At our Fit for the Future Now forum in New York, Chris Barth flew the flag for the role of bravery in creativity. We sat down with Chris, a senior strategist at our partners Contagious, to make the case for creative bravery in developing communications. It’s a strategy that has worked well for Contagious, with initiatives around creative bravery helping their client Heineken win Marketer of the Year at Cannes last year.
Why is creative bravery important?
"First, it’s simply because it works: it makes business sense,’ said Chris. He cited work by Peter Field and Les Binets with the IPA that showed campaigns mixing good strategy with brave creativity can be up to six times more effective. That increase comes from emotional engagement from people seeing the campaign, leading to a ‘fame effect’ from on- and off-line buzz. The braver the work, the more people talk, and the more it spreads.
Secondly, it’s because it’s fun: ‘Creativity is why many of us got in this business, to take risks and feel good about what we’re doing. The great thing is it also drives the business."
How do you start being brave?
"It’s not easy," says Chris, "but it always starts with your purpose." This recurring theme really came through when Lorna Davis talked about the purpose work we’d done with Danone.
He quoted Bill Bernbach on why it’s so important to take a stance: ‘If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you."
Chris says that’s where purpose comes in: it helps make it clear what you stand for. Once you’re clear what your point of view is, you’ve got a rock-solid foundation to build your creativity on. Having that stable platform is what allows and enables you to make braver choices. It’s that ‘freedom of a tightly written brief’ that David Ogilvy implored clients for.
Chris gave Axe as an example. "The Find your Magic campaign has a very clear (and new) sense of purpose around helping men express their individuality. So far it has notched up 4 billion media impressions, 39 million film views, and a 25% increase in purchase consideration since airing. It’s a point of view that has cut through and is getting talked about."
Why do companies find it so difficult?
‘There are plenty of common challenges,’ says Chris. ‘Poor strategy, no purpose, no shared ambition, and weak ways of working. But the big one is that companies are terrified of risk. Putting out a new idea that could polarise people – and potentially even lose some customers – takes guts.‘
As Chris says, companies tend to reward certainty: ‘They have multiple levels of sign-off from people who aren’t close to the consumer or the work. It’s very difficult to break the addiction to predictability.’
What can you do to make the journey easier?
Once you’ve got your strategy and purpose nailed, ‘having a common language and framework makes a huge difference,’ says Chris. ‘Too often, people are very subjective in their feedback and resort to “I don’t like it” without being able to say why. The right language and framework can help fix this. It means people are evaluating creativity as objectively as possible and against clear standards of what great looks like.’
Also, a company’s leadership needs to be completely behind a brave approach. Chris says, ‘language and a framework aren’t a magic wand – the tone and expectations that the leadership set will ultimately dictate what’s allowed to flourish or wither on the vine. The creative ambition needs to be one that’s genuinely shared throughout the organisation.’