Is technology killing creativity? Yes, but it’s fixable

Is technology killing creativity? Yes, but it's fixable

“Is technology killing creativity? was the topic for what was a very lively panel discussion for the Singapore Advertisers Association last week. We had a great debate with the perspectives of creative, media and clients presented thanks to Guan Hin Tay, Jospehine Tan and Lizi Hamer. I’ve included some of the highlight questions and my thoughts below.

Firstly to answer the main question, I think the general feeling was “yes”. My answer to this question is that yes it’s started to – but it’s not game over just yet. And I believe there’s a more important place for creativity than ever before. In a world where media options are so fragmented, and people are inundated with advertising messages across so many different channels, I absolutely believe that building a brand through memorable creative ideas and through some type of emotional resonance is more important than ever.

Is the big idea dead in the age of technology? Are marketers and agencies focusing too much on the technology being used than on creative ideas?

I think the biggest challenge is in marketers or agencies going straight to technologies as solutions before developing an idea. Yes it’s good to have in mind the potential channels we might be using, but this shouldn’t dictate the idea. First things first: 1) we need to understand the business or marketing problem we’re trying to solve, and 2) we need to understand our consumer insight. What’s driving our consumer? What pains them? What’s important to them? How can we help? And so yes this is where data – that’s being generated from all that use of technology – should be able to help. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that we should also be going and chatting with some people in our target audience and hearing what matters to them.

Big ideas come from human insight. Technology can enable them, but without a reason for doing what we’re doing, it runs the risk of just being tactical and executional.

Digital marketers and “growth marketers” are very focused on driving someone through the path to purchase, using technology to capture information about someone and push them through this imaginary funnel. Does this work? Does it mean we’re just focused on direct response more than big ideas? Is there room for creativity in this? 

Yes there is a place for providing value to people who have expressed interest in our products or services, and using tools like marketing automation technologies when we’re moving people through the funnel. But there’s there step before this which is critical, where we still don’t know who our potential audience is.

My smart colleagues in the ad business get technology, machine learning, algorithms. But many of them assume that advertising, and the way consumers make decisions, is a rational process. Which it’s not. Also, not everyone is in market for your product all the time. The objective of your advertising needs to be to build awareness before someone is in market for your product – and to help them remember you for when they are ready.

Yes data can help us pinpoint those people who might be ready or expressing some intent for our category or specific product. But there are a whole bunch of people out there who aren’t ready. And if we just focus on the ones that are ready now, we’re limiting our audience so much that we’ll eventually do long term damage to our brand. You’ll be operating in an advertising echo-chamber.

And how do you create a memorable brand? Through creativity. Creating something memorable so that when someone’s ready, they remember who you are. It’s about making it onto that mental shortlist. Data is an input, technology an enabler – but it’s creativity through ideas and experiences that will make someone remember you.

Programmatic advertising – which is data-driven marketing – is increasingly becoming a larger part of media investment. Yet creativity in programmatic still is often terrible. Is it possible to create great creative work in programmatic?

I think it is possible, but there are a few reasons why we’re not seeing fantastic programmatic work.

  1. I think when programmatic first came out if was very much focused on direct response, so it’s just about calls to action and following people around with messages reminding them of products they’ve already looked at. Many are still stuck on ideas from several years ago and not moved beyond that.
  2. There’s a lack of a link between creative strategy and media strategy for programmatic. From what I see working with different agencies and clients there are a few reasons for this. 1) creative agencies don’t understand programmatic, either because they’re shut out of the process or not taken the time to learn it 2) agencies are not planning early enough for better creative – often times the programmatic work is booked and then just basic creative is used because it’s rushed afterwards. This process needs to happen much earlier, and clients need to leave greater budgets for better programmatic creative that tells sequential stories.
  3. Ad tech companies don’t talk to creative agencies. So the creative agencies aren’t getting the benefit of understanding the ad tech offerings, how they work, what’s possible etc.

All of this is fixable. We need the technologists working more closely with the creatives to be able to bridge these gaps to ensure that technology doesn’t kill off creativity.