Creative Process & the Winds of Imagination

[December 4, 2009]

Like autumn leaves in November, Creatives are a varied lot, subject to the whims of every errant breeze. Some prefer to think like marketing experts, mapping out their work primarily in terms of the “facts on the ground,” from segmentation studies to Nielson trends to SEO data.

Others chase the latest cultural obsession. A subset of this group bases concepts on well-known pop-tunes, a practice raising issues of cultural sustainability. Overused, a pop icon’s voice sounds a tad too jingly to be taken seriously—just one more reason Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is an unlikely shill for Friedrich Air Conditioners.

Then again, there are Creatives on a life quest for The Big Idea, a beast they pursue with quixotic zeal—whether they’re planning a national campaign for Apple or just scribbling up space ads for USA Today.

Despite these differences, I’m sure most Creatives would agree: the concepting phase is the most satisfying part of the process. It’s a time to close the conference room—and open the mind to the winds of imagination.

It’s a fragile process, even for the most technocratic Creatives, those hard-wired souls whose first words as a child were “user experience,” That’s because creative concepts are rooted in a deeply personal inner narrative we can only access by making ourselves emotionally vulnerable.

Now, in the hard-knuckles world of American business, nobody expects brownie points for personally taxing work that falls flat. Risk and responsibility are part of the job description. Even so, if you want a work-atmosphere that fosters great creative, here are a few things I’d like to suggest you keep in mind:

• Respond honestly.
  Nothing kills creativty like a cold front rolling in from false, political motives.

• Expect to be challenged.
   Cranking out the tried and true is what vendors are for.

• Know that your audience is adaptable.

The last point is especially important. It’s a good thing Edison invented the light bulb before Robert King Merton invented the focus group. The preliminary data indicating consumer’s concerns about electrocution might have killed the whole project.

Finally, understand that concept and execution are two separate things. A concept isn’t a finished product. It’s merely a structure, a tool to channel the flow of messages and a means to motivate and provide opportunities for action.

So when it’s time to evaluate a creative concept the only question you need to answer is whether the concept offers a structure clear enough to bring the marketing strategy to life.

Anything else lies in the realm of personal preference, where the truth rarely resides. Because, truth to tell, a creative strategy is never about you. It’s all and only about your audience, a varied lot of real people, with one thing in common. When gusts of Marketing Theory blow their way, they run straight for the storm cellar and slam the door tight.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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