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Creativity is not a luxury.

By Lenora Rand and Mylene Pollock



Trade-offs are simply a fact of life. Whether you’re running a small nonprofit, a large multinational corporation, or something in between, you have to think about results and ROI, and if you’re getting the most value out of every dollar you spend. You have to make choices about what’s necessary and what’s “nice to have.”


We get that. Running the branding and marketing consultancy, SmallGood, we know firsthand that you’ve got to be intelligent and cost-conscious when you’re heading up a company. You need to decide, pretty much on a daily basis, whether you can afford to do this or can’t afford not to do it.


However, too often we’ve seen “creativity” get put in the “not affordable” category. It’s seen as a luxury item – like the Jimmy Choo shoes of doing business. 


Maybe you have too. Maybe we aren’t the only ones who’ve heard things like this:


 “We don’t have the time or money for some crazy, creative stuff.” 


Or “People just need the facts, they don’t need ‘clever.’ And they definitely don’t need ‘award-winning design’.” 


“Who cares if things are poetic? Or emotional? As long as we’re being strategic, we’ll be fine.” 


The fact is, creativity is not the luxury item many people imagine it to be. It's actually a powerful tool that can transform businesses, shape cultures, and drive social change. 



When we started SmallGood seven years ago, we committed to being a creatively-led branding and marketing consultancy. That means we’re always working toward the freshest strategy, the most original idea, the most beautifully designed brand identity or video or even PowerPoint presentation, and the most inspired and emotionally engaging pieces of written communication. Breaking through the kazillions of messages people are getting from everywhere every day demands more creativity than ever. 


That doesn’t mean we ignore strategy—we love strategy! However, a strategy that has creativity at its core will be a more robust strategy. When you bring creativity to processes, production, budgets, and timelines—better work gets done—faster. We believe the most heartwarming and world-changing pieces of advertising, as well as the most bankable ones, are born out of imagination married to purpose. 


That’s why we regularly ask, “What if?” and encourage our team and clients to use those two powerful words as well. We believe creativity belongs to all of us. And it shows itself in lots of different ways from lots of different people, no matter their title or role. 



Maybe you’re a skeptic. Maybe you just aren’t buying that creativity is a necessity. Maybe you’re more of a “enough with the woo-woo, just give me the facts” kind of person.


Ok, so here are 4 reasons (with some facts tossed in) we believe creativity is crucial today and that it’s your best ally, whether you’re trying to sell body wash or climate justice, 


Creativity Gets Our Attention – When Attention is Hard to Get


8 seconds. That’s what data scientists and media analysts believe is now the average human attention span. You’ve probably heard this stat already (or if you haven’t perhaps it’s because you were too distracted by information overload.)  But it’s sobering, right? In fact, as Time Magazine tells us – we now have attention spans shorter than the “notoriously ill-focused goldfish,” whose attention span clocks in at 9 seconds.

 

Research consistently shows that creative advertising is more effective in capturing attention, generating emotional responses, and ultimately driving consumer behavior.  


A study by Nielsen found that creative quality is the most important factor for the success of an ad campaign, accounting for 47% of the sales lift from advertising. This means that no matter how much money you pour into media spend, a poorly conceived ad won't deliver the results you need. 


Creativity cuts through the clutter and makes messages memorable because creativity in marketing is about thinking differently, challenging the status quo, and finding new ways to solve problems. It can help grab our attention for a little longer and break through the blah, blah, blah, sometimes even grab hold of us and not let go.  



There are so many examples of this - from iconic graphics like the Nike Swoosh, or can’t-forget slogans like “Where’s the beef?” or engaging actions like Earth Hour."


Creativity grabs our attention and holds it because at its core it’s about compelling narratives that resonate deeply with audiences. 


Disney is one company that has gone all in on narrative. Their narrative is, of course,  all about the idea that magic is real and dreams really do come true. And this narrative is not only clear and the backbone of everything they do, it’s one that taps into a human need that’s deep and abiding. When Lenora worked on Disney during her Leo Burnett days, she was fascinated, sitting in back rooms watching focus groups - of all ages - that people could not only clearly articulate WHAT Disney was all about. But they could talk passionately about WHY it was so important to them, personally - to their kids and families and grandparents. (And how we, as advertisers,  better not mess anything up!) 


So yes, the creative narrative that has been at the center of what Disney delivers has absolutely gotten our attention - and held it. 



Creativity Gives Us Pleasure – And Who Doesn’t Like Pleasure?


