Creativity Scorned By Channel At The Great Agency Debate

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Which comes first; the creative idea or the media channel? The channel, apparently, according to Thursday night’s Great Agency Debate.

Hosted by B&T and AdRoll, the debate saw Kate Smither, chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, take on Jamie Moran, national display director at Columbus Digital. Smither argued for the creative site, Moran was adamant channel comes first.

Each gave strong arguments, but inevitably it was Moran’s thick Scottish accent, and the hordes of Columbus Digital staffers in the room, that saw channel take the cake.

Smither argued that everything starts with the ‘big idea’.

“Creativity stays with you in a way that defies channel. You start with creativity. You start with a big idea. And you celebrate the hell out of it.”

And the ‘big idea’ is limitless in where it can go. On the contrary, starting with the channel means limiting the campaign from the get go.

Too, Smither argued creativity is the emotive driver behind purchase. No one purchases anything just because it was on TV or on radio or on social media. They buy it because of the creative idea behind it.

“Creativity has the ability to make people engage in important messages and culture, in a way that channels can’t,” she said.

“There’s the ability for the ‘big idea’ to create an emotion and make you react that a channel can’t do. Because a channel, by definition…will never allow for emotion. It’s pure rational.”

She introduced example such as Jean Claude Van Damme’s epic split and Dove’s Beauty Sketches which were not defined by channel. This is what helped them go viral.

Smither reckoned we’re too focused on the science behind advertising, and we forget about the art.

“And the art is what makes you feel.”

Moran on the other hand was arguing why we should be choosing channel first.

“Media trumps creative. Media trumps creative.”

Admittedly, media isn’t sexy, he said, but they’re the ones who take the kickings from clients when things go wrong.

“We’re like Black Adder,” he quipped, “we’re the ones on the front line fighting against clients…to make sure what we provide them is what they are looking for, and actually have an ROI.”

Playfully ripping into the creative guys, he said they’re the ones sitting back – like Don Draper in Mad Men – after they’ve done their work.

Too, channel shows the creative to people. Media knows where the audience is.

“Think of them [the audience] as Andy from Little Britain. ‘I want that one’. We know how to show them the right creative.”


While both presented strong arguments, when the audience was asked to vote using their blue and white paddles with ‘channel’ and ‘creative’ on opposing sides, ‘channel’ was spread far and wide throughout the room.

Cat Prestipino, marketing director APAC at AdRoll, said of the night: “AdRoll is honoured to have hosted such an entertaining and informative debate! A big thanks to Kate and Jamie for their well thought out and passionate presentations and to David for moderating.”

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