From cats with thumbs to moving Christmas ads - industry leaders chat Creative Courage at McCann Leeds' latest webinar

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Yesterday, McCann Leeds hosted the latest in its series of Creative Courage events, welcoming Sam Dolan, Head of Marketing at Aunt Bessie's, to speak on the topic to an audience of engaged marketers.

Last week, we published Dolan's account of why Creative Courage matters so much, ahead of the webinar.

Yesterday, marketers from brands and agencies of all levels came together on Zoom to hear from the experienced creative on the reasons behind her passion for Creative Courage.

Sam Dolan Aunt Bessie's Webinar

The webinar

The event opened with an introduction from Prolific North's Editor, David Prior, introducing Dolan, as well as Gavin Shore and Coral Cranmer, ECD and Head of Strategy and Planning at McCann Leeds respectively - who were also taking part in the conversation.

Sam said she wanted to talk about why there's not enough Creative Courage around. Marketers are so reliant on data, she believes, that nowadays you can almost prove whatever you want with it. In the end, this has a negative impact on creativity.

Marketers need to be emotional and use that emotion in their work. It's all about gut feel, she said. That's where it takes Creative Courage to really make things happen for a brand. "Your gut feel is your one constant," said Sam.

Shore asked Sam about whether it's become harder in recent times to trust your gut. She said it has - the environment's changed, so it's harder to justify that intuition. Whereas in the past there were times it was possible to "just know" what to do, that never happens now.

How do you keep the process of moving from the brief to the solution human, when it's so easy to let it get mechanical now, she was also asked. By balancing the rational and irrational, she said. "Great advertising is emotional," and needs humanising from start to finish.

A true display of emotion in advertising is this season's Aunt Bessie's TV advert, which features a blind grandmother making Yorkshire puddings for her family. It was, in fact, based off something of a wild card - the story used the real experience of the Creative Director, whose grandmother brought him up. It manages to be truly emotional without being sad - and this, she said, is key.

Conversation returned again and again to the human nature of marketing - and how, to really appeal to audiences, marketers mustn't forget that human side.

COVID and Creative Courage

Obviously, the current pandemic was an unavoidable topic. Will falling budgets and a risky job market make risk-taking harder than ever, Coral asked. Sam concurred, but said that with smaller budgets, creativity is more important than ever. Aunt Bessie's, although admittedly a company with comfortable budgets behind it, has a "test and learn" budget which has helped them explore new opportunities, like working with Pinterest.

She encouraged people to learn from their mistakes, a central point of the Creative Courage theme - and, while some might say never make a mistake more than once, Sam recommended trying something, and tweaking it, not binning it.

And trust your creatives when an idea's good, too. Sam learnt this from Cravendale's memorable "cats with thumbs" campaign, which she struggled to get over the line herself, but when she gave the brief to her creative team, they worked wonders to pitch it, convince the execs, and turn it into a remarkable advertising campaign. 

Marketing is enormously important, the panel said, but they all agreed it had become devalued. Outside factors have made people believe that anyone can do it. We need to work towards respecting creativity again. At the same time, the sector is far from inclusive, said Coral. Things are moving towards more representation regionally, the team at McCann Leeds exemplifying that change, and regional hubs and brands moving will push inclusion more - but we're all responsible for representing people better, showing them themselves in marketing, and demonstrating a strong ethos.

The conversation wrapped up with closing remarks from Gavin and David, and the promise of some more exciting Creative Courage content coming up in the near future...