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June 30, 2023

What is a “Creative,” and Why Do They Always Ask for Later Deadlines?

Mason Ahrens

What is a "Creative" article

Many account people have been there. The assignment comes in. The ask: seven banner ads with a CTA that links to the client’s website. Seven sentences with the same design. Couldn’t be too hard. Right… Right?

And in comes the creative team. “Quirky” is usually the nicest way of describing this motley crew of art directors, designers, copywriters, and video editors that haunt the halls of agencies. They crack a lot of jokes. They stay quiet in meetings unless forced to run through work. Unless of course, it’s their own internal meeting, where they talk plenty. Of course, their conversations mostly consist of jokes. 

But those seven headlines aren’t done in two hours. Or three. Around five hours later, some questions from the copywriter come in, some information they just have to have or else there’s no way the work will get done. And then, at about 7 pm, seven lines are posted. What happened in these seven hours? That’s like a line per hour. What is behind the creative curtain or this often numbers-based business? 

Fear. Dread. Loathing. Joke cracking. Oh and creation. 

Follow me on a creative journey that leads to an eight-word sentence with a two-tone background that clients will (hopefully) love. It begins with an assigned brief. The brief is then read. For this adventure, we’ll assume the creative team has worked on the brand and is familiar with what their goal/vibe is—If this were not that case, there’d have to be an eight-page intro titled “why good creative is pretty much just research.” Then the feet are kicked up on a desk as you and your partner talk about how bad the new Marvel movie is. “Why aren’t you working?” the type A’s are murmuring to themselves. “How will you get anything done in a timely and professional manner?” The neat thing is, you are. 

Perhaps there are people out there who find their muse speaking to them 24/7 with every keystroke inspired by a creative epiphany. The rest of us mortals have to drag our muses out from the alley they passed out in the night before, give them a few slaps to the face and splash ‘em cold water. And this comes in the form of talking. Gets the juices flowing, so to speak. And then you start to (in my case) write. 

And it stinks. Just awful. I won’t begin to admit how many times it took me to write the first paragraph of this article. And the classic feelings of fear creep in. “You can’t do this,” says the muse, “pack up, go home, and get a job doing something safe.” To be fair, your muse is probably a little grumpy from last night’s foray in the alley, but it’s also your best critic. It knows that better work only comes from doing more work. So you keep writing, and low and behold, something cool starts to happen. The seeds of a good idea start to sprout. 

What your muse is trying to get you to do is make something that emotionally connects the consumer with the product. To find the empathy necessary to understand the consumer, the truth within a product, and manufacture the feeling that gets them to choose “A” over “B.” There’s a dance to that. Great creative will always come from numbers and strategy, but the ability to make those into something entertaining/moving/funny/whatever lends itself more to the world of art than of science. It’s messy, strange, and it takes longer than you think it should.

And to find that perfect idea, the best way to sell the idea to the customer simply takes time. This is not a “solve for X” discipline. You could spend days on one concept for it to be rejected with the words “I just don’t like it.” Then you’re back to square one. 

But sometimes, it all works out. In the one hundred headlines written for a single ad, a few end up being pretty good. Accounts are pleased, the creatives are proud, the client is happy, sales go through the roof, and everyone ends the day happy. 

So, through this odd and strange tale, I hope that you have found it in your heart to understand why the weirdos of the office ask for just one more day to work. It might lead to the break that cracks the whole marketing problem wide open.