Creativity is back. But is it the Secret Sauce to Profitability?

Suki Thompson interviews two global titans at Advertising Week Europe 2019

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The last few years have seen marketing dominated by discussion around data and tech, with automation and AI cast as the prodigal sons that would transform your business into overnight success. Meanwhile, creativity’s halo slipped as a growth driver, dropping off the C-suite agenda. 

But we believe that our industry, at its heart, is driven by the power of creativity – from new product development, to purchase decision journey, to tech application.

And now, creativity is back. Britain’s creative industries have broken the £100 billion barrier. The far-swing pendulum from creative to data is re-balancing and as business recognises that while data serves up immediate return, it rarely invests in the relationship of the future.

Last week, at Advertising Week Europe, I talked to two global titans from the worlds of art and business: iconic photographer, publisher and founder of The Full Agency, Rankin; and, Benny Higgins, Strategic Adviser to Nicola Sturgeon; Head of The Scottish National Investment Bank; Chair, National Galleries of Scotland.

Art and business might not always have the same agenda. The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.  The purpose of works of art may be to communicate ideas, create a sense of beauty, explore the nature of perceptions, generate strong emotions. The cross over is much more extensive than we all believe.

I wanted to bring two leaders from supposedly opposite ends of the spectrum to review favourite pictures and photos that have influenced their creativity, and, question how these have impacted their business and the business world. 

Peppered with insight into creative legends such as Mick Jagger, David Bowie, who instinctively touch and connect with people through generations, much as brands seek to do today, Rankin and Benny launched into discussion on all things art and business. Quoting T S Elliot, Benny remarked that, “The best of art awakens the senses before you even understand it”. The secret sauce for brands.

Rankin, a culture provocateur, has always “wanted to change the world through photography”. As far back as the 1990s, the early days of Dazed + Confused, he was tackling gender diversity – now high on the brand agenda.

Rankin said, “The desire for commercial success is a problem without creativity”. He continued, “The block to creativity is client fear of failure and lack of investment in the client/agency relationship. “You must understand the DNA of your client.” said Benny, and commented that clients need to learn how to be a good client. “Agencies: don’t just lean into [client] prejudices or produce work you think they want – surprise them.”  

In travelling the road to commercial creativity - Benny Higgins pointed to the mastery of artists such as Gauguin in moving to embrace new worlds, cultures – their beautiful ability to story-tell a changing world transforming how people lived. The ultimate power of creativity to shift perception and build trust, should never be under-estimated.

I firmly believe that we need to focus on customers and understanding the needs of people - learn from looking at how people are motivated, move away from traditional demographics, into psychographics. A crucial ingredient to the sauce of profitable creativity.

To this point, Rankin talked to his worry that we [society] are just toddlers just learning about social media. We allow big tech firms to access our phones and collect all our personal information, and to know our lives. Something we’d never allow a human to do. In a relationship this would be unacceptable.

Tap into to view full interview at Advertising Week Europe here.

What a privilege to talk to two great leaders and friends about their views on business, art and creativity, this picture of Rankin’s sums up my overall thoughts. We know that creativity can be the secret source to success we just need to create an environment where it can flourish.

Suki Thompson is the Chair,Oystercatchers and Executive Director, Xeim.


Oystercatchers accelerate commercial growth & ROI for all our clients through world class marketing transformation, leading- edge agency models and selection of world-class agency partners.