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The idea is not in the execution

Johannesburg, July 29, 2015.

By Christian Horsfall, Creative Director at NATIVE VML

During my final year as an advertising student I attended the now defunct Eagle Awards breakfast. The international judges that year (2000) were David Droga and Steve Dunn. At the time Dunn was the Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy in London and Droga was the global Creative Director for Saatchi & Saatchi. They both showed some amazing creative work that their agencies were producing at the time, but it was something that Dunn said that has stuck in my mind ever since.Christian-Horsfall-Ph-Creative

He said the big idea is what really counts and the art direction is just the icing on the cake. He probably said it with a bit more panache but you get the idea.  I agreed with him then and I still agree with him now.

But not everyone agrees. If you Google ‘Idea vs Execution’ you’ll find multiple articles that argue both sides of the debate. There is the argument that a brilliant execution can transform an average idea into a great idea. While a brilliant execution can transform an average idea; it’s the word “great” that I have an issue with. And for the execution to have any transformative powers there must be an idea present in the first place. The execution cannot be the substitute idea.

In the digital world the execution usually involves a shiny new piece of tech or an interesting use of digital media. A great use of tech can produce a wow factor: it can trigger an emotional response. But that emotional response is to the shiny piece of tech. Once that feeling subsides, what is left? What is it that you are trying to communicate? If you are trying to communicate how innovative your brand is then a case could be made. A tenuous link between the aspirations of the brand and its use of the latest technology is established.

A creative idea can be successful without the shiny tech, but the shiny tech can’t succeed without the creative idea. We want people to have emotional connections to our clients’ brands and a great idea can deliver that. The shiny tech can enhance that connection but the idea has to come first.

Digital creatives too often dive straight into the execution. They find creative ways of using technology to express the strategy. I have also been guilty of this and it’s easy to be seduced by the latest gadget. For example: an immersive brand experience on Oculus Rift is not an idea, it is merely a vehicle to deliver the idea. Remove Oculus Rift from the equation and the communication falls flat. You have to ask yourself: “Why are we using the tech?” and “How does it enhance what we are trying to say?” If you’re using the tech just for the cool factor then you’re getting it wrong.

Let’s get back to the basics of defining the creative idea before we start thinking of the interesting ways technology can help us deliver our message. Let’s close the Macbooks, break out those layout pads, order some fineliners and start thinking again.

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