What is a Creative, and Why Does My Business Need One?

Working on a human mold for a Huffy Bikes billboard.

Working on a human mold for a Huffy Bikes billboard.

One of the worst tales of advertising that I have ever heard is a story about a guy who owned a small tire business that was blooming into something bigger.  One day, this gentleman decided that advertising would help boost the sales of his tires.  So, he called around talking to various advertising agencies, gauging their prices, and weighing the worth of their services.  Services that he knew very little about.  Finally, he reached a point where he believed that advertising agencies were asking too much.  He especially found it comical that they would try to charge him for something they labeled as “creativity.”  He thought, “I’m creative.  I started and built this business from the ground up.  So, why do I need to pay for someone else to create for me.”  After thinking about this for a while, he finally reached a point where he talked himself out of getting help from an advertising agency specializing in creativity.

So, determined to see this idea through, he contacted the local news station, and they promptly offered him a deal where if he bought so much commercial time that he would end up getting some commercials for as cheap as fifty dollars per spot.  Sounded like a good deal in principle, but as they say, when things seem too good to be true, they usually are.  For the tire store owner, this saying couldn’t have rang louder or truer.  An idea that had started out so promising turned terrifying really quickly.  Not only did the news station not offer him any creative services, but they put just as little time into the production value of the commercial.

The result?  His hard-earned money paid for commercials that, every time they aired, lost him more costumers than he gained.  Even more sadly, he had invested a lot of money into a lot of commercial air time.  So, the commercials continued to air everyday at all hours of the day. 

The commercials were so bad and played so much that when a community group gauged the residents as to which local commercial they found to be most annoying, his tire business won by a landslide.  Not something you want to hang your business’s theoretical hat upon. Fifty dollars a commercial or not, this was not good business, and he knew it.  By trying to cut corners in his attempt to advertise his business, he literally paid money for something that hurt his business.  Sales suffered, and he blamed himself for having done what he thought was irreparable harm to his business.  The man was so crushed by this that he swore off advertising completely, and his business muddled in mediocracy.

I often think of advertising horror stories like these when I talk with someone who has never worked with a true creative professional before.  You can tell these people pretty quickly because they usually say things like, “Advertising doesn’t work.  I tried it, and it just doesn’t work.”  I can’t help but feel for these people, but to say advertising doesn’t work really is an overreaction.  All over the world, advertising is alive and working for businesses, small or large.  Why is it working for them?  They have some of the best and brightest creative minds partnering with their business.  These professionals are known as Creatives.  So, what is a Creative, and why can partnering with a true Creative turn even the most mediocre businesses into thriving successes?

What is a Creative?

The first step to understanding how advertising can and will work for you is to understand what a Creative is and why that is so important in the world of advertising.  Many people believe that true creative advertising takes a very short amount of time and requires very little effort/work.  Part of this misunderstanding is that, like so many words in the English language, creativity has become a blanket term: a term that tries to cover any and every person who has an ounce of “creativity” in their being. 

As renowned artist, Andy Warhol, once said, "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.  Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."  Simply put, advertising is art.  I know.  I know.  Right now the anti-establishment, free-lovin’, never create for the man part of your cerebral cortex is going crazier than a Kardashian at Coachella, but hear me out.  Advertising is art, because it truly is the essence of the definition, the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.  The Creative is a person who just happens to use their creative skills and imagination to make a living. 

Accepting that advertising is art and that the Creative excels at it is only half the story though.  The other half, many people leave out, and that is why too often the Creative, one who is working so hard to create captivating business solutions through advertising for you, is placed on the same level as that delusional “artsy” guy we all know.  You know the one.  The guy who wakes up every day in his parent’s basement, has a rough time playing the D chord on his Squier guitar, but doesn’t get a full-time job because he fully expects that a record executive will beat down his door any second, because his YouTube cover of “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys has thirteen views…  Just because there are people in this world who try to put the creative professional on the same level as someone with more of a “free-spirit”, doesn’t mean that all creative people are like that delusional guy we all know.

So, the job of a Creative is something new? 

Not really.  In fact, history shows us many examples of the creative advertising.  For instance, did you know that Michelangelo was a Creative in the business of advertising?  You didn’t?  Well, think again.  After all, the Sistine Chapel that he so gloriously and painstakingly undertook is not only one of the greatest pieces of art in the world; it is also one of the greatest pieces of advertising in the world.  During his time, the church was very good at promoting religion through unorthodox means of advertising, like the Sistine Chapel.  To this day, people are moved to discuss the Bible simply from looking at Michelangelo’s work.  As you can see, the church invested in Michelangelo’s professional skills, and being the genius Creative that he was, he created advertising that has long outlived him, and is still effective to this day.

