right to claim that it is, and what is creativity anyway?

Well, none of our creatives wear a beard – although one or two affect designer stubble – nor do they strike a pose like Rodin’s Thinker, waiting for the muse to throw them a flash of inspiration.  They do a lot of hard thinking though.  A more accurate description of the creative process is the line credited to Thomas Edison: ‘99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.

Equally though, you could put a lot of strenuous effort into creating a dud.  It’s the method that’s all important.  There’s no truly definitive formula – creativity is, after all, a blend of art and science, but I make bold to offer a few tips:

Do Your Homework

Inspiration never comes out of thin air, which rather gives the lie to the Blue Sky Thinking theory.  But there’s nothing wrong with brain storming so long as you’ve got all the facts at your fingertips.  Research your product / service / market / consumer and find out all you can about them.  Slop it in the pot and let it stew.  You’ll be surprised how it gets the creative juices flowing.

Define the Problem

Next, apply logic.  You weren’t expecting that, were you?  Creativity may be a blend of art and science, but the science comes first.  Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution, and the more closely you define the problem the closer you get to the answer.  Boil it all down.  Get to the essence of what you’re trying to say – a story you can summarise in a sentence.

Always Ask Why

Why should a customer come to you rather than your competitor?  What benefit or advantage does your product or service offer over theirs?  You’re searching for a selling proposition or promise.  Don’t try to be clever with it just yet.  A simple statement will do and sometimes, just sometimes it will be all you need, as in the classic lines ‘Persil washes whiter’ or ‘Guinness is good for you’.

Play the Devil’s Advocate

Be negative.  Throw a spanner in the works.  Or to put it another way, think of where the customer would be without you.  Audi have done this brilliantly with their ‘Clown Proof’ TV advertising. It  shows circus clowns pulling stunts on the highway – driving backwards, applying lipstick whilst  driving etc – and an Audi avoiding them effortlessly with its built-in safety features.  Watch it here.

Think Visually

Don’t just tell them, show them, and use arresting visual imagery.  Avoid the standard boring product shot, or if you must, focus on an original angle or detail.  Better still go for an unexpected visual metaphor.  When Volkswagen advertised their self-parking model they showed a hedgehog nestling between two plastic bags of goldfish of the kind given out as fairground prizes.  Brilliant!

So here endeth my mini-masterclass on creativity.  It’s far from comprehensive, but I hope it demonstrates that the best examples are grounded in logic and produced by people with their heads screwed on!


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