Creating Work with Purpose: 5 Key Learnings on the Future of Creativity

Lightbulb in sand with ocean behind it

From September 29 to October 8, advertising and marketing leaders took to the global stage—virtually—to offer their perspective and dialogue on the status of the industry in 2020.

It’s no surprise that the focus this year was on the well-being of the consumer, as most of us around the world started their spring shuttered from outside life to only recently step back into civilization—at a distance.

While there was simply too much content to sit behind my screen for hours on end over the course of 8 days, I was impressed with the curation, breadth and depth of Advertising Week via their virtual branded mini-channels (...RIP Quibi). Below are a few highlights compiled across 5 key topic areas.

1. The Mindful Consumer

2020 has accelerated a new storyline of minimalism and authenticity with purpose. Without cliché, more brands will continue to fight for share of voice as consumers have more purchase-decision power than ever before. They will likely be more loyal to brands that take a stand on societal issues and back goods and services that live out their core beliefs.

While consumers are more receptive to messages that strike a chord, brands should continue to mine creative opportunity from human truths and culture without pandering. Let’s continue to ask ourselves, “What is our net positive impact in the market?”

2. Pandemic Productivity

Technology and innovation have certainly played an integral role in allowing the workforce to plug-in from anywhere, at any moment. Productivity tools have become infinitely more important, but at what cost? With mental health awareness on the rise, the responsibility lies with agency and marketing leadership to monitor and enable our wellbeing.

At the heart of the conversation is balancing the ethical and transparent treatment of data with the need to protect and keep our consumers at the center of brand experiences, Matt McGowan of Snap Canada argues. Sure, speed and agility are critical in adapting to the marketplace and growing the bottom line. But we’re humans first, and how we come out the other side of this pandemic will be an appropriate step change and evaluation in how we treat each other regardless of industry, gender or title. Jeff Nienaber, Microsoft Sr. Director of Global Audience Ads summed it up fairly well: “Just because we can do it, should we do it?”

3. Equity and Equality

As brands dive back into content creation, there will be a stronger emphasis on responsible marketing. Marketers need to make a huge leap forward in representation—both in the content itself, and behind the camera—to eliminate gender bias. Moderated by Katie Couric, industry leaders Marc PritchardMarcel MarcondesDiego Scotti and David White discussed how men and women must work side by side to advance equality—and equity—in media.

One topic unearthed a raw truth for me: Internships. Not too long ago, recruiters encouraged outgoing students to apply for unpaid internships with the promise of kickstarting their career. Mr. White discussed that very few have the financial and family backing to simply “take free summers in Manhattan,” and the very premise created more roadblocks than opportunities. In college, I turned down an opportunity to study abroad for a semester of design school at Oxford for various reasons. One of my professors pressed hard on the subject (as several classmates accepted) causing an overwhelming feeling of being left behind in the market if I didn’t accept. Looking back at that situation I now recognize how dangerously assumptive it was to project that privilege upon anyone regardless of their background.

During the World Woman Hour segment, Beth Ann Kaminkow spoke with former CEO Shellye Archambeau who shared several encounters with unconscious bias, one in particular being labeled “ambitious”, where for women it’s rarely a compliment. These anecdotes will only continue to build empathy and help filter our decisions and actions when we unnecessarily label those around us.

4. Culture + Commerce

In 2017, ecommerce for food and beverage was 2% total sales. Three years later it has ballooned to over 10%, causing a massive evaluation of infrastructure and marketing spend, noted Geoff Tanner, CMO of J M Smucker Company. Brands that initially pulled back on marketing at the start of the pandemic have now returned to market with a renewed focus on culture to drive brand growth. With the attraction of newer consumers comes the constant need to stay culturally relevant, or you risk losing them entirely.

Commerce is quickly becoming the next frontier of marketing. Its intrinsic link to culture and creativity is now giving it the permission it needed to be viewed as both brand building and results driven. I loved this line from Joe Megibow, CEO of Purple: "As marketers look at the health of a brand, a single metric doesn’t define it at all. It’s easy to look at sales, but that forces you to look at it more transactionally, which isn’t best for the longevity of a brand.”

Brand leaders can continue to drive change by embracing empathy, engaging in dialogue with their coworkers and consumers, and latching on to dynamic shifts in culture to maintain relevancy. What’s good for people, is good for your bottom line.

5. Activist Marketing

Laying the groundwork for authentic DEI, Stacey Ryan-Cornelius, Global CFO/COO of Geometry discussed how we can all get better together. “I’m a constant learner. We need to make sure our people have the awareness to self-educate, and help them get the training they need.” Brands are increasingly trying to figure out their place on the spectrum of activism with more of an emphasis on long-term brand building. And agency teams are also tackling DEI more transparently; assessing workforce diversity and implementing spaces for employees to voice their concerns.

Travis Freeman, Global Head of Media for Uber, says his company is looking 3 years out vs. 14 days in. “We’re not currently focused on measuring trips, but measuring how people feel about our brand—that’s the only way we can take consumers on this journey together.” All it takes is one misstep, or one piece of bad content to lose brand trust overnight. He also mentioned the increasing pressure internally for brands to embrace all causes, which could lead to a scattershot message approach. “There are only so many causes a brand can take on. Think about your core principles and purpose—what is most important and what you actually want to talk about—and talk about them proudly.”

If the last 8+ months have taught us anything, it’s that as creatives and marketers we need to be more responsive, resilient, and prepared for the myriad challenges thrown our way. While we can put our best foot forward to create work with purpose to drive conversation and conversion — ultimately the consumer is in control, and one simple adage can go a long way: listen, then react.

- Chad Ingram is SVP, Group Creative Director at Geometry North America