Creative Director or, Better Yet, Value Creator?

Originally Posted On
Advertising Week 360

The other day I was at the gym, on one of those awkward-moving elliptical contraptions when a guy walked into the area with a proud smile on his face. He was wearing a black t-shirt with two words, stacked:



I was intrigued by this. What would compel someone to put their job title on a t-shirt and then select said shirt to wear to an overpriced gym on a Saturday morning? Is he a freelance “creative” looking for work, thinking he’d do some quality networking from his treadmill?

And what company makes t-shirts like this? Are they scraping job functions off people’s Facebook profiles and serving dynamically generated Instagram ads? (If this is the case, please let me know – I’ll be changing my job title to Rodeo Clown, stat.)

Maybe anyone can be a Creative Director in 2020 – there’s been so much fragmentation in the media world, we now have agencies of every imaginable size, there’s more talent working from gig to gig than ever before. More in-house marketing departments churning out content for Facebook and YouTube ads. Mar-tech firms and management consultancies are increasingly saying “creative is easy now” – buy this content system from us and you’ve got what you need.

But being a great creative director who creates business value (not just delivers ads) is not easy.

I recently watched a creative director read a script for a video that made me laugh as much as a better episode of my latest podcast binge, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. His creation was honest, easy to relate to and made me double over with laughter. I started thinking about how excited the clients will be when they see their brand framed through this new lens that he created. My mind was racing to break the script down and expressing it in ad assets of all shapes and sizes. Sound on, sound off. In six seconds. In a carousel. An ad on Hulu. This creation was so insightful, the big idea was so right, and the script was so marvelously expressed that it didn’t take a genius to imagine the idea in the wild, in its many forms.

I’ve seen, time and again, creations like this in their infancy. They develop to do what marketers need to do most – make true connections with the right target audiences, allowing them to earn consideration and preference without heavy discounting. These creations help brands stand out among an increasingly crowded set of low-cost competitors and e-commerce hustlers.

That is not just creative – it’s value creation.

But most of what our industry has seemed to obsess over for the last half-decade isn’t creation. It is optimization. Don’t get me wrong – I love optimization. Most of my marketing career – first in CRM, then SEM, digital analytics, programmatic and tech product development has been in optimization. Not to say that it hasn’t sometimes been “creative” – applying new methods of optimization to a process can be quite creative. Assembling just the right people onto a team. Developing new technology products to automate low-value, manual tasks can be creative.

But it’s not the same kind of creative. Despite the massive growth of our industry, one of the least understood aspects is the value of creativity in advertising…or maybe, said better, creating value through advertising. Creative like what I watched the other day – day one of a big idea. It will show a CMO promise of a future where her business isn’t so easily commoditized, where there’s tangible margin growth and where she’s the envy of her category peers.

The guy at the gym was right to be proud of being a CREATIVE DIRECTOR.

But a t-shirt? C’mon!

Mike Margolin

SVP, Chief Digital Officer at RPA