Five Creativity Killers
by Chad Rueffert

In our extremely over-communicated world, a creative delivery is a necessary requirement of any advertisement. 

Mark Oldach, author of Creativity for Graphic Designers, said, "The key to creating a truly original, focused and appropriate idea is to start at zero -- a completely open mind with no preconceptions.  The second you build walls, insert parameters and run into obstacles, your range of possibilities becomes limited."

The problem is, almost every client who visits an advertising agency wants to, or has to, put immediate boundaries on the creative process and the wonders why their advertising lacks impact and innovation.  There are dozens of ways to kill creativity, but here are the five most deadly.


It's a strange fallacy that customers think that the smaller their budget is, the more creative you have to be to get the point across.  The reality is the exact opposite.  The more limited your budget is, the more straight-forward your message should be.  Creativity costs time and money.  Inspiration is the result of research and a ton of thought, and if you don't have the money to pay someone to put in that research and thought, you should resign yourself to a simple, honest and direct approach to communicating with your target audience.  And even if the idea itself comes easily and inexpensively, implementation of it will probably be costly.  Does your idea require custom photography?  Stock photography?  Illustration?  Full-color printing?  Die cutting?  Special video effects?  Actors?  Models?  If your budget is small, skip the expensive creativity and spend it on a little more printing, postage or media.  If you spend all your money on creativity, you won't have any left to spread the word, and a creative message that reaches nobody accomplishes nothing.



A creative idea that appeals to one person may not appeal to another.  That's why marketers are so intent on segmenting their audience into smaller groups.  If creative decision-making is left to committees you'll end up with a hodgepodge of required changes that will result in a schizophrenic advertisement.  Someone will want the logo bigger, another will want the phone number in red, a third will want to use a different photo, the fourth won't like the idea at all.  When at all possible, get input from numerous people, weigh it for its merits, and throw out anything that reduces the impact.  Keep in mind the audience for your advertisement is not necessarily the people approving the creative work, and remind them of that frequently.



The best creative ideas are almost always a little edgy and controversial. That doesn't mean they have to be rude, crude or annoying.  However, edgy ideas are bound to get a few negative reactions, and if you're afraid of that, you've put a very small box around your creative process.  Oldach states it this way in his book:  "Creative solutions are, by definition, solutions that are untried.  They involve risk and require clients to make decisions that often do not meet with immediate, universal acceptance."


Too Much Information

Creativity in advertising requires a focused message and a clear set of objectives.  The more information you try to convey, the less creative your delivery can be.  It's relatively easy to come up with creative headlines and visuals for a new Volvo ad when your message is safety.  It's very hard to do the same thing when your message has to include safety, selection, price, style, options and financing.  Use the creative message about safety to generate interest, and then show your interested prospects how to get information about selection, price and financing at a website, 800# or dealer.


Insufficient Knowledge of the Company, Product, Customer and Competition 

Almost all creativity in advertising is based upon how your product or company interacts with the user of the product or the product's competition.  People by LiteTM beer because it's less filling, right?  But what about those people who just think it tastes great?  Without the knowledge that many people simply like the lighter taste of a light beer, the immortal "Tastes Great, Less Filling" debate would never have occurred.  If you want to come up with creative ideas, use the product, let your family use it, use the competition's product, visit a competitor's store, take the product apart and put it back together, ask a stranger in the grocery store why they just chose your product instead of the cheaper one on the shelf above.  The more you know a bout the company, product, customer and competition, the faster the creative ideas will flow. 


It's nearly impossible to imagine a situation where none of the first three creativity killers exist.  Clients never have unlimited budgets, there are almost always too many people involved in the decision making process, and everyone has a fear of the untried.  But if you can work to minimize the influence of the first three, find a focused message, and supply yourself with an in-depth knowledge of the company, product, customer and competition, ideas will come easily and lead to creative and innovative advertising.