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Why Creativity Matters

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Can true creativity operate side-by-side with short-termism or are they enemies, asks Katie Jones.

Twenty-five years ago, Robert Lang, a laser researcher at NASA quit his job to pursue his childhood passion: origami.

This man, brilliant in the fields of mathematics and engineering, left this highly coveted position to fold paper. Today he is quoted as the world’s leading master of the art and famous for the impact his origami creations have had on improving complex engineering issues.

Lang started competing in the underground origami scene in Japan when it was typical for each piece to have 10-30 folds on average. Incredibly frustrated Lang sought to improve on this. He turned to his experience in mathematics. He studied the manner and methods in which paper folded and from these learnings wrote a computer program that can figure out how to fold a piece of paper into any shape he wanted. Gone were the days of 30-fold pieces. Enter the days of 300-fold works of art. Lang’s program was so effective and successful that NASA now ironically use it to construct folding equipment for space exploration and automotive manufacturers use it to fold airbags into tiny spaces in cars.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Robert Lang needed a way to get the ideas out of his head and onto paper, literally. He drew a connection between two of his passions, origami and physics, and the ripple effect of his creativity has had a profound impact on multiple aspects of human life. This story alone, expresses the importance of creativity.

In the past, it was easier to be ‘original’ when creating. Simply put, less people were inventors. Today, so much has come before us that creativity has evolved to an amalgamation of different areas of knowledge and ‘original’ ideas to produce something better. A ‘hybrid creation’, for want of a better term. For example, Apple merged the Walkman and a computer together to create the iPod (simply speaking).

This creative amalgamation is evident in advertising as we see brands combine their stories with modern day culture. Recently Geico’s iconic Lizard teamed up with Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy to sell insurance, and Pepsi attempted to cure social unrest with a can of their soft drink, adapting a famous incident during a Vietnam War demonstration. Both are examples of how brands are attempting to implant themselves in culture by not necessarily relying on an original idea, but rather making it original by drawing inspiration from an existing or trending topic.

Without an original thought, advertising becomes wallpaper and runs the risk of being grouped into the 1000 ads that the average person experiences on any given day. While the basic premise of advertising is to tap into a genuine consumer need, those needs change quickly and so advertising rhetoric must speed up as well.

Enter “short-termism” as the latest buzzword to hit the advertising scene. Short-termism, if you could join Digital Natives, Zeitgeist, and Low-Hanging Fruit – thanks.

The advertising industry often reminds me of a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. We wait patiently, monitoring, hoping to pounce on the next buzzword and be the first to have an opinion on it, in many cases unconstructive. The language that you will find around short-termism includes describing itself as “a plague”, “A disease”, “a dampener on creativity” and “a content crap trap”. In fact, most articles that I have come across claimed that short-termism would kill creativity.

For me, short-termism is a phrase used to describe campaigns that are often tactical and encourage ‘quick wins’, in contrast to campaigns that have longevity of thought and reaffirm long term brand beliefs. Short-term campaigns can often translate as “Sell, Sell, Sell”, rather than setting out what it is that the brand wants to change in the world. These quick wins promote the view that creativity is not worth investing in, but how creative we are with these campaigns is entirely up to us.

At it’s most reductive, automotive brands have created momentum around their reg plate offers twice a year, and this is now a necessity for them. However, the decision to buy into a brand is made by the heart and not the head, so although these offers are vital – the groundwork also needs to be done.

Focussing too much on short-term campaigns is ultimately a band-aid – a quick fix that only succeeds in stemming the flow of an underlying issue. If a problem exists and there is no long-term solution, it will become exposed over time and slowly eat away at a brand.

We are in the business of ideas, not band aids. So the next brief you see that asks for a “quick win”, fight back – Don’t make wallpaper. Make Origami.

Katie Jones is a strategic planner with TBWA\Dublin.

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ May 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660