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Three timeless lessons in creativity from #ContagiousLive

Posted by Alex Warren on 4th March 2019

Last week I headed down to Contagious’ latest shindig to see the old-school adman legend, Dave Trott talk about why modern advertising sucks and where the creative community has gone wrong. 

While clearly born and bred in the smoke-stained days of marketing’s past, Dave’s candid — dare I say blunt — opinions are a testament to the fact that the fundamentals of this job never really change. For all the social and technological advances we’ve seen, the thought processes that informed great marketing and ad campaigns 30 years ago are still just as effective today.

With this in mind, here are three timeless bits of advice from the man himself:

1. Creativity is about breaking the rules

Steve Jobs once famously asked “why join the navy when you can become a pirate?” According to Dave Trott it’s this pirate mentality that is lacking in so much of modern marketing.

Creativity is about more than just following a process or having the right job title. It’s about being disobedient, being stubborn and seeing how much you can get away with. No truly great, original idea was embraced with open arms, and many potentially good ones get sanded down and sanitised until the end result is barely recognisable. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing then you’ve probably joined the navy. If you’re not doing what you’re told then, congratulations, it’s the pirate’s life for you.

2. Honesty earns attention

When it comes to creating a great campaign, Trott’s advice is simple — be ridiculously honest.

Marketing has become obsessed with window dressing. With piling on more objectives, more buzzwords, more messaging and more artistic license until nobody knows what they’re selling or what they’re trying to say.

Marketers need to be honest. Honest with the public, honest with their clients and, most importantly, honest with themselves. Buzzwords and meaningless strategising all sound great on a PowerPoint slide, but when it comes to creating an effective campaign, straight-talking honesty is typically the best way to go. If you sell cars, say you sell cars and then tell people why your car is the best on the market. Don’t tell people you sell a disruptive quadricycle transport experience, as they’ll probably come back with “No thanks. I was hoping to buy a car.”

3. Form follows function

I think it’s fair to say that Dave Trott is not a big fan of awards. Too many of today’s advertising, marketing and PR firms spend a fortune developing beautiful, artistic, award-winning creative campaigns, but with very little real impact on the business’ bottom line. As Dave Trott puts it, we have a whole generation of marketers who “won’t let something like the product name spoil their piece of art.”

In overcoming this mentality, Dave has a clear mantra: Form follows function.

It’s all well and good creating a beautiful, creative campaign, but if it doesn’t meet your objectives or impact the bottom line, then it’s already failed as a piece of marketing. Function must come first. As Dave himself says: “You want something that’s both liked and that works. But if you can only have one of the two… go with what works.”

Alex Warren

Alex Warren is an expert in AI and marketing technologies. He has published two books, Spin Machines, and Technoutopia and is regularly quoted in PR, marketing and technology media. In his role as a Senior Account Director at Wildfire he helps tech brands build creative strategies that deliver results and cut through the marketing BS.