Throughout history, interesting times have spawned great creativity. These are certainly interesting times, so are we witnessing a surge in creativity? Whether we are or not, what is creativity – and for each of you reading this, would you have the same definition as one another? Is Gen Z redefining what’s seen as creative? Ultimately, whatever creativity is or isn’t, how can you harness it to fuel your brand and marketing?
We can learn a lot from recent times about the longevity of creative work. The recent aesthetic has been criticised for being defined by flat, simple graphics with little differentiation – the term ‘blanding’ was coined to push against it and to act as a rallying cry for brand to be more expressive.
But we only have to look back a decade or so to find a visual landscape that is at odds with this, one that was deemed too fussy, complex and where simpler graphics of the past were held in high-regard and looked to for inspiration.
There was uproar in 2007 when the vibrant logo for the 2012 Olympics was first unveiled – the desire for something more simple and classic was so strong, that petitions were signed and even an exhibition of classic Olympic design was curated in opposition of the more vibrant system in-line for the London Olympic Games.
The visual landscape of any moment in time is relatively fleeting. The next shift in creative expression is always just around the corner and pushing to be an early adopter will always present the opportunity to stand out in your market
But perhaps the current cycle of creativity is being exaggerated and prolonged by the rapid advances in technology occurring throughout it – with increased pressure to fit in with the masses of content served globally every day and the limitations that such rigorous testing imposes on design. That makes the need to harness creativity, in reaction, ever more important.
How do you harness creativity in a way that is unique to you? In the early days of co-founding Apple, Steve Wozniak said “I imagine a day in which an individual could compete against a corporation” and Rolling Stone’s recent creators issue seems to confirm that ‘the tastemakers that lead the trends in music, fashion and internet culture’ are increasingly, individuals.
A recent article by the Washington Post quoted the prediction that ‘in the next 10 years, all the biggest brands will be made by creators’ such is their power to build community and create demand – think fans rather than consumers.
The streetwear brand Corteiz is leveraging its sense of niche and cult status through limited availability and agile product launches – 5 years ago as a standalone brand, but more recently with its AirMax95 collaborations launched in London, New York and Paris, directly by Corteiz, in cryptic and exciting ways.
Corteiz is demonstrating how operating outside of the normal channels and in its own way, can lead to a bigger and even more devoted audience.
While BrewBird Coffee’s core product is sleek and minimal, the company embraced the vibrancy of artist Craig Black.
His painting technique reflected the slow drip concept of the ‘advanced brewing platform’ beautifully in the brand launch. It also translated to packaging to present the range of flavours created in collaboration with roasters from around the world.
But such is the power of visually striking work, it can translate into different sectors and spaces with ease. Craig Black demonstrated this when his own exhibition, The Fusion Series, caught the attention of UEFA, who collaborated with the artist on a Euro 2020 promo that was aired around the world.
‘Time’ is one of in Malaysia’s biggest internet providers. While they pride themselves on offering more than just a fast connection, their brand was dull, uninspiring and very much expected of the sector. The company looked to a broader set of collaborators to better reflect their offer and in 2022 worked with native artists like ‘Cloakwork’ and Shu Yee to develop a library of fun and playful character illustrations that represented the real people of Malaysia, and the real users of Time, and helped to re-launch the brand.
Can bringing together seemingly incongruent things deliver great creative results? Collaborations in the consumer brand world teach us a great deal. The Louis Vuitton brand was established in 1854, its iconic pattern developed in 1896, ironically to prevent counterfeiting. Today, the relatively conservative underlying brand is rendered anything but, by the ever-changing collaborations underway since 2001. The latest, with Yayoi Kusama, is creative in both the brand and its tactical delivery, as the 3D anamorphic billboard in Tokyo demonstrates. Through collaborations, Louis Vuitton is protecting the underlying integrity of the brand and therefore protecting its cachet, while through constant experimentation the brand remains salient and relevant to a changing world and audience. And perhaps also going further to make the brand harder to copy.
