4 standards that should set the foundation for your creative
As any creative professional knows: It’s nearly impossible to remain objective during creative feedback discussions. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, who’s to say if our creative is good, bad (or just plain ugly)? And how will we know when we’ve achieved an elusive superlative: Great. Inspiring. Or even, award-worthy.
There’s no silver bullet. But there are some guiderails that we think can help. In fact, all great campaigns meet at least one (and often several) of these four standards. Read on—and check your subjectivity at the door.
1. Great creative captures and keeps your attention
This one is especially relevant today—at a time when attention spans are shrinking and marketing noise is deafening. For creative to be great, it has to capture and keep your attention on some level. Usually that means it checks at least one of the following boxes:
It’s engaging and intriguing
What draws the audience in? Colors, graphics or words—something immediately engages, and makes them want to stay.
It’s relevant … yet unexpected
The magic happens at the intersection of relevance and surprise. Meaning, great creative draws the target audience in because it’s relevant to them, yet different than the visuals and messaging they’re used to in that space.
It’s contextually disruptive
Think about the context in which this piece of creative will appear. Is it disruptive and eye-catching for the channel/format and/or industry?
It satisfies something
People won’t spend long consuming content (and yes, marketing) if it doesn’t satisfy a need—emotional or practical.
The Dove Real Beauty campaign is a perfect example of a campaign that is relevant, but at the time was very unexpected. While other cosmetic/personal care brand campaigns were full of impossibly beautiful models, Dove was the first to show images of “real” people and unconventional beauty. Now almost all beauty brands have tried a campaign that follows suit.
2. Great creative is direct and distilled
Like precious gems, creative ideas don’t shine until they’ve been ground down, sanded and polished into submission. “Direct and distilled” means some (or all) of the following are true:
It’s simple (but not easy)
If I had the time, I’d have written a shorter blog post. In other words, powerful simplicity takes more time, effort and inspiration than the end result might imply.
Initial creative ideas are bloated and raw. The end result is only excellent if you’ve taken the time and effort to distill it to its purest, most potent form.
It’s derived from clarity
Great creative starts with a refined brief. At the very least, a clear, concise objective and audience insight.
It says what it means
People can smell bullshit. Great creative is clear, honest and doesn’t beat around the bush.
Almost every copywriter we know sees headlines from the Economist’s 50-years-and-running campaign and thinks, “Man, I wish I’d written that.” The campaign is as simple as it gets: Short, punchy headlines on the signature red background. Simple and hard-hitting (yet far from easy to create).
3. Great creative elicits an “a ha!” or “mmm hhmm” response
Great advertising/marketing has the power to enlighten its audience—or at the very least, elicit a strong head nod. An “a ha” or “mmm hhmm” moment happens when we check at least one of the following boxes:
It makes them think
From killer content to an informative video ad, great creative gets the target audience’s wheels turning (and maybe even teaches them something).
It makes them feel
Whether happy, amused, excited—or even sad or angry—some creative is great simply because it elicits emotion (provided it’s the one you set out to inspire).
It makes them believe
So the client thinks their product/service is great. PROVE IT. Powerful case studies or relatable truths about the product offer proof of your message that’s hard to deny.
It’s relatable and authentic
Speaking of relatable—we’ve all seen great campaigns that make us say, “YES. That is so true.” Aim for that.
If you don’t laugh or tear up (or both) while watching this video from Cardstore.com, you might be a robot. It undeniably checks the “makes them feel” box.
4. Great creative is results-focused.
Pretty or clever doesn’t cut it—the work has to work. Great creative can only be results-focused if:
It entices action
Watch the video. Read the content. Engage with the experience. Request more info. Buy the product. Great creative sparks the action that inspired it in the first place.
It knows its brand and audience
The best creative authentically represents the brand and speaks effectively to the target audience. If you don’t have a clear picture of one or the other, get it.
It’s right for the channel
Today’s most effective creative campaigns translate well in a wide variety of formats—or at least the ones the activation plan calls for.
It adheres to the brief
Creative should live and die by the brief. Specifically, what is the primary objective and what is the ONE human (audience-specific) truth? Does the creative in question answer to them?
The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign is a perfect example of great creative that lives and dies by the brief. As the behind-the-scenes story goes, the creatives stuck to the brief’s strategy statement, even though they weren’t crazy about it: “Dos Equis is the most interesting beer in the world.” They also had to contend with an audience insight that seemed in direct conflict: the fact that the target audience was a bunch of “young guys who go out A LOT, and drink A LOT and don’t care what they drink.” In the end, the campaign aligned with both (strategy statement and target audience) by becoming aspirational—portraying the man that the young bucks would want to be one day.
What’s your favorite creative campaign? How many of these standards does it meet?