Marketers Need To Better Understand Creativity

Bob Deutsch, of Brain Sells, applies cognitive anthropology to the service of marketing in his first column here at The Inspiration Room. Bob has worked in the primeval forest, as well as on Pennsylvania and Madison avenues. His focus, since the mid-’70s, when he was living with pre-literate tribes and chimpanzees, has been to understand how leading ideas take hold in a culture. Since opening Brain Sells in 1990, he has been applying this understanding to how people attach to products, persons and performances. He is presently writing a book, with Jeffrey Rayport, called “NOT: What You Have To Remember (And Have To Forget) When Marketing To Anyone”.

Bob Deutsch on Creative Advertising


It can be said that creative advertising is brain surgery. When advertising is artfully done it cures people of the status quo.

To be creative artfully requires a dynamic mix of imagination andunderstanding of how the world might work. This is not a matter of being correct, but rather a matter of making the audience wonder, provoking a self-referring reverie that elicits an expanded idea of ones-self and how the world works. As a result, we see anew.

This, of course, flies in the face of traditional methods of measuring advertising effectiveness. It also runs counter to today’s corporate metric-mania and near incapacity to conceive bold strategies and innovations.

Insight is the coin of business success. While numbers can provide a means for measurement they cannot “embody,” or suggest, meaningful insights into the human experience. At worst, numbers provide an excuse to abdicate decision-making responsibility while placating executives desirous of propagating ‘business-as-usual.

What’s Needed for Creativity?

Creativity requires two things: focused subjectivity and doubt. One needs the ability to focus on something long enough to conjure possibilities not overtly manifest in the moment, along with an acknowledgement that not everything is known.

The unknown is fertile soil from which a world of wonders can be conjured. Here mere facts and data are circumvented in a non-linear, symbolic, not wholly rational way. The mind plays a cognitive trick on itself by creating metaphor. “I call what I don’t know by name something that I do know.”

This mental leap-frogging allows the creative impulse to extrapolate unknown scenarios. It moves from the past, which instigates an inkling that lays the basis for the beginning of a new narrative, to a springboard that weaves a web of new patterns and associations, to an insinuation of the future kicked up by metaphor.

This process produces, from the outside-objective point of view, what can be perceived as seemingly off-topic meanderings. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

An Open Playfulness without NO

What is in operation is a kind of playfulness with ideas that is essential for creativity. This toying around contains a bunch of NOs –NO analyzing (yet), NO doubts. NO pressure to conform. NO pretense. NO restrictions. NO judgment.

Those who are playfully creative possess a curiosity given backbone by their expectation that they will find what they seek even though they don’t know what exactly that is.

People from many walks of life actually live this way: writer, designer, scientist, parent, small business owner. All share a belief in a beautiful human quality – Directed Serendipity.

Just listen to them, ”I have a plan which allows me to begin to move forward, and in doing so I learn about myself such that when other doors open I sometimes walk in. But you have to have a plan to switch from the plan.”

Another version, “You go down a path and things evolve. By adapting to randomness you shape, but do not control, your end point. You define your end point by your own reaction to it: Ah, ha! I like this. This is for me. This is me.”

Buffeted by a Directed Serendipity

People who allow themselves to be buffeted by directed serendipity live at the creative point of becoming –who they are and what they do are the same. They don’t know – and don’t need to know – the end. They are open to the process as process, and are gregarious with their fledgling notions. They share ideas before they are fully formed. They want camaraderie. They want feedback. They’re excited.

In a state of directed serendipity you first focus on problem structuring rather than problem solving, seeking to understand rather than to explain. You try to comprehend meaning from the inside out, in its unfolding. You are not approaching the world from an intellectual stance.

Einstein, in a 1945 speech at Princeton, gave elegant voice to this perspective:

“Words or data, as they are logically written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my primary mechanism of thought. The psychical entities that do seem to serve as elements of thought are certain signs and images. These elements themselves are visual and muscular in type, originating in the intuition of the body.” (emphasis added)

The creative communicator is an alchemist of thought, attending to the reasoning of emotion. That’s what they should get paid for. That’s what they need to have time to do. In their natural habitat, they are artful image-gatherers, whose only enemies are cynicism, number crunchers and arbitrary tinkering.

Corporate executives should embrace their creatives and let them attack the status quo. Then CEO, CMO and their courtiers can sit back and count the profits.

About Bob Deutsch

Dr. Bob Deutsch is a cognitive anthropologist and founder of the consulting firm, Brain Sells, a strategic branding and communications consultancy based in Boston Massachusetts. Email: dr.bob@brain-sells.com or phone at 917-215-4800.

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  • http://creativepotager.wordpress.com Terrill Welch

    Dr. Deutsch, your statement: “The creative communicator is an alchemist of thought, attending to the reasoning of emotion.” seems right – validating to my creative process.

    Your well-written article providing fresh new understanding to my articulation of creativity.

    Thank you, Terrill Welch

  • Deux Doppel

    This article is worth reading over and over again. There’s something new to be digested each time. Creatives do need encouragement, especially in times of financial crisis when new ideas are discarded in favour of safety.

    • G.Fulbrook

      I agree with you on that one!!!