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“Seeking Durable Mutation” in Digital Advertising

Sarah Hiraki
Aug 3, 2021

How a TED talk about comic books changed how I look at creativity

Since joining, I’ve been asked a number of times, “How do you make good ads from a template?”

And it’s a good question. After all, the romance of crafting a great ad has always been singular in nature: one powerful image, one incredible line of copy, one unforgettable Super Bowl commercial. 

Unfortunately, Don Draper and the rest of the dinosaurs have died. And contemporary audiences demand style, substance AND scale. 

We start nearly every presentation at with our favourite fact: 70% of ad performance is down to creative quality (Google Media Lab, 2016). So how do you achieve creative quality at an enormous scale, without either burning out your creative team or draining the bank? The solution: ignore the media-specific constraints and demands all together. Get back to your creative roots.

Enter: Comic books

I often come back to one of my favourite TED talks ever – this one by Scott McCloud, cartoonist and lecturer to folks at MIT, Google, Harvard, and Pixar to name a few, about “The Visual Magic of Comics.” It’s charming, creative, brilliant; go watch it. But in it, McCloud says one phrase that has stuck with me – “seek durable mutation.”

This premise is the secret to understanding what it means to make creative ideas work regardless of their channel, their size, or indeed, their audience. As McCloud says, it’s not about the chisel or the printing press or the computer monitor, just like it isn’t about whether your ad appears on the side of a bus or on a screen. It’s about how we communicate to an individual. The rest is in constant flux – and pinning your hopes (or campaign or career) on nailing a single format will always leave you disappointed. 

And while some will flap about changing brand guidelines, or “going cookieless” or “what on EARTH is TikTok?,” savvy marketers intuitively understand true creativity is fluid. It’s format agnostic and unbridled by technology. And it’s not to say that the specifics don’t matter (of course they do), but if we let ourselves be overwhelmed by the tools and the tech before we begin, we’ll lose the plot.

Seek durable mutation. Find ways to pour your creativity into different vessels, without changing the recipe. 

The magic of fix and flex

The secret to understanding and unlocking durable mutation at can be explained in two words; “fix” and “flex.” It’s the secret to how we maximise both creative governance and creative agility for our clients.

When we approach any given campaign, we ask the question; “what’s unmovable?” The formats, sure, since a 300x250 pixel banner will certainly outlive us all. And the logo and brand colours, of course, that’s just common sense. Maybe there are a few other elements too; such as a certain amount of functionality within the ad – critical if you’ve got recognisable motion design, for example. Those are your “fixed” elements, the durable bit.

Now we ask, “what’s up for grabs?” This is where the fun begins. “Flexible” creative elements are like freeform jazz – there are very few rules, but you’ve got to know what you’re doing. Bring on the mutation; add data signals, product feeds, audience-specific messaging, test colours and images and CTAs. Design bespoke experiences for dog-lovers caught in rainstorms, for plant-moms who just got home from their holidays (oh yes, it’s possible). Flexible elements help transform a campaign of 6 HTML builds into thousands of unique creative executions that reach (say it with me!) the right audience, at the right time, with the right message.

A balance in the force

The beauty of fix and flex is all in the balance. In McCloud’s durable mutation, the story still has to move in a single, unbroken line in order for the narrative to be understood. An unbalanced set of creative executions is doomed to fail. Too much flexibility, and the campaign becomes an incoherent jumble. Too much sameness causes ad fatigue. 

A consistent brand and design language helps keep your brand’s story consistent, and the audience engaged. This is ensured through great creative direction, a solid dynamic strategy, good design – and monitored by highly detailed reporting. 

Finding the right balance between governance and agility or “fix” and “flex,” can be tricky if you’ve never run this style of campaign before. Having a trusted creative management partner is critical to setting up your creative and media for success.

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