Uncertainty Does Not Mean “Un-Creative”

Brands playing it safe in economic downturns are getting it wrong – and should tap creativity instead. 

We’re not technically in a recession, but Americans agree, the vibes are off. According to the US department of Commerce, despite economic resilience, cautious consumers are slowing the pace of growth – causing some brands to pause on flexing creativity.

While it is tempting to reach for safety and stability to show you “get the vibe” – that’s not what earns results.

“To spend or not to spend”… is not the question.

Predictably, marketers are focusing on spending. But, if that’s all a brand is thinking about, they’re having the wrong conversation.

Winning leaders know the solution isn’t to slash the budget or stay in your comfort zone. It’s to deeply understand your audience, and creatively invest in channels and expressions that both reach and move them. According to Nielsen, an auto manufacturer increased its reach by 26% and its impressions by more than 39% by simply adjusting its media allocation – not the overall budget. By flexing creativity in every discipline, they got the results they hoped for. But again, it’s not just about the money. 

With everyone focusing on budgets to meet margins, it’s easy to lose sight of what wins. From brand planning through expression, it’s creativity that drives ROI. 

Unlocking Creativity

But creativity in today’s climate is far from simple. Brands are trying to “read the room” and reflect consumer attitudes, values, and behavior in the way they show up. But too many are over-correcting – playing it safe. Suddenly, it becomes all too…expected. Or worse, boring.

History proves the brands with staying power never lose sight of their creativity. They ignore their gut reaction to be conservative and demonstrate innovation, connection, authenticity, and creativity…because that is what opens minds (ahem, wallets). In fact 67% see creativity as extremely valuable as a competitive advantage in business. 

Take the Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here” example. Born out of a recession, the campaign proved that leveraging an insight so resonate people didn’t even know they needed to hear it out loud can unlock creativity at its finest. The audible laugh at the relief of the truth so plainly spoken was so contextually accurate to the moment that it sparked tourism when no one thought it was possible. 

According to Starling Bank’s brand and marketing director Rachel Kerrone, “Sometimes brands hold back a bit on creativity when they feel like they’ve got to be very serious, with all these serious things going on in the world. One of the challenges is to be quite bold with messaging, we shouldn’t have to feel like we’ve got to toe the line and take a step back. Creativity and messaging are going to become more important.”

More recently, McCann New York’s Microsoft work, that won for creativity at Cannes for their campaign to digitize a West African language to preserve the culture of its speakers, showed how breakthrough tech can creatively preserve a critical cultural piece of history.

And perhaps my favorite part about creativity – its ability to unlock brand resilience and make things move – people (hearts and minds) bottom lines (ROI), and even culture. Because the most sure-fire way to get what you’ve always gotten is to do what you’ve always done.

So, in times of uncertainty, when anything can be, I urge you to find solace in the chance to be bold – to bet on your creativity. Because the data is on your side – your audience will only move as creativity as you engage them – and that’s how we win.

By Kate O’Neil, SVP Growth and Impact

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