Does creative still matter?

To answer that, let’s first define what we mean by “creative.”

As someone who runs a small creative agency, I’m constantly immersed in business development, or what some prefer to call “sales”. Recently, an eye-opening survey by RSW/US highlighted that dissatisfaction with creative work ranks among the top reasons clients seek new agencies—a trend that’s persisted for years.

I find this fact both perplexing and encouraging. 

It’s perplexing because, for years, advertising and marketing have been seen more as data-driven industries than creative ones. Successful marketers know they are in the data business. Yet, it’s encouraging because it shows that creativity still matters—a hopeful sign for a creative agency like mine.

It’s a broad term, and has only been used as a noun for a relatively short time. “I don’t like the creative” is not really helpful feedback from a client. It implies that creative is something you can sprinkle on top of any communication like fairy dust. Creative isn’t merely an add-on; it’s long been the lifeblood of effective communication. But to have a meaningful discussion about creative, we need to dissect it into its components.

Communicating via words and pictures.

Communication is basically made up of two things: Words and visuals. When we’re evaluating advertising and we have a negative response, we need to ask if it’s the words or the pictures that are putting us off. 

Evaluating the words comes down to two questions.

  1. Is it the right message? Unclear messages often stem from not defining them clearly or having too many. Identify the primary message; everything can’t be equally important.
  2. Is it the right voice? Does your brand have a defined voice and tone, or does it happen by accident? Picture your brand as a person: Are they a comedian or a doctor delivering test results? Vastly different voices. And whoever you are, your brand voice needs to be consistent.

Evaluating the visual approach has more moving parts.

Relying on your Brand Guidelines can resolve most questions about visuals. But without that comprehensive tool in place, every creative review is a beauty contest without rules. 

Your visual messaging must align with guidelines around logos, typography, imagery and colors, because all are important parts of the creative product. Without guidelines in place, any one of those aspects can derail the evaluation process.

A strategic look at creative.

The words and pictures assessment is a solid way to guide a conversation when evaluating creative executions. But sometimes the issues are more strategic than creative. 

Creative isn’t just subjective artistic expression; it’s a purposeful blend of carefully crafted elements. It’s strategic insight, on-brand messaging, visual identity, and unique ideas––all oriented towards achieving a defined objective. 

Creativity enables campaigns to move beyond just reaching audiences to truly resonating with them. But if the strategy driving the process is flawed, even a brilliant creative execution will fall flat. That’s why research always guides our branding process.

Creative is much more than a noun. 

It’s not the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself––the embodiment of your brand’s core message and identity. In a world increasingly driven by data, the power of advertising creativity still matters. It’s the fuel that sparks connections, enables innovation, and drives results. And if your brand messaging isn’t working, maybe it’s time to work with an agency that gets it right. Just a thought.