Let’s talk neuroscience for a second. Creativity is deeply rooted in our cognitive processes. Neuroscience tells us that creative thinking involves multiple areas of the brain working together, particularly the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with complex thought processes, problem-solving, and innovation. When we encounter something creative, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward.


This not only makes the experience enjoyable but also helps solidify memories, which makes creative messages more likely to stick. This is why once you laughed at the “Where’s the beef?” commercial, you couldn’t forget it, and that phrase instantly became a part of our cultural language.


In a business context, this neurological engagement translates to better brand recall and stronger emotional connections with consumers. 


A creatively led advertising agency works to leverage this understanding to craft campaigns that don't just reach audiences but engage them on a deeper, more meaningful, “grab you by the feelings and don’t let go” kind of level. Here at SmallGood, we like to think of it as going for the swoon factor. (We named it that in response to when we first encountered the Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign and were literally swooning.)



Creativity Drives Revenue Growth -  More Ohhs and Ahhs Equal More Moolah


Creative advertising that is about more than just your product’s attributes or your nonprofit's services can entertain, educate, inspire…move us in some way or another…and that translates into additional value to everyone who encounters it.


 One study, in fact, showed that creative ads offering added value beyond rational benefits led to significantly more favorable ad credibility, ad attitude, brand attitude, and response intention than regular (aka less creative) ads.  This additional value takes the overall brand experience up a few levels, fostering deeper consumer relationships.

Not to mention, according to Adobe’s "State of Create" study, research sponsored by Adobe and Forrester Consulting,  companies that invest in creativity are 3.5 times more likely to achieve revenue growth of 10% or more compared to their peers. Let me repeat that for the folks in the back: 


Companies that invest in creativity are 3.5x more likely to achieve revenue growth of 10% or more compared to their peers.


By the way, embracing creativity not only leads to more effective advertising but also helps brands stay adaptable and flexible in a rapidly changing market environment, leading to higher market share. Plus, icing on the cake, these companies also report greater talent acquisition and retention – seems people really like to work in a place that encourages and fosters creative thought…imagine that!




Creativity can be a Catalyst for Change


Creativity has the power to drive societal change. Advertising has a unique platform to influence public opinion, challenge stereotypes, and promote social good. Creatively led advertising campaigns can start conversations, shift perceptions, and inspire action on a large scale.


For example, Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign challenged conventional beauty standards and sparked a global conversation about the unhealthy expectations for women’s bodies while encouraging self-esteem. This campaign not only resonated with audiences but also positioned Dove as a brand that stands for something meaningful, enhancing its reputation and customer loyalty.


Mylene was working on Dove in the 90s, before the “Real Beauty” campaign was developed. It was a crucial time in the brand’s history, when creativity was desperately needed if it was going to survive. Dove had a business problem: their patent was about to expire, and Olay had a competitive product ready to launch. On top of that, Dove’s core consumers were aging…a lot…and the brand was becoming less and less relevant to younger women. 


The creative team that Mylene was leading came up with a creative strategy that they believed could resonate with women of all ages: “For the beauty that’s already there.” 


It was a compelling narrative that went below the surface and tapped into not only the deep emotional needs of women to define and own their own beauty, it also flew directly into the cultural conversation of the time. Remember the 90s, when the standard for beauty was dubbed “heroin chic” and the only way to be thin enough was to well…use heroin? 


This creative strategy was one that the brand began to lean into, and in 2004, the "Real Beauty” platform was launched. Of course, this platform has been wildly successful for Dove financially, and has also helped move the cultural conversation dramatically. Over the last 20 years, Dove’s advertising has been one of the influences in the shift toward “body positivity” and “body neutrality.”


So, yes, we are big believers in the power of creativity and the necessity of creativity in marketing. In fact, as Dave Trott, a famous UK creative director, copywriter, and author, once suggested, creativity could be “the last legal unfair competitive advantage” any of us have.


Of course, most of the brands we work with these days in SmallGood don’t have anywhere near the marketing budgets of a Disney or a Dove, but that has made creativity even more crucial in order for their messages to break through. And we’ve seen how creativity has helped change children’s futures, bring real justice to young people arrested in Chicago, and greater equity into the banking system. 


This pretty much goes without saying, but we’d love to see what it could do for your nonprofit or for-profit organization dedicated to making a positive impact in the world. The chance to do creative work that helps organizations make the world a better place is why we get up in the morning. And if you’d ever like to hear more about that, we’d love to hear from you. 





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