Mentioning B2B to creatives is 'like shoving a crucifix in the face of Nosferatu'

Brad Reilly
Brad Reilly

There's a misapprehension that B2B creativity is a poor cousin to B2C creativity. The reality is that adland isn't facing a crisis of creativity, but a crisis of perception.

"I will save B2B creativity!" is a statement that boomed through my mind 18 months ago when I took on the executive creative director role at an agency with roots in B2B. Fortunately, it's a statement that remained in my head long enough to fade, preventing the words from spilling out of my mouth to make space for my foot.

B2B creativity doesn't need saving.

Let's talk about why I thought it did. And about what it does need.

Before this role, I had spent 20 years working in "proper" agencies. You know, creative ones. We came up with cool creative ideas, and sure, they occasionally targeted a business or some stakeholder not sitting on a sofa.

But they weren't B2B ideas. No way, Jose! They were cool creative ideas, and B2B is not cool and creative. It's boring and uncreative. And B2B doesn't win any of the cool awards — they've got their own cute awards.

Once I started looking at ideas through a B2B lens, I realised that some of the coolest and most creative work is happening in B2B. It's also some of the most awarded.

Take a deep breath.

Volvo Trucks' "Epic tests" won 20 Lions, including two Grands Prix. State Street's "Fearless girl" won 18 Lions, including four Grands Prix. Even further back, IBM's "People for smarter cities" won five Lions, including a Grand Prix. All heavily awarded. And all B2B.

You might think I'm cherry-picking the unicorns that have shrugged their yoke of B2B. I thought so too. So, I looked at last year's Grand Prix winners...

Doconomy's "The 2030 calculator" talks to small businesses. Carrefour's "Act for food" talks to the whole supply chain. AB InBev's "Tienda circa" talks to off-con trade. Another AB InBev piece of work – the "Contract for change" – talks to and changes the businesses of suppliers. You could even include Mastercard's "True name", given that its true customers are banks and merchants. All B2B. I could go into the golds, silvers and bronzes, but hopefully, the point is made at Grand Prix level.

B2B does not have a crisis of creativity. It has a crisis of perception. Mentioning B2B to most half-decent creatives is like shoving a crucifix in the face of Nosferatu. That's why it needs a Lion.

Just as Cannes helped reshape perceptions of health creativity, the shiny trophies will illuminate more than transform. They will reveal that a fair bit of the work we envy and admire is B2B. This shift in perception is needed not only outside B2B but also within.

Although there are big B2B ideas, they rarely come from so-called B2B agencies. I'm hoping that by branding some of the best work on the planet as B2B, these Lions will inspire a few of these agencies to be more creatively ambitious and aspire to become great creative agencies with the added superpower of understanding the complexity of B2B brands and challenges. An agency that not only gets it when it comes to complex stakeholder groups and oft tricky subject matter, but also gives it when it comes to big creative ideas? In the fastest-growing sector of the industry, that combination is gold.

It's certainly the gold that we're swinging for, and The Creative B2B Lions will become an important mirror for our agency at Cannes. But not the only one, because a great B2B idea should simply be a great idea, and great ideas don't care about categories.

Brad Reilly is executive creative director at McCann Enterprise

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