Creative agencies are turning into one-cascade boutiques

The industry’s creative heavyweights resort to empty, one-off stunts rather than genuine change efforts, says Miriam Plon Sauer, director of executive strategy at AKQA. It’s time for a revival.

We have become so obsessed with our purpose that we have forgotten our purpose as an industry: to help brands and businesses grow.

A woman in a hijab swimming in a water tank in Dubai; a new coral reef spelling the word HOPE in the Indian Ocean; a young, deceased footballer brought to virtual life as an EA sports character; six Belgian inmates team up to form an e-bike team.

Are targeted campaigns leading agencies in the wrong direction? /Simon Migaj

If you think creative award shows are seen as a mirror of what’s happening in the industry, it might seem like we’re all selflessly doing our little bit to make the world a better place.

Over the past couple of years there has been a huge increase in work with a supposed purpose attached to it. In fact, at the recent Festival of Creativity, 23 of the 27 grand prize winners were raising banners for a greater cause.

Do not mistake yourself. I will be the first person to swear that we have the ability and responsibility to use our creative powers for greater impact. But that impact must support and align with business strategy – it can’t just be a cascade.

The question is: is the widespread interest in the goal due to a collective awareness of the true power of creativity? Or is it just vanity? In my opinion, we have forgotten our focus as an industry on the global hunt for fame and gold.

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As creative agencies, our goal is to help businesses grow and thrive. This means more than just focusing on quarterly business results. Companies have a responsibility to all stakeholders – not just shareholders. And as agencies, we can help you with all of these responsibilities, including identifying and executing a company’s purpose. But this should never be seen as a separate task from setting up the business.

I doubt a water tank in Dubai with the blurry “Beyond the Surface” line will make a difference for Adidas or for women who want to feel more confident in the water.

I also wonder if an 18-minute mockumentary about human meat consumption helps the Swedish Food Federation with its sustainability mission – or even raises awareness about it.

In an IPA report released in 2019 during the Cannes Lions, Peter Field revealed what he called the creative efficacy crisis. The study showed that while Cannes Lions winners in the run-up to 2008 had a creative effectiveness multiplier of 12 to 1 compared to non-winners, by 2018 that ratio had dropped to 4 to 1. And even while there are no updated numbers on the 2022 winners, it doesn’t look like we’ve broken the curve.

By making goal activations the norm of celebrated creativity, we have deteriorated the concept of goal itself. If used correctly, purpose is one of the most effective tools for aligning positive impact with business results.

It seems that purpose has become for agencies what transformation has for consultants. What was once a point of differentiation and a way for agencies to use their skills more holistically to create consistency and relevance for brands across touchpoints is now relegated to a fashionable tactic. .

If stunts and one-off gimmicks are all we can achieve when we try to use creativity for positive impact, we’re wasting a lot more than money and time. If we forget to push businesses forward in our hunt for rewards, we decimate our reason for existing. We become NGOs and lose the ability to make changes where it matters.

There are many problems to solve in the world – societal, environmental or just everyday. And we, companies as agencies, have a role to play in dealing with it. But it has to be part of a long-term strategy, it has to be credible from a brand perspective, and it has to be relevant to customers.

The NikeSync app is one of the Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners that has managed to reflect this level of continuity, relevance and differentiation. It’s based on Nike’s longstanding mission to create inspiration and innovation for every athlete in the world. It’s relevant to at least 50% of their potential audience and supports their future growth.

We can only survive as an industry if we understand that creating positive impact in the world cannot come at the expense of business results. The two can and should go hand in hand.

Miriam Plon Sauer is Executive Director of Strategy at AKQA.

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