Inventiveness Is the New Creativity

If one word summarized the first 150 years of advertising, it was creativity.

Ever since 19th century ad salesman J. Walter Thompson learned he could make more money with a "creative department," to make the ads he sold, creativity has been king of our craft.

Creative became the name for our work product ("Are we showing creative tomorrow?"); our most coveted adjective ("We're a creative shop!"); and the noun of our most cherished talent ("She's a great creative"). Creative leaders came to personify our industry (Ogilvy and Bernbach, Clow and Bogusky). Simply put, creativity was our magic -- that game-changing something that clients craved.

I was born into that creative-centric advertising world. I remember as a boy, watching in awe as creatives came to our home on weekends, to pitch their latest work to their client, my father. I knew even then, that was the business for me.

It still is. But as technology transforms our industry, those of us responsible for leading change must accept a relentless fact:

Creativity is no longer king.

The new king is inventiveness.

And that is great news for all of us. Including creatives. Because inventiveness is awesome.

It captures the essence of what marketers crave from agencies today.

It solves, in a single word, the vexing problem of merging technology and creativity.

And it is a platform for a more genuinely united agency culture.

The evolution from a creative-centric agency, to one rooted in inventiveness, already happened. I'm just proclaiming it. Just look at the work winning our industry's acclaim -- and the budgets of the best clients. Scan the winners at Cannes. The Effies. Or even your local ADDYs.

Inventiveness is the common thread.

Creativity was king back when advertising was simply described as the intersection of art and commerce. Today, advertising must live at a much more dynamic intersection -- one formed by roadways built on data, analytics, technology, business strategy, and, yes, creativity. And by the way, the cars traveling through that methaphorical intersection? We don't drive them anymore. Consumers do. They only stop when we earn it.

The road sign perched atop that new intersection is inventiveness. Inventiveness harnesses data and technology and business strategy and creativity to invent brand interactions that consumers will stop to engage with.

Here are three key reasons to embrace inventiveness as our new singular essence:

1. Inventiveness is inseparable from technology.

At its core, creativity is an art. Inventiveness, on the other hand, is rooted in science. That matters now more than ever. Our industry has labored in recent years to somehow marry technology and creativity. Under the banner of inventiveness, there is no need for a forced marriage. Technology and inventiveness already are joined at the hip. Just take a look at what we're doing in a&g Labs.

2. Inventiveness is other-focused.

Creativity fundamentally is about self-expression. So over the years we have built rigorous processes (creative briefs) and jobs (account leaders) to harness creativity to meet a client's needs. But inventiveness already is about creating things for others. Its end is not in how it makes its inventor feel. Rather, the highest ends of inventiveness rest in utilization by others. Inventiveness is a wholly different buzz -- one that is more naturally focused on the consumers and clients we serve.

3. Inventiveness is more accessible.

For too long in too many agencies, creative has been an exclusive world -- a segregated sector, with invisible but daunting walls. I have found inventiveness to be more inviting. Maybe because inventiveness flourishes on both sides of the brain. Our work in recent years to focus A&G on the unifying attribute of inventiveness, rather than the sometimes polarizing attribute of creativity, helped us to create a healthier culture, one that has been recognized by AdAge as the best place to work in marketing two straight years.

Make no mistake: Creativity still is central to our success. We need and cherish women and men who proudly identify themselves as creatives. But now they work, along with the rest of us, under an umbrella of inventiveness. Side by side with other inventors.

I believe there are three kinds of agencies today.

There are those that refuse to accept the new centrality of inventiveness. They already are dead.

There are those who grudgingly are resigned to it. They are dying.

And there are those running toward it gleefully. And they are the agencies that will prosper.


Andrew Graff is CEO of Allen & Gerritsen and a member of the national Board of the 4A's.