Five essential creative principles for marketing and communications

When deploying creativity in your advertising and communications consider these essential five principles.
Creative principles

Part of the problem with creativity is that it is hard to define, and of course, if we can’t see what we are aiming at it’s as good as missing the shot before we have even taken it. So here are the five essential creative principles you must include in all your advertising, marketing and communications.

1. Determine the objective

Darts in centre of a dartboard. Metaphor for main objective for setting creative principles.

The first creative principle is to determine the primary objective of the communication and align the creative around this. There are many reasons we may want to advertise from increasing sales right through to building brand awareness. The way a creative achieves these different objectives is dramatically different and therefore we must be clear on the problem we are trying to solve first before determining the creative route to take.

2. Brand and distinct brand assets must be front and centre

Lightbulb with the word "brand" above it

The second creative principle, is that the brand must shine through the creative. There is no point in delivering an advert where everyone remembers the storyline and no one remembers the brand.

3. Need to be unique and novel

Group of penguins with one in the middle that has a different coat to the rest

The third element is the need to be novel, which means that your brand must say something different from anyone else, so when all others zig, your brand should zag. Take a different position.

This is a powerful technique where you show all other brands in the category as all being the same in one area or all are swimming in the sea of sameness and then your brand takes the opposite position giving it a clear differentiation from the pack.

4. Be non-obvious

Woman with big pink glasses on. Refers to the fourth creative principle.

The fourth element is to be non-obvious. This is when the viewers goes ‘oh I didn’t expect that to happen’. Why? Because its this confusion that breaks the monotony in the consumers mind and its this jarring moment that helps to build the memory structure that you need.

This is akin to the ‘Von Restorff Effect’ which suggests that when multiple similar things are presented, the one that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered.

5. Clearly communicate the brand’s benefits

Jenga block with the label "benefits", referring to the fifth creative principle.

And finally, you need to communicate the needs and benefits to the consumer and how our brands are useful to them and even at a stretch, play a valuable role in their lives. Showing consumers that the brand fits into their lives and even enhances it in some way is an extremely important creative principle.

Now, let’s take an example.

Coinbase’s QR Code

Coinbase's QR code at the Superbowl.

Do you remember Coinbase’s QR code advert during the Superbowl, where they simply had their QR code bouncing around the screen for a minute. It performed spectacularly well with sources suggesting that Coinbase added $1 billion in market capitalization with a mere $14 million spent on the campaign.

Lets benchmark it against our five creative principles above. Firstly, its objective was to drive sign-ups to the platform and they used the bulk of their advertising dollars to offer a $15 worth of free bitcoin. More than 20 million users scanned the QR code and they achieved around half a million sign-ups pretty instantaneously.

Secondly, it was abundantly clear and had a direct link to the brand and therefore unmistakable that it was Coinbase who was behind it.

Thirdly, their ad was extremely novel and in fact, whilst other brands attempted to lure their audiences with audaciously creative advertising, Coinbase stood out for its simplicity. Think the ‘Von Restorff Effect’. It’s a big lesson, in that creative must be seen in the context in which it is placed. In this instance, it went against the grain of the context and made everyone else look like a sea of sameness.

Fourthly, nobody expected this from Coinbase, especially in that moment. This is what made it stand out. It also triggered an action and a motivation using the offer.

Finally, to add value to the audience right after the ad they released this message on social media, “Now that we have your attention we’d like to announce that we’re giving away $15 in BTC to anyone who joins Coinbase by 2/15’”. This also created an element of scarcity as people needed to act fast in order to scan the code in before it went off their screens.

So you can see that by following a few simple creative principles you can actually create transformational communications that is in fact unique and creative its own way.

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