Creative advertising: what should we know and can creativity be learned?

“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it,” Stephen Leacock once wrote. This is simply because ads have the ability influence how we think and act or respond to them.

But not all ads have this magical power. Some simply turn us off the moment we see them. They are just dull, boring dead ads.

Pete Barry, author of ‘The advertising concept book’, opines “great ads come from great strategic thinking” (p. 12). They are born from a big idea.

Take as an example from a TV commercial of Apple MacBook Pro, which used the montage in ‘Bulbs’ as the oldest trick in the advertising book to depict the ad’s concept of “ideas have tremendous power”.

It’s the powerful ad. Highly creative. We watched, finished but wanted to go back.

But how can we arrive at a creative concept or many of them?

There is indeed no easy or straightforward answer. However, Nyilasy and colleagues who studied “ad agency professionals’ mental models of advertising creativity” suggested we take risks. In their Risk model (RM), they considered advertising much like an investment – high risk, high return. They argued we can play safe and risk losing the market, or come out and explore with new ideas that benefit us.

Out there in the market, we’ve witnessed a whole lot of companies – big and small – who have been traveling this path. Some have tried new creative concepts and been successful at one time, while at other times, they have failed.

Take Westpac’s banana smoothie campaign as an example.

The bank’s intended message didn’t get across. Rather it was taken as that Westpac were a banana smoothies seller, thus creating huge trouble for the bank itself (see The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age).

So, author Pete Berry reminds us of two important questions we must ask ourselves before we begin developing any ad. The first question is “what do you want to say?”; that is, the proposition. And the second one is “who are you talking to”; that is, the target audience.

All of these appear to sound rather scary and intimidating for many of us inexperienced students. But Nyilasy and colleagues console us that creative expertise can be learned and practiced under what they term “skill acquisition model (SAMs)” and as we keep on practicing we can advance to accumulated expertise stage they call “intuition model (IMs)”.

If we want to know, we’ve got to try, which is what needs to be observed.


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