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Ad Lib blog

Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

The role of a creative agency

Three five-star reviews from Bruno Cepollina, who thinks agencies risk becoming implementers rather than creative problem solvers. So which global campaigns inspired Bruno?

Before I begin, I would like to point out that I am aware that there is something up there on this page about this being a creative review detached from client's objectives. I decided to break this rule (thanks to The Directory guys for allowing me to do so), because I don't believe there is much point in talking about any creative work without taking the client's business objectives into consideration.

For me, the role of the creative agency is to use creative thinking to solve business problems and then, be smart and skillful to execute the solution to it's full potential. If we forget the objectives we are trying to achieve, the work and the discussion about it become a random exercise guided by personal tastes and preferences. And that's better done talking about art, football, music or cinema with friends at the pub.

Getting to the point, I also believe the last thing you want to read, whomever you may be, is another guy preaching about how the times are changing, the state of flux we live in, the role of social media, how we all need to do things different, adapt or die, etc, etc. We often lose sleep over these things (don't get me wrong they do matter) and that takes our focus away from something far more fundamental for both client, agency and where our industry is going: the role of the creative agency and their contribution to solving the client's business problems.

Where does your agency stand on the spectrum that goes from problem solving to plain task completion? When are you being involved in the process? Are you being commissioned for creative thinking or asset crafting (from leaflets to complicated iPhone apps, it doesn't really matter)? Are you creating the formats or just populating them with pictures and words? Cutting to the chase, those are the questions that will determine if you are a partner or a supplier to the client. The first is able to bend the rules and deliver high- leverage, game-changing, innovative solutions; the latter, can only populate spaces with proficiency.

Don't get me wrong, I am not re-heating the “big idea” meal from the 90s and forcing it down your throat. I believe excellence in execution is fundamental and should not be overlooked or downplayed for a second, but this should be the norm for creative agencies, not the differential. Sadly though, craft is frequently taken for creative thinking and is often being awarded as such. Think of it terms of a top restaurant analogy. The best ingredients prepared with mastery are expected as default. It is the approach and creativity behind every perfectly cooked dish and every aspect of the experience that will set the Michelin Star foodie pilgrimage destination apart from the good local eatery.

Back to our industry, clients are looking more and more for innovation and high leverage creative thinking, because that is delivering bigger returns, while the good old trio of detail aid (printed or on the Ipad, makes no difference), professional ad and website gets less relevant by the hour. Therefore, before worrying if your agency is up-to-date with 'digital', 'social', 'crowdsourcing' or whatever buzzword gets hyped tomorrow, stop looking outside and look inside for a minute. Is the creative product you are producing being commoditised? Are you constantly being tasked to deliver on a list of pre-established assets? Is craft being mistaken with creative thinking? If so, red alert.

Unlike the local eatery from above, you won't benefit from loyal locals, because when the client wants a simple burger, he will find 10 different places that work more or less in the same way and service him at the same standard. Then, guess what? Procurement is going to push for price and, rightfully so, will ask if you can't throw in a bowl of chips on the house to close the deal.

On the work below I decided to show just inspiring stuff. There is enough bad creative out there and I don't want to waste your time and mine going through uninteresting material.

Scope – “See the Person” - Disability Awareness



Client: Scope
Product: Disability Awareness
Agency: Leo Burnett, Melbourne
Country: Australia
Year: 2011

The case speaks for itself, but the specific point is that the agency was not briefed to assemble a band, shoot a clip, etc, etc. The objective was to raise awareness and from that moment strategic and creative thinking were kick-started, to great results. (To see the band’s full recording go to

Help Remedies – I can’t sleep - dream recommender



Client: Help Remedies
Product: I can’t sleep
Agency: AgencyTwoFifteen, San Francisco
Country: USA
Year: 2011

Before talking about the campaign, I would like to mention Help Remedies as a company. In a market obsessed in complexity both in it’s product and communication, Help Remedies went the other way and simplified everything. The brand philosophy is embedded in everything it produces. The product names, pack, look and feel and communication reflects what they stand for. Simplicity, delivering with clarity what the consumer needs.

The product being so simple and elegant, allows the communication to be entertaining enough so that consumers will give their own time to the brand by interacting with the surreal and funny dream recommendation scenarios and downloading the completely bonkers ad. A good reminder that people don’t care about how it works, but about what will it do for them.

Transport Accident Commission – The Ripple Effect



Client: Transport Accident Comission
Product: Speeding awareness
Agency: Grey, Melbourne
Country: Australia
Year: 2011

Another one from Australia. Very interesting, innovative and insightful creative approach into an area that has been extensively explored in many countries. Creativity also defines the format, a 3-min TV film, that contains many other little films within it that work brilliantly on their own as well. The whole thing has with great viral potential. The campaign hub is a site where the viewer can navigate the narrative the way he wants and also send content to “slow down a friend”.

Article by
Bruno Cepollina

partner & creative director, Frontera

20th January 2012


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