The Year Ahead 2017: Creativity

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Fouad Abdel Malak reimagines the 1967 Sidney Poitier classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Plot Summary

An art director and copywriter (who have won awards for unforgettable performances in years past) are now playing perplexed ‘parents’ in this landmark 2017 production about a troubled union of sorts.

Joining our main cast at the creative table are social media influencers, media strategists, data analysts, tech companies and even a gentleman from procurement. All parties must sit down, face-to-face, and accept the reality of this unholy marriage. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (2017 Edition) promises to be a masterful study of data analytics, content marketing, automation, the new role of creative, and how to best split the communication pie.   

Here’s a preview of the plot twists:

• Suddenly, having a few thousand followers buys you a seat at the creative table. The next step is to form a collective of influencers and become a boutique agency with production capabilities. Nobody questions the quality of the content or the strategic fit with the brand, just: “And how many followers was that again?”

• Companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are more likely to position themselves as creative strategists rather than media channels, and they’ll even provide magical toolkits to justify spend on their platforms. They have sophisticated algorithms and performance metrics (concepts that creatives could never fathom) that claim to deliver more business for your buck. It’s a match made in heaven, or at least that’s what the instructions say.

• Being ‘creative’ won’t cut it for creatives. They need to know what’s happening in the media biosphere and apply it to fluid, targeted communication, as well as providing accountability, a word most of them dread.

That’s why media sits at the creative table and snatches a bigger piece of the pie.

Media has the numbers, and clients love numbers. Measurability! Data that will translate into more sales opportunities. But wait, the evidence in some quarters proves inconclusive. A million views can be bought easily. And even if they are organic, can we say, conclusively, that they directly resulted in the actual purchase of the product? Or is purchase intent enough? Or is TV simply too expensive for its own good, and since online has better stats and everyone has a smartphone, mobile’s the logical way to go? There are more questions than answers, but the fact that all of these characters are already seated comfortably at the table, even more comfortably than those who invited them, is a reality creatives have to face and embrace.

• Retainer accounts will morph into project-based accounts, complicating agency resource allocation and quality recruitment in the process. But don’t worry: agencies will still get a sizeable bite out of strategy and ideation. They will build the creative platform better than anyone else, and produce high quality content. For now…

• Some clients will even attempt to set up their own tables and create their own content. Short-term they might benefit. But, from experience, internal teams struggle to produce fresh ideas over time. The agency-client dynamic makes for great work, more often than not.

• Some guests at the table will look plain silly, as more and more interactive content will be developed for VR. Marketers and clients will jump to make their product experience more immersive and the technology will improve by leaps and bounds. I’m definitely excited about the potential on the gaming front, but nothing will beat a real trek through Nepal or the experience of twisting and comparing sneakers in a Brooklyn sports store.

How did tech companies make it to the table so quickly, you may ask? These tech giants have powerful weapons, such as metrics. Metrics involve numbers and data. Data gives brands a sense of assurance, and turns these media channels into very powerful marketers. Though strategy and creative should rightfully belong to the agencies, the lines have been blurred and, in a mad rush to control content, agencies have had to accept sharing the table with tech giants. Having said that, there’s much to learn from them and when they get it right they make life simpler and content more powerful.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be some wonderful performances all around, even some big, breakout performances. But there will be some painful ones, too. Awkward. Forced. Difficult to watch. But when it does come together, when everyone plays their role to perfection for the greater good, the big picture, the result can be beautiful, inspiring.

What else lies ahead? Creative will become the soft pitch and digital will be the hard sell. Storytelling isn’t going anywhere. Players that engage with consumers on a genuine emotional level and use tech as a means, not an end, will always own the spotlight.

Many will choose collaboration and spur the debate of how to split the earnings, and who can claim the big idea. Creatives will need to fight the temptation to blindly accept every new technology as the latest frontier for brand communication.

There’s enough room at the table for everyone, as long as we all respect the value of the creative idea, which has given rise to all these new players. But reach too far on either side and the table could collapse. Where would that leave us? Fighting for crumbs while big brands have already moved the good stuff to another table.

Bon appétit.

Fouad Abdel Malak is executive creative director of TBWA\RAAD, Dubai

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