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Why culture-based creativity is always a brand’s greatest asset


Creativity has built the modern world. Culture is the driver of creativity. Technology is the vehicle to deliver and propel innovation.

Marshall McLuhan is noted as saying: “Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.” Yet, in recent history, there are only a handful of brands that have leveraged culture and the tipping points culture can provide to build effective, long-lasting persuasive work that grows business beyond a single quarter.

For clarity, creativity is not limited to an idea formulated by an art director and copywriter, rather, an idea that truly transforms the way one feels, thinks and behaves. From art, business, politics and, yes, advertising and communications.

Culture is a big, broad word, but boiled down are the emotions, values, attitudes, behaviours, actions that take place under a specific or variable set of experiences. It takes trenchant analysis to break down its true transformative parts.

Technology is also a broad area, as there are hundreds of thousands of examples that, from a technical perspective, seem to have no connective tissue. Think about it this way, the first tractor ever created, that replaced the horse in the fields, was of course technical/mechanical, but it was born from a cultural agrarian experience and was imagined through creative thinking to improve experiences and life. No different than Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Henry Ford’s assembly line (which was inspired by the meat packing process in New York city), or an app that tells you your blood sugar is low. Technology in and of itself, is not ‘code’ per se. But when applied and delivered well, leads to innovation.

When it comes to building and sustaining a brand, creativity has, and will always be, the greatest asset a business can harness. Creativity, in the world of brand, is typically defined by communicating and providing experiences through storytelling and narrative, via multiple media channels and practices, with a company’s values and purpose as central to the plot. While this may not exactly be avant-garde thinking, the practice of creating long-lasting persuasive work built on the rigour of culture defining tipping points certainly is rare.

Some of the greatest and most memorable ad work has first sought to decode and then influence and/or lead culture through creative interpretation. While some work has, and can, shift culture at a social change, macro-culture, level (Dove “Real Beauty”), others approach it through real-time zeitgeist, sub-culture (recently seen with Aviation Gin, leveraging the Peloton gaffe).

And even the smallest of brands can also punch above their weight by leveraging micro-culture (RXBar with a focus on natural ingredients is a good example). Of course, RXBar is now a very large company owned by Kellogg, but its beginnings were based on a micro-cultural insight. That is, ingredients of a food and transparency can stimulate an entire movement.

From 1999-2015, the companies that won the Cannes Lions “Creative Marketer of the Year” had an annual share price growth of 26%, compared to the S&P average of 7.5%. This, of course, provides a direct correlation to outstanding, disruptive and culture shifting creative work from brands that understand, and embrace, pushing cliched category boundaries.

Yet you don’t have to be a giant brand to make shifts and win share (or win Marketer of the Year at Cannes) to reap the benefits of culture shifting creative work. Culture and creativity must be embedded in the agenda and should continually and formally be debated, both internally and with partners. And how do you make this work? Beat it up, twist it, kick it, learn to trust your gut and recognize the nugget that leads to business changing ideas and work.

The Institute of Communication Agencies’ Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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