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Creativity Comes Before Technology

Today, digital and technology are developing and evolving rapidly, and it seems many advertisers and marketers believe that applying new technology can generate innovative campaigns. Therefore, many marketing workshops start with sharing new technology in order to bring inspiration to the brainstorming process. But can - and should - technology really be the foundation for creativity? 

The first One Show China festival took place in Beijing last weekend, themed “Where the amazing inspires the future” and many discussions took place surrounding technology, innovation, and creativity. Mauro Alencar, co-founder of creative hot shop DOJO in San Francisco, used Institute for Large Scale Innovation Chairman John Kao’s quote to ask people to take one step back to think about the definition of innovation, “It’s not doing something new for the sake of doing something new. Innovation is really creativity that’s applied to some purpose to realize value.” The same rule also applies to technology. If we don’t start with creativity and humanity, but use technology for the sake of using technology, we can’t produce the work that is truly creative. Edward Bell, CEO of FCB Greater China, shared his view on the relationship between creativity and technology at One Show’s seminar. Below is the video and summary of the speech. 

There’s so much talk around these days about innovation. And it is fair to say that FCB has also made it our focus. But increasingly, we’ve been wondering “what is the relationship between innovation and creativity?”  And…  "Is innovation always creative? What should come first? Does innovation equals good creativity?" This made me think of one of the more confrontational quotes from Edward De Bono, the French psychologist, where the essence of what makes people creative is “more philosophical.” He said. “There are many people calling themselves creative who are mere stylists, and what separates creative people from stylists is an enquiring mind. Not just people who want to reshape or restyle an existing solution, but people who say,’Why does it have to be that way?’”

When I joined FCB, I was told a story about orange juice that amazed me. The story goes that in 1916, Albert Lasker, our founder and the father of modern advertising, was in a meeting with his client the California Fruit Growers Exchange. Their problem was very similar to the problems of clients today… they were producing too many oranges for the existing demand. So much so that they were cutting down trees in order to limit supply and keep prices up. Yet Albert’s solution wasn’t limited by merely talking about the product they already sold, he looked further upstream on how to solve the problem of oversupply. He told his client that more and more often, consumers were taking their whole oranges home, and squeezing out the juice. Then, he introduced them to his other client, the Van Camp Packaging Company, and created a whole other consumption opportunity for the growers: packaged orange juice. The demand increased 100%. That was innovation from an agency in 1916.

True creative thinking challenges the conventional practice and established wisdom. It unleashes potential. And it’s this type of thinking that every agency and everyone who works in agencies today needs to be embracing. Yet, a lot of what passes today as innovation is actually quite conventional thinking, redressed in technology to appear new.

There’s a lot of criticism in the industry about the dangers of masking a bad idea with cool technology. The Australian agency, cummins&partners, released a parody case study to advertise the Creative Fuel Conference in Sydney. It was title “The World's First Crowd Sourced 3D Printed QR Code, Live Streamed Via Go Pro To A Smart Phone Or Tablet Device, Drone Delivery Ticket System Project.” You’re probably familiar with this and laughed as much as I did.

There was a palpable trend that you could see from the award-winning work this year, where the best ideas driven by technology were ideas where the tech was never the hero – the humanity in the idea was. For example, the interactive billboard from British Airway, in which a little boy points at the flights passing by and tells you where the flights take off; the computer-generated little girl “Sweetie” are made to catch online predators.

When you apply creativity in the early stage, keep questioning what’s possible, and never stray away from the brand, you can make sure that innovation is not just in execution stage, and the advertisement may not be the only solution. The work from FCB network that I’m going to show you are all based on asking, “What’s Possible?”

Packaging innovation of Sony waterproof Walkman from New Zealand 

Package itself is the message. The innovative packaging instantly dramatized the product benefit and allowed us to take the waterproof Walkman from specialty retailers, and put it somewhere swimmers could find - in every fitness center the world over. 

Nivea in Brazil- Can Nivea protect more than our skin? 

This piece of work was a Cannes Lion Mobile Grand Prix winner this year. We questioned, “Can Nivea protect more than our skin?” And brought protection to the next level.

The air-purifying billboard for UTEC in Peru 

The billboards are a true demonstration of the university living its purpose; physically demonstrating its engineering prowess to make the world a better place. We questioned, “Does construction have to be dirty?” and worked with engineers to make this billboard that can actually produce clean air. 

Coca-Cola celebrates the “Rainbow Nation” in South Africa

Do rainbows have to be fake? We created a real rainbow to celebrate the Rainbow Nation's 20-year anniversary.

Small charity Brothers In Arms in New Zealand 


Does innovation need technology? This work proves “not necessarily.”

CNA English Language School in Brazil 

Do teachers have to be professional? We linked two groups of people who shared the same needs - they all want to talk, and used the most basic technology to create a more effective way to learn English.

So, what is the relationship between creativity and innovation? Is a focus on technology going to make us create more innovative work? We find that that while true creativity – the creativity that asks the question "why does it have to be like this" – will lead to innovation and this very often uses an enabling technology, the same can’t be said in reverse. Indeed, some of our most innovative projects like the Nivea "Protection Ad" with the RFID wrist band didn’t use "new" technology, they used existing technology in an innovative way. And some ideas, like the "Brothers In Arms" don't use technology at all, but are no doubt innovative. 

While technology is developing rapidly, sometimes we are persuaded by new technologies, but at the same time, they limit our creativity. I strongly believe that creativity should come before technology, and all of us should not forget the most powerful technology we’ll ever have  - our creative brains.