It’s little wonder that the late, great Virgil Abloh, the master of collaborations, ran Louis Vuitton, until his untimely death. As he looked out from his office window, over the Seine and le Pont Neuf, he was inspired by artists such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They had a clerk hand Jacques Chirac a pile of papers to sign, which included approval of their wrapping the iconic bridge in silk. He unwittingly signed, the installation progressed and suddenly everyone’s view of what’s creatively acceptable had shifted once more.
So what can business-to-business learn from this? Far from controversial, perhaps maintain an underlying strong, simple and straight-faced brand. But be truly bold with the things that change: campaigns, events, annual and sustainability reports. It will be easier to get approval (we don’t recommend ‘doing a Chirac’!) and will allow you to test, learn – and in this digital world, evolve with ease.
Our premise is that interesting times spawn great creativity. So what have such times spawned in the past and what are our interesting times today prompting?
Perhaps the most interesting and surprising example is Brand Britain and Cool Britannia – or in its first iteration, Brand England, for we need to start by going back to 1415 and the Battle of Agincourt. Henry V and his Welsh longbowmen defeated the four times larger French army, against all the odds. This success influenced fashion, taste and the general aesthetic for centuries. In fact today a number of phrases we use and indeed the two-finger salute, all date back to Agincourt.
Fast forward to 1997 and the more commonly recognised Cool Britannia. Geri Haliwell at the BRIT Awards in her Union Jack dress. Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher in bed, wrapped in a Union Jack on the cover of Vanity Fair, no less. The Blair Labour party landslide victory, the rise of Britpop and general optimism following the tougher times of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Brand Britain was popular currency.
Fast forward once more to 2019 and Brand Britain feels very different. Amidst Brexit tensions, Stormzy’s appearance at Glastonbury in a Banksy Union Jack flak jacket, delivered a powerful message to support his equally powerful lyrics.
So what about today? Technology is inarguably the theme of the moment. It’s prompting changes in all aspects of
our lives. Interestingly, it’s enabling fascinating changes in the world of typography. The rebrand of Hermes to Evri, inspired by the diversity of the firm’s people and customers, heroes 194,481 logo variants, built from a generative tool. The advent of the variable font – a single font that acts as many, with all variations of width, weight and slant etc. held together in a single compressed file – has witnessed the 2019 relaunch of Helvetica, a variable future fit version of its 1957 classic. Excitingly, new fonts such as Lexend, developed in conjunction with a doctor, have the power to change how we read and tackle dyslexia.
It might sound really obvious, but if you want a great creative result, then set out to be creative in the first place – embedding it into your process and objectives from the get-go. But this raises the question – what is creativity?
Edward de Bono defined it as “breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”. The great mid-century ad man Bill Bernbach said creativity “is like love…the more you analyse it, the faster it disappears”. Not only apposite but arresting, given he said this at the advent of using research to direct advertising creative.
So perhaps ultimately, the best way to capture what’s creative, is by considering what wins the coveted creative awards – and reflecting what we can learn from it.
The first example demonstrates that you need to be prepared to be provocative. Shrinking violets don’t win awards. This is certainly true of Change the Ref, an organisation trying to raise awareness about mass shootings in the US and reduce the influence of the gun lobby. Their award-winning campaign was both provocative and unorthodox – they invited an unwitting gun advocate to address 3,044 students of a university that didn’t in fact exist. And nor did the students – the number correlated to the number of deaths of young people, due to gun ownership.
But if it’s not in your gift to be provocative, then the message is perhaps to be simple and bold – make a big impact with few basic elements. This was the case for the award-winning work for the Canadian Magazine Awards. This used a graphic device mimicking a magazine spine – and used in a wide variety of ways. An impactful, flexible and strong system, once you’ve registered the underlying idea.
Finally, use movement and dimension – figuratively as well as literally. The rebrand of Jodrell Bank – home of the landmark telescopes that detect radio waves from astronomical sources – did just this. Whether animated or static, the logo and the overall visual expression captures the dynamic horizon scanning nature of the telescopes.
In summary, in terms of creativity, the world of business-to- business can learn much from the consumer world. These examples are more translatable than you might first think too. And in an era of profound change and challenge, you can do much to harness it to power your brands and marketing.
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