Why aren’t creative teams involved in creative development?

In 25 years of researching advertising ideas, I have met the team that created the work on fewer than a dozen projects.  This is madness. 

Everyone would acknowledge that, if researchers are to make an effective contribution to the development of advertising, it is of fundamental importance that we understand the thinking behind the idea.  Researchers should always make a point of seeing and discussing the creative brief and I always have planners and account handlers talk me through ideas as fully as possible.  But there is no substitute for getting it ‘from the horse’s mouth’: in my experience, discussing creative ideas with their originators has never failed to give me a new insight into the idea and a better sense of where the opportunities for creative development lie – and the limits.

So why do researchers so rarely meet creatives?  Well, I spent the first six years of my working life as an account man in ad agencies, and the experience left me in no doubt regarding the typical antipathy creatives hold towards researchers.  It is an accepted orthodoxy, perpetuated still on creative floors throughout the land, that ‘research kills great ideas’.  At the very least, research is regarded as an irritating hoop through which your idea has to jump; but, more commonly, research is seen as the angel of death.

In most agencies, there’s not much being done to address this culture of distrust.  It could even be that some within these agencies have a vested interest in keeping researchers as the bogey men.  Dare I suggest that it may sometimes be useful to be able to blame the researcher for ‘bombing’ ads that the account team never felt were right anyway? But this isn’t a one way street.

The other problem we have to acknowledge is that many researchers also distrust creatives.  They perceive them as arrogant and irrational – not to say a physical danger!  They would be perfectly happy never to meet one and avoid the risk of having to justify their findings in the face of a forensic examination by the people whose idea it is. Like most prejudice, this distrust is based largely on ignorance.

Neither party has a good understanding of what the other does or of their beliefs and motivations.  And we all know that one of the best ways of reinforcing prejudice is to keep people apart. Hence my plea to agency planners: get your creative teams involved in creative development research. Explain to them what the research is trying to do – or have the researcher do it. Ideally, have them come to watch the fieldwork – in my experience, creatives have found this a real eye opener, coming away with more ideas than they started with.

Get them to come to debriefs and challenge the research findings.  If the researcher can’t hack it, they shouldn’t be on the project. But most importantly, have them come to briefing meetings. It can make a huge difference to the perspective the researcher takes into the research.

I don’t envisage researchers and creatives skipping lovingly together into the sunset.  But there could be a real possibility of developing a mutual respect that allows creatives to learn from us and, just as importantly, for researchers to learn from them.  It is ultimately in all our interests to break down the mutual antipathy that exists between creatives and researchers, for the simple reason that it is in the best interest of the work and, therefore, of our clients.

** The image is ironic, OK?!

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5 Responses to Why aren’t creative teams involved in creative development?

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