Sticking with the Ninja Turtle theme, the great sculptor Donatello was no stranger to advertising himself.  Very often, he was commissioned to create art, and this art?  Well, it was always made to promote someone or some ideal.  For example, at one point or another Donatello had befriended the family of the famous mercenary Erasmo da Narni.  When he passed away, da Narni’s family commissioned Donatello to sculpt a bronze statue of Erasmo riding a horse in full battle regalia, minus a helmet.  This was the first time an equestrian statue, which was saved for rulers, was dedicated to a man that was merely considered a warrior.  What Donatello was hired to do there was to simply catapult the da Narni “brand” to a different stratosphere, and how did he execute?  By creating a sculpture that has us still talking about Erasmo and the da Narni’s to this day.  Now, that’s great advertising!  

Is creativity really hard work?

Yes!  Though the creative worker is not one who physically grabs his lunch pail, puts on his hard hat, and punches in to plod the day away doing a physically demanding job.  I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that Steve Jobs, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Nikola Tesla, the Wright Brothers, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin, Tom McElligott, Ray Charles, etc. were hard workers.  Yes, they might not have worked the same way that we, as a nation, did during the he Industrial Revolution, but they put in just as many hours, as many days, and as many years, perfecting their ability to create. 

That being said, I know there are still some who might say, “But Mozart created his first symphony at the age of eight-years-old.  So, how hard can it really be?”  Yes, technically they are right, but as English author Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently pointed out in his novel Outliers, how many of us have actually heard Mozart’s first symphony?  My guess would be very, very few.  Why don’t people play it, you might be asking yourself?  Simply put, because it is not very good.  He was an eight-year-old boy writing a symphony.  I mean, come on.  We all have to start somewhere. 

For further example, even sport’s prodigies like Tiger Woods, who was practically born with a golf club in his hand, didn’t compete full-time on a professional level until he was in his twenties.  Why?  Because hours and hours of perfecting one’s craft is necessary for even the most gifted of talents.  In fact, as Gladwell goes on to point out, it takes at least 10,000 of those hours to become great at something.  Let me write that one more time – 10,000 HOURS!  That’s an awful lot of hours.      

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to know many talented, hard-working Creatives.  People like Rob Shapiro, a Creative Director I worked with at a Pittsburgh, Pa based advertising agency.  Rob is a fine example of how much hard work and unique talent it takes to create something that is not only enjoyable to watch, read, or listen to but is an effective business tool that increases the sales and brand recognition of the business or organization that he is working with.  Time and time again, I watched Rob zooming and zipping around from creative world to creative universe, lending his full attention to whatever creative project lays in front of him.  More often than not, Rob would come into a project and, using his vast education and unique experiences in creativity, he would strategize, concept, develop, or simply, roll up his sleeves and create a great, daring solution to the advertising puzzles that lay before him. 

Celebrating my team's   2015 ADDYs® Gold winning work for Bob Evans.

Celebrating my team's 2015 ADDYs® Gold winning work for Bob Evans.

Under Rob’s tutelage, I developed an understanding and enjoyment for the process of creating award winning content for our business partners.  As in the case of our 2015 ADDYs® Gold winning spot for Bob Evans, Rob challenged myself and our team to not only come up with content for Bob Evans, but to come up with something that stayed within the Bob Evans’ voice, while pushing their brand towards new avenues.  What we came up with was a concept that I named “Feast or Famine.”  This spot would play on the Food Network’s website as a “helpful” step-by-step video on how to make Bob Evans’ Broasted Chicken from the comforts of your own home. 

What we developed in the end was content marketing at its finest, a spot that not only educated the audience about just how difficult it is to make Broasted Chicken, but inspired the audience to go to Bob Evans for all their Broasted Chicken needs, because of Bob Evans’ expertise in that area.  You can see the final project here:


So, why haven’t you hired a Creative?

This all being said, the question remains, if creativity is such hard work and it takes such a special, refined skill, then why do businesses beg for creative advertising but invest in the stale and boring? Advertising is often the only way you communicate with your consumers. So, why destroy your company’s image by putting money into advertising that even has you saying, “It’s okay.  It’s fine.”  In today’s world, the consumer can see through your mass amounts of used car sales antics and are bored to death with advertisements featuring company owners staring directly into the camera, reading off a poorly written teleprompter script saying things like, “Come on down!”  In the age of DVR, streaming media, and of course, our old pal, the Internet, consumers are turning off your business at an alarming rate.  You can’t afford to ignore the need for professional creative advertising help any longer.  Hire a proven Creative.  Your company won't regret it.