Why the need for creativity has never been greater

Taxi's global CCO Frazer Jelleyman on storytelling in the modern age.

By Frazer Jelleyman

You and I – all of us – are the product of billions of years of selective evolution. Out of the currently estimated 8.7 million different life forms on the planet, we are the dominant species. Top of the tree. The guvnors.

When trained, our bodies are capable of athletic and gymnastic feats that defy credibility. Our wonderful brains are the most complex structures in the known universe. We are capable of original abstract thought. We can create.

But despite all that evolution, basic human needs haven’t really changed that much since we came down from the trees and decided to stand upright so that we could get a better view.

The fundamental needs of human culture are the same. We’ve always felt the need to talk about shared experiences.

As cavemen, we sat around the fire and told stories about the hunt. We painted scenes of the chase and the kill on the cave walls for others to wonder at.

Nowadays, we share our experiences on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, painting our pictures on the social cave wall. Same basic human needs, just a different delivery system.

Technology, in the words of artist Laurie Anderson, “is the campfire around which we tell our stories.”

And for us creative types, our stories, the experiences we share around the campfire, are now built around the brands we promote. We work really hard to connect people to brands, to help them  make choices, and try to persuade them to make the choice we propose.

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s harder than it used to be.

Back in the day, we used our amazing creative brains to help audiences decide between the brands on offer by the tried and tested formula of coupling a unique product benefit with a joke. And it worked.

But today, that just doesn’t seem to be working as it once did.

Guess what? There are no unique product benefits any more. Any genuine competitive advantage is dissected, reverse-engineered, replicated, prototyped and brought to market faster than you can say 3D printing.

Another thing: Groucho Marx said that in the whole of comedy there are only seven jokes. In advertising, there are only six, and two of those aren’t funny.

And to make it even harder for us poor creative types, it turns out that no one ever really gave a toss about unique product benefits even when there were some.

We now understand that most of our decisions are made in the unconscious mind. Decisions that are made quickly based on instinct, not on the carefully considered, intellectual analysis that is the world of the conscious. And the unconscious mind is not stupid. It’s what has helped us survive up until now.

As we progressed from tree to cave to attractive, modernized two-bedroom condominium with stunning views of the downtown area, we learned to survive by trusting our instincts, our gut, our spidey-sense. The unconscious mind. And it’s how we survive the supermarket, the wine store, the car showroom. It’s how we make sense of a crowded consumer world.

The unconscious mind is quick. It doesn’t read ingredients listed on a packet. It doesn’t deliberate. It doesn’t make purchase decisions based on the rational. If that were how we made decisions, getting around a supermarket would take all day. We’d read every ingredient on every packet, probably do some research, maybe ask a demographically-sympathetic focus group, consult an expert.

But we don’t. We trust the unconscious. The quick thinker.

The truth of it is, a brand is a product or a service we believe in. We have, at an unconscious level, formed an emotional connection with the brand that makes choosing it easy. And we like easy.

A general “law of least effort” applies to decision-making as well as physical exertion. If there are several ways of achieving the same thing, we’ll choose the easiest. Laziness is built deep into our nature.

So think about it, when there are no long-term competitive product differentiators, when we don’t decide based on the rational, but on the emotional connections we make in the unconscious, trusting quick thinking because it means less effort, what’s left?

What’s left is our stories. Created in our wonderful, amazing imaginations.

Stories we can share around campfires, whether high- or low-tech. Stories that move quickly through culture because they go with the grain of how people really think and behave. Stories that gain traction because we understand that the emotional power of  “I know how you feel” is always more effective than the rational argument of “Buy me because…”

There has never been a greater need for our wonderful stories.

Frazer Jelleyman is the Global CCO at Taxi and a Brit with a very cool last name.