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Is Digital Making Us More Creative? by Dominic Marchant



Is Digital Making Us More Creative?

Have you ever felt like you’re about to be found out? That you’re not that special after all and, any moment soon, you will be declared a fraud? Apparently, this condition is not that rare (again, you’re not that special). It even has a name: imposter syndrome. I would wager this is very common in the advertising industry where many of the most talented people I’ve met suffer from self-doubt on quite a regular basis. As Bertrand Russell puts it: ”The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Well, I’m suffering from imposter syndrome. I’ve been selected to be a judge at this year’s Cannes Lions Health Awards and I’m asking exactly why I should be invited. I’ve worked in a few agencies and been the creative lead on many campaigns BUT I’ve always been a digital specialist. My view is not necessarily narrow but rather, as I would prefer to see it, focussed.

So, in pursuit of finding a rationale that justifies my selection, I’ve started to think about the role digital plays in today’s healthcare communication and, specifically, if creativity is better because of digital.

Schools, tools and rules

There are essentially two schools of thought: one believes that the big idea is king, that digital just provides new tools; the second feels that digital has fundamentally changed how we communicate and there are new rules to creating communications in the digital age.

I sit somewhere between the two. I believe that the word digital should be regarded as an adjective not a noun. The concept – the big idea – is the most important milestone of the creative process BUT often the big idea changes when you start to think about it in a digital context. The phrase “media agnostic” – or, worse still, “media neutral” – is simply bullshit. Great campaigns are those where the choice of media is inextricably linked to the creative idea. And, in a digital age, you’ve got a lot more media/channels to choose from than previously. You have more opportunities to let your creative live and breath in more dynamic, interactive and, goddammit, fun ways than previously imaginable. For example, the ”I did this with Idis” website ( is a great demonstration of storytelling in a digital age; the Prolia X-Ray

Skeleton (scroll through to Best Digital Tactic at is a terrific example of a big idea expressed as a digital experience; and the BI COPD tweet chat

( is a fine paradigm of how to engage in conversations with HCPs on a social platform. The creativity in all three examples is different but is fundamentally about “digital first” thinking.

(OK, so I’m not quite sat plumb in the middle of these two schools of thought.)

This variety, however, presents a challenge: whilst digital affords us many more touch points with customers than previously and our consumption of content in these channels is prolific, the level of noise is so high that it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut through and for our messages to be heard. A favourite presentation of mine from Brad Frost, titled “Death to Bullshit”, explains the situation with vital statistics: 4.5m photos uploaded to Flickr every day; 45m photos uploaded to Instagram every day; 300m photos uploaded to Facebook every day; 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute; 60bn hours of YouTube video watched every month; 822,240 websites created every day; 500 million tweets sent each day; 144bn emails sent every day; and so on and so forth ad nauseam. The headline fact: 90% of all data ever created was done so in the last 2 years.

As James Gleick, the author and Internet pioneer, said: “When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.” We have an overwhelming array of media to choose from when considering our great creative proposition and most of these channels are full to the brim with content, from the sublime through to animated GIFs of cats doing hilarious things.

So the challenge with digital is that, whilst we have a plethora of channels to communicate with our target audiences, we need to be even more creative so as to ensure we have significant cutthrough: our messages must engage in a memorable way but, above all else, rise above the noise so that they are heard.

eDetailing – slave to the technology

Pharma has adopted platforms that enable economical ways of publishing content used in face-toface meetings with customers. Terrific. These closed loop marketing solutions present efficiency and scalability to the sales and marketing teams deploying iPad-equipped sales representatives.

Wonderful. By measuring the details of the call (what content was looked at, for how long, questions asked, etc.) we now have a robust means of knowing how successful our eDetailing activities are. Splendid.

The big problem is that these platforms often create “vanilla” brand experiences: all the eDetails look and feel fairly similar. One could argue that this in itself is a virtue since training becomes a lot easier when the functionality and user interface of any brand eDetail will be almost identical to that of another. But this is not exactly the environment for allowing creativity to flourish. The technology is no longer an enabler but rather a rigid set of parameters that limit the interaction between the content and its audience. Boo.

Not all platforms are the same, of course, and some do a fine job of providing opportunities for allowing the brand to express itself. But, given the above, it’s not difficult to understand why there were no winners in the Best Digital Detail Aid category at last year’s The Creative Floor Awards!

Cross discipline learning

One of the most interesting aspects of working for over two decades in creativity is looking at how young creative talent is benefitting from digital tools. I remember how young creatives joined the agency back in the early noughties straight from college having had basic exposure to Photoshop/

Illustrator/InDesign, fewer still in the more technical aspects of digital production. Back then we used to hand code in HTML and it was, quite frankly, a pain in the backside.

Nowadays, the creative technologists/multimedia designers who work within a digital studio are allrounders.

Many will specialise in a certain discipline, such as UI and UX, but all can turn their hand to video production and some 3D. The tools at our disposal are starting to look surprisingly similar. If you can master timeline-based video editing you will feel at home in a sound editing software package. In short, our creative talent is becoming more well-rounded because of the software available.

The cost of these creative tools has made them within reach of most agencies. Back in the early days of digital production, “broadcast production values” was a term only the more expensive postproduction agencies could boast. Nowadays, we have technology in many of our creative studios that are close relations (and in some cases, identical) to the tools used in high-end editing suites.

Creativity is often the result of experimentation

Our in-house labs initiative encourages the creative teams to play with new technology. We assign 10% of all billable time to experimentation with the latest tech to find interesting ways of communicating. Each month we review these lab projects – a dragons’ den event where the leadership team review the work – and we assess what should be progressed. In the last year, we’ve developed projection mapping installations, virtual reality initiatives with Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift, and touchless interfaces with LEAP motion. Most of these projects have evolved into live projects for clients. And, as a happy by-product of this approach, we have a team who are constantly evolving their skills and learning new ways of using digital to engage.

Is this the wrong way around? Should we be thinking about the brand challenge first and then dedicating time to finding tailored creative solutions? Perhaps, but we feel that if you are always looking to create new means of communicating WITHOUT a client brief or, indeed, any kind of parameters, you often discover truly innovative answers to existing and forthcoming creative challenges.

And so to Cannes

If creativity is all about ideas, then technology is about bringing those ideas to life. We need to become more hybrid in our approach: marrying up great ideas with great digital experience to ensure the big idea lives and breathes in relevant channels in exciting and innovative ways. Digital is not the answer per se but it is fast becoming integral to the creative process.

I am looking forward to Lions Health to see if this thinking is aligned to the creative output of the industry in the last year. Or maybe I’ll discover I am fraud after all and not qualified for this honour.

For the winners, a word of caution: apparently, according to the experts who’ve written about imposterism, the more accolades you win, the more you start to doubt if you really are that talented.

Best of luck to all of us!


Lions Health, the Festival and Awards for creative excellence in healthcare communications, runs from 19-20 June in Cannes, France. Further details can be found at For late entries please email

Dominic Marchant, Founder & Managing Director at DJM Unlimited, is serving on the Pharma jury at Lions Health 2015.