Why do I need a creative strategy in my marketing plan?

31 July 2020
By : Juan Camilo Reyes

I know the answer you’re waiting for: “creativity is the fuel and engine of this business” and “it is vital for a marketing plan.” But when I turn on the TV –or your preferred way of consuming entertainment– the answer is anything but clear.

I take off my shoes, lay down on the bed, grab the remote and turn on the TV. In an endless process of zapping through channels, I see many different Latin American channels. And the truth is that I forget most ads.

So, I decide to stay on a Colombian channel to get some info for this article. And I find myself watching a minute and a half’s worth –three times what a regular TV commercial lasts– of “telenovela” actors and models selling me iced tea as if their dialogue had been taken directly from the product’s label or written by an excited client crafting their first advertising copy.

So, I ask myself, is there any creative strategy in this ad? There is a strategy: indiscriminately delivering bullet points in rapid fire to convince me to drink their tea. But, is it a creative strategy? Hardly. Although the real question is: do they even need one? And the answer is NO.

If they have muscle in their media budget, all they have to do is repeat and repeat their message over and over like a litany or mantra.

They have been selling their stuff like that for 20 years and I’m pretty sure it has worked for them. But that’s just one example. Is there any creative strategy in advertising when you place most creative responsibilities on the shoulders of YouTubers? Or can we talk about a creative strategy when social media is flooded with posts to fill the everyday space because that is how it works?

The one and a half minute ad ends and is followed by a few more

None of them shines because of the story they tell, for the product’s benefit, or because of what they offer to people. Here’s an experiment you can try out: sit on your couch and have the patience to watch a whole advertising block on your TV and count the commercials that are memorable or the ones you consider genuinely creative.

If your count goes over 30%, please tell me what channel you were watching. I know it might be too much to ask for advertising blocks to be attractive, entertaining, and useful. It actually only happens once a year, during the Super Bowl –maybe because the best parts of the game are the ads and the half time show… He he he… Hey, don’t give me that look–. But the real reason is that they spend millions and millions of dollars as well as hours upon hours to create memorable advertising to compete with the best of the best.

So, I flip over to American channels. The percentage of interesting commercials improves. But just a little. Something I love about those ads is their humor or how they’re sometimes just plain direct, taking pretentiousness out of the equation: “This will save you money” or “this makes your life easier.” Those are still valid points, especially during difficult times. So, what do I see? There are tons of creative strategies trying to be creative but missing the mark. Somehow though, they still seem to work.

A creative strategy can’t be measured based on a single piece of advertising

Ok, I’ll give you that creativity is not just based on a story told in 5, 15, 30, or even 90 seconds. A creative strategy should be creative in every possible chance it gets. Media buys are opportunities and, thankfully, there are lots of them.

Unfortunately, they’re under the control of media agencies whose core isn’t creativity and instead focus on offering and filling up ad slots. And even if they want to take over the business of creativity, most of them fall way short on that objective in comparison to any strategic creative agency. Too many times I’ve seen media agencies offering traditional media blocks and packages of ad spaces with zero flexibility or creativity or ad spaces that had little or no use for a campaign. But, since they were part of the package, creative had to figure out how to use them. And that’s a big reason why creative strategy development in advertising is so valuable. It helps you define which media makes sense for the campaign’s objectives and how to make the most of what is on offer.

A few years ago, a team I was leading created some specialty spots in different cake shops where we could sweeten the ladies’ afternoons with desserts and cocktails made with Baileys, while they took a break in their work day by spending some time with friends. That idea came from a reality TV show we created where people had to invent desserts using that liquor. Using cake shops as the backdrop for this idea made perfect sense so we basically created a new media to promote the brand and it worked. So what does that mean? It means that a creative strategy is useful; it uses media to tell a story and gives wings to a marketing plan. Plus, it’s also an invitation to develop innovative advertising strategies that can make an impact, yes, even in social media advertising.

Now that I think about it…

What would happen if someone proposed a “fotonovela” campaign via WhatsApp to sell iced tea? Sounds like it could work. First off, it would be an unusual use of a medium to develop a digital creative strategy where Latino moms and homemakers consistently share chains and memes –and even by using slides, it wouldn’t feel as powerpointy as the iced tea TV commercial–. The fact is that a creative strategy can give life to a brand, to a campaign that has plenty of spark. It makes it FRESH. 

Imagine going to a fish market. The smell is so strong that you want to spend the least possible time there. You won’t look for the eight-day-old fish, one that has a green hue to it, or the one that smells the worst. You’ll take the freshest one, the one that lets you imagine all the delicious dishes you can cook with it. In short, you’ll take the one that is good for you. More than ever, creativity should leverage just that: on showing how a product benefits people or thinking how ads themselves can benefit people. With that in mind, there is a solid ground to imagine a creative strategy.

So… What was the question?

In times where there are so many old fishes out there, where messages and banners are automated, where A.I. will be writing our copies, I trust a good story will still make the difference. And if you want a meaningful and well-told story, you better have a strategy to support it with the capability to truly connect to the audience you desire to reach. Talk to them in their language, with their stories, show them that your brand can have nuances and be multicultural; tell them that story.

In a market where 60% or 70% of advertising seems like filler at best, a fresh story with sense, with the right media, will make the difference. It will bring freshness to a space where the consumer doesn’t want to be, in fact, a space they often want to flee from. And we should not try to generate creative strategies only for that reason. Creative strategies also show how much we love and respect our brands, our consumers, and the job. It is our opportunity to serve the consumer well and not become that imposed landscape that we know nobody wants to see.

So, I turn off my TV thinking that cliché questions like “Why do I need a creative strategy in my marketing plan?” don’t have the obvious answer marketers want to hear or imagine. It’s not so clear. Maybe the cynic within me won me over in this blog post but it also reassured me that there is a massive space for us to make brands shine with proper development and planning of a creative strategy.


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