“Out of water, I am nothing.” Duke Kahanamoku–the original Big Kahuna and the father of modern surfing–said that. While I’m no surfer, I know exactly what he’s talking about. But for me, the water I crave is something else entirely.
I think water is the single best metaphor for creativity–or, as I like to think of it, Pervasive Creativity. Pervasive Creativity is a state of being, for an individual or an organization, where the impulse to create, to innovate, to generate is unrestrained and ever present. Pervasive Creativity means having one’s antennae tuned to channel MUSE, looking for inspiration in everything. And, like water, Pervasive Creativity is both necessary for life and more than a little fearsome in quantity. It flows through cracks too small to see, washes away decay, and refreshes the land, and periodically effaces the landscape. As Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy & Mather, it is my job to keep the creativity bubbling along.
To do that, I need some way of measuring the flow. How can I tell if the stream is running low if I have no means to assess it? Creativity is not so easy to measure. You cannot measure fine artists in any empirical way. The best you can do is gather the opinions of others or the average sale price of works. Those are just proxies, however, and poor ones at that.
The same is true of advertising. We rely on proxy measurements of our work, judging our creative performance based on the sales effectiveness of our ads. The problem is that what is effective isn’t necessarily creative.
And while that is frustrating as hell, recent research has given me hope. The IPA and the Gunn report gathered together a knee-buckling quantity of data comparing award-winning work with sales effectiveness. And they found something remarkable. Creatively awarded ads are eleven times more effective than work that goes unrewarded. In other words, effective work may not always be creative, but creative work is invariably effective–remarkably so.
I’m writing this from the Cannes festival, which is advertising’s marquee event. Cannes has the (well-deserved) reputation for being a week-long party for creative types. I’ll grant that it is an awfully nice place to spend a few days, but it is also serious business. Why else would the number of clients attending Cannes be rising every year? They are here because creative awards mean higher sales.
There are critics that say that creative shows are subject to influence, that the judging isn’t based entirely on merit. I think this is a growing problem; judges from rival agencies tear down each others’ work unfairly. Imperfect and intermediate though it may be, award performance is the best measure we have right now. I’ll keep Ogilvy & Mather focused on our award show performance, at least until someone comes up with something better to measure our creative flow. I’ll continue using it to improve and inspire creativity in every one of our offices and for every one of our clients.
I haven’t given up hope for something better. The holy grail for us is something that measures emotional reaction or gut feeling. We need something that measures the wow factor–something more reliable than a creative director’s gut feeling or intuition. Creative progress comes, as it does in science, with greater precision. As our measurement improves, our creativity will as well. And that is good for all of us–storytellers, brands, agencies, and consumers alike.
Tham Khai Meng is Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy & Mather and Chairman of the agency’s Creative Council.
[Flickr image by lazlo-photo]