ITL #511 Meaningful creativity: questions go-global Asian brands should ask9 months, 4 weeks ago
Human truths must underpin creativity if brands from APAC are to make an international impact in this era of geopolitical tension. By Polka Yu.
It’s safe to say there have been better times for communications professionals who specialize in designing and implementing creative campaigns – times when the world was in relative harmony, when the temperature was more ideal for trade, for business, for inspiration and amusement brought about by fancy imaginative ideas.
Not now. Not when the first thing that comes to the mind for brand/marketing people is geopolitical tension. That phrase may excite those who master public affairs, government relations, or even, let’s not shy away from it, crisis management. But when creative campaigns are your bread and butter, the outlook is a little more doom and gloom. In many circumstances, this phrase is synonymous with budget cuts, especially for those of us whose job is to support brands from Asia (and China, in particular) in their global journey.
It’s understandable that many people tend to think of creative campaigns as the non-essential work, the ‘fluffy stuff’. For a long time and in many cases, creativity has been used to entertain, rather than to provoke thinking or to challenge stereotyped perceptions. Ironically, the power of out-of-box creative ideas has been trapped firmly within a box.
The key to unlocking that box is what I call ‘meaningful creativity’. When the creativity is used to question the stereotype, debunk misconceptions, or influence policy change, the creativity will be taken seriously. To ask what practical use creative campaigns can have in the cut-throat business environment today, is akin to questioning how movies can help make the world a better place. It really depends – do we want to make another cheesy, kill-time romantic comedy to entertain, or do we make movies that zoom in on the too-ordinary-to-be-noticed, shine a light on the forgotten, and bring hope to the underprivileged?
If used in the right way, creativity has the power to change the world for better. That may sound self-important and naïve to some, but isn’t that the principle Cannes Lions is founded on?
In this sense, creative and public affairs teams should really join forces. The task of assembling talents from both worlds to sit and brainstorm in the same room alone would require some coordination, (not to mention the stark contrasts in work attire). However, this unexpected pairing has the potential to be extremely effective, if both sides fully realize their common objective – influencing change by building a groundswell of support.
A good place to start the campaign ideation is to ask this set of questions, to both ourselves and our clients:
- What are the pain points of our target audiences? Or what can we identify that will make them a lot happier?
- Can we, as the brand, help to alleviate any of the pain and make their lives better, by using our core competence?
- If so, what is the core action we need to take?
- Any cutting-edge technology we can use to give our campaign an edge?
- Is the story newsworthy, or has it already been done by others?
We use these five questions as a template going into any brainstorm. It requires us to dig deep into the cultural insights that excite and dampen; motivate and deflate; inspire and frustrate our audience. This is what we refer to as THE human truth. We always say – you get to the crux of the human truth and you have already achieved half the success.
Finding human truths
How do we know when we get it right? The best human truth is almost common sense, so widely known and accepted that people stop noticing it. But when you point it out, you see that ‘aha moment’ when people stop and say – “OMG that’s so true”. You normally can’t find THE human truth by reading industry reports and whitepapers – reading extensively is a great way to start but it doesn’t give you the ultimate answer. Human truths are intrinsically linked to the human experience, not something easily categorized but instead, felt by the heart.
Centered on this human truth, we then build an insight-based focus strategy and form a singular emotive message that directly addresses pain points and motivations.
Next, we ignore the boundaries and definitions of traditional PR, digital, advertising, media buy, consumer events, e-commerce, creative technologies etc. and simply pick tactics that serve the purpose, shake and remix them to make a new combination that is bespoke to each brief.
It is crucial for the idea (the call to action or solution) to be genuine. In other words, the creative idea must solve a real-world problem faced by our target audiences. If it doesn’t, people will see right through it and deem it just another inauthentic and expensive marketing stunt.
Higher risk tolerance
We are asking for a big investment from brands – not just in terms of time and budget but also a higher risk tolerance, because to be truly creative and innovative means entering into uncharted territory.
It is extremely encouraging for me to see increasingly more brands excited by this approach and the possibilities it brings. I admire their open-mindedness and optimism, which is truly inspiring for every one of us in this industry. At the same times it is not uncommon to find some brands choose to go halfway, understandable when you consider KPI pressure and the amount of effort required to navigate and align with different internal departments.
Given current geopolitical tensions, it goes without saying that counselling on public affairs and issues management is in great demand with creative campaigns seemingly less top of mind. While the ROI of creativity is less straightforward to quantify, and the risk of attracting unwanted attention, it’s hard for a brand (or a person) to be disliked by the mass public or attacked by politicians, if they are genuine in their intentions to harness creative thinking in order to do good.
Wherever in the world, kindness at human-truth level weighs much heavier than geopolitical tensions. Furthermore, unlike geopolitical sentiments, human truths are, by and large, universal.
Polka Yu, Deputy APAC President, BCW.mail the author
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