Google marketing director: there is no point making work that makes people feel comfortable

When it comes to generating creative ideas, destroying clich├ęs is a good place to start, writes Google's UK consumer marketing director

I went to a great talk given by Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize-winning potter and tapestry-maker.

Dressed in one of his lurid yellow frocks he had a tip for creative people who want to make ideas that get remembered: "the enemy is cliché". New ideas come along and are copied faster and faster. And the faster they get copied, the less impact they have.

When I think about it, all the best ideas I’ve loved have hated cliché. And whether you’re a client commissioning new work or you work in an agency yourself, one of the hardest things is to get out of the cliché comfort zone so you can build ideas that are fresh and feel new.

In my work career, I was pushed out of my comfort zone every single day when I had the good fortune to work at HHCL.

Steve Henry, the executive creative director, rallied against clichéd thinking on every brief and on every piece of work.

It led to a body of original creative ideas from the infamous Blackcurrant Tango ad (would it be ok to run in 2018?) to the Bob Dylan-inspired Maxell film, to First Direct’s hijack of an Audi ad break on ITV.

All HHCL’s work felt radical and fresh and rightfully earned it Campaign’s agency of the decade award.

I was on the team that created one of the country’s most enduring end-lines: "It does exactly what it says on the tin" (HHCL could even make quick-drying wood stain part of popular culture).

The idea was really inspired by the client, a smart man called Ged Shields. He kept telling us "we’re from the North so make the idea direct and no bullshit please".

But the focus groups didn't like the idea. Especially the men, as it threatened their sense of expertise. They crossed their arms and shook their heads; "you can’t run that, it’s not right" they said.

We all saw this as a good reaction, as the idea was challenging people. I learnt a good lesson that research groups are not there to give creative work the thumbs up. They’re designed to explore reactions. There’s no point making work that just makes people feel comfortable with what they already know.

When the web first got big, it took a while to realise its creative potential.

For me, it was BMW’s Short Films idea that illustrated its potential as a medium with no limits. BMW had the genius idea to get a load of huge movie directors to make a series of short films starring Clive Owen, each featuring a different model from the BMW range.

The film premiered on BMW’s website then later at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a smart blend of product, branded content, and media hype and gave a hint to the kind of long-form content we now take for granted on YouTube.

I’ve always loved ideas that feel part of culture, not advertising. Why can’t marketing create ideas that are generous and additive?

The last few years have seen lots of great work like this. Like REI’s "#optoutside" Cannes winner. And the Always "Like a girl" campaign. And Nike’s work, especially the new "Nothing beats a LDNR" campaign.

And of course, so much of the creative work we’ve done at Google like "Searching for Syria" with the UNHCR and The Chain magazine we created with The Guardian that was made on a Pixel and featured young women shaking up the fashion industry.

A major ingredient of being able to innovate is being able to collaborate. Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive, believes collaboration is just as important as being individually talented: "In terms of a management philosophy, I try to find people with the ability to transcend the work and work well with others."

By doing this, ideas can come from anywhere and everyone is building together. And when people work together with no agenda other than to kill clichés, it's easier to create great ideas that people haven’t seen before.

Graham Bednash is UK consumer marketing director at Google, and a member of Campaign’s Power 100

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