The BS Meter: A Creative’s Early Warning System

[This is part one in a three-part series about the anatomy of an advertising creative’s brain.]

Creatives excel at dreaming up amazing ideas to help propel brands into the stratosphere. I guess that’s why hot talent is in great demand. But another amazing attribute only creatives seem to have is a very sensitive BS meter. That is, the simple ability to see the flaw in a strategy, brief or creative platform, and then speak up about it.

For years creatives have been accused of being overpaid prima donnas, and while that’s sometimes true, I believe the vast majority are underappreciated and underpaid. They work longer hours than anyone in the business, they resist the forces of mediocrity and they have the courage to speak up when something stinks. Especially when it comes to a terrible creative brief.

That’s why creatives should be brought into the process much earlier. They should attend the client briefings. They should attend the media planning discussions. They should attend every critical meeting very early in the process, so they can cry bullshit when something doesn’t add up, sparing clients from potential blunders.

Countless times I’ve held a new brief in my hands—one that had already passed through the hands of a lot of smart people—and thought to myself, “This is the worst brief ever! It’s a convoluted mess!”

The question is, why do creatives have such a finely tuned BS meter? I believe the answer is, creatives are first and foremost, problem solvers. We spend a lot time surveying landscapes and exploring paths—seeing things from different angles. So naturally, flaws become apparent. Sometimes instantly, sometimes within a few days. It’s this part of our job—before we even get to creating compelling solutions—that fine-tunes our BS meter.

But there’s another component. From youth, I aspired to be an artist. Since art is subjective and frequently criticized, the only way to persevere was to believe in my work even when nobody else did. So I developed a thick skin from constant rejection. This has helped eliminate my fear of nonconformity. And therefore there's no hesitation to speak up when my BS meter goes off.

It’s not to say that creatives are always right. Sometimes we're dead wrong. But our vocal skepticism calls attention to the issue and starts a conversation, which is almost always constructive.

So the next time a creative starts complaining about your brief, he’s not just being difficult. He (or she) may have a good point. And the earlier it can be brought to everyone’s attention, the less painful it will be to have to re-write the brief.

Or, if you prefer, simply look the other way as creatives rip up the brief and follow their gut instead (which happens more often than not).


(Subscribe at the top right of this blog page to receive posts via email.)