Contrarian thinking: Creators are disrupting the future of Creative

Cheil Connec+ CEO Ian Millner believes that agencies must evolve and embrace the creative economy…or become marginalised. Is the future of Creative in the hands of Creators?
Ian Millner
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The advertising industry is on the brink of a new era. And it's being driven by a new force: creators.

These individuals, who have built a following on social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, are becoming increasingly important to the future of creative in advertising, with the rise of social media and power of influencer marketing paving the way for them to make their mark on the industry.

Over the past few weeks, we've seen the tides changing. The marketing consultancy, AAR Group, has responded to a surge in social briefs with an expanded offering. As Rebecca Nunneley, one of AAR’s creative pitch consultants with a now extended role, puts it: “Social media is no longer an afterthought for a lot of brands. It’s beginning to move front and centre.”

Nunneley believes that now more than ever, CMOs are really questioning who in their agency roster should own social and how to build a tone of voice and mobile-first presence so that their brand can show up consistently across channels such as TikTok and Instagram Reels.

Moreover, traditional ad agencies are hiring TikTok stars and Tik Tok Creative Directors, and we're starting to see more acquisitions of influencer marketing agencies - a clear indication that the industry is waking up to the power of creators and is eager to embrace this new way of thinking.

As the world becomes increasingly digital and mobile-first, the future of creative in advertising may very well be in the hands of creators.

The advertising agency of the future will need to embrace this shift and learn to harness the power of creators to reach new audiences and create impactful campaigns.

Will traditional Creative Directors become a thing of the past?

One of the key benefits of working with creators is their ability to connect with their audience in a way that traditional advertising does not. Creators understand their followers and know how to engage with them authentically, creating content that resonates and drives engagement.

This is a valuable asset for advertisers, who are always looking for ways to connect with their target audience in a more meaningful way.

Another advantage of working with creators is their ability to create content quickly and efficiently.

Traditional advertising campaigns can take months to develop, but creators are able to turn around content in a matter of days or even hours. This speed and agility are crucial in today's fast-paced digital world, where trends come and go quickly and advertisers need to be able to respond in real time.

At this year’s SXSW in Austin Texas, I was joined on stage by Jackie Crynes, Director of Strategy, Influencer Marketing at McKinney – which recently acquired August United to strengthen the agency’s reach into the mid-tier and the micro-influencer space.

She observed that creators are entrepreneurial and results-driven, and their work is quick, easily consumed, catchy, and disposable but vital to the next generation of consumers who see TV as just another screen. As Crynes points out, in the creator economy everything is created with an eye on performance. It’s pure data driven creativity.

This disruption is forcing agencies to evolve and adapt. It seems plausible that more and more creative agencies will hand over control to the talent that knows social audiences better than anyone - giving them the green light to produce, write, direct and create content that both connects and converts for their community and in turn the brand partner.

For talent entering the advertising industry from more traditional and academic avenues such as art colleges and university graduate schemes, they will need to invest their attention in social creativity and learn from those who maybe chose TikTok over textbooks and ‘the Gram’ over grammar.

Social-first creators carving out successful roles within creative agencies will disrupt the whole agency model - changing it beyond recognition by elevating the creator economy to new heights of professionalism.

Ways of producing and editing video, writing copy, performing in front of the camera and achieving reach will all shift as social trends evolve.

AI will of course play a huge part in this content evolution - sparking creativity and augmenting campaign ideas.

But ultimately the goal will be for creators and creatives to collaborate - working together seamlessly whether they are embedded into the agency team, under the same roof, or working remotely with other agile teams. As Jackie Crynes put it when we spoke at SXSW, “The agencies that approach influencers and creators as collaborations versus merely a media buy or production house will untap the potential of the creator economy. There are insights to be gleaned, products to be co-created, and stories to be told in ways that break through”. 

Of course, working with creators also has its challenges. Creators are not traditional employees, and they may require a different approach to management and collaboration. Advertisers and agencies need to be able to build strong relationships with creators and understand how to work with them in a way that allows both parties to benefit.

However, the benefits of working with creators far outweigh the challenges.

The rise of social media and the power of influencer marketing has created a new playing field in the advertising industry. The agencies that are able to embrace this shift and work with creators will be the ones that succeed in the years to come.

While strategy, creativity, media, and distribution will all align and be executed together at the same time, resulting in transformational change for a truly participatory age.

The participation era is here. It’s up to the advertising industry to embrace it and evolve accordingly.

Ian Millner is CEO of Cheil Connec+ - a global collective of agencies that includes Cheil, Barbarian, BMB, Iris and McKinney - which advocates a more agile and focused approach to collaboration, intentionally eradicating legacy silos, structures and baggage to make success happen.

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Ian Millner
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April 6, 2023