Something’s different about today’s B2B creative. Better, too. Are we entering a new golden age for B2B creativity? Or are we finally recognizing what was hiding in plain sight all along? Let’s talk about the state of the B2B creative union.
I love judging creative awards
I recently had the pleasure and privilege of once again judging the ANA Business Marketing NYC Global ACE Awards, which have honored the best in B2B creative from across the globe for more than four decades. I’ve juried several times throughout my career; I even emceed the ACE ceremony on a few occasions, doing my best Billy Crystal and belting out a tune or two to recognize the nominees and properly embarrass myself. Suffice to say, I’ve seen my fair share of work over the years.
This year is different.
I always enjoy the opportunity to see the range of work that’s in the market and learn from what other creative professionals are crafting. Typically, the work ranges from very good to a few outstanding entries. This year was different. Everything was consistently great or remarkable.
B2B’s imagination was unleashed across the board. Using Rorschach tests to manifest the latent culinary desires of foodies. Reshaping the educational experience brick by brick with LEGOs. Representing the courage and resilience of midwestern America’s small businesses with unfiltered candor. Turning lifesaving cell science experiments into life-affirming artistic experiences. Reinventing the IT customer experience by putting people ahead of technology. Or (my guilty pleasure favorite entry), celebrating what happens in IT after dark.
From undesirable to undeniable
B2B creativity is flourishing across the board. On AdAge’s Creativity A-List. At The Drum Marketing Awards. At ANA’s B2 Awards. And now, for the first time ever, on one of creative advertising and marketing’s biggest platforms: Cannes Lions.
According to a press release, the newly launched Creative B2B Lion will celebrate game-changing creativity and effectiveness in work for products and services that are purchased by professionals on behalf of businesses. Said Philip Thomas, Chairman:
“Having seen a rise in B2B work winning across the Lions, and with many in the industry believing that a specialist Lion in this area will raise the creative bar and elevate the discipline, we think that now is B2B’s moment to have its own spotlight on the global creative stage.”
For those of us who have spent decades working to raise the bar with B2B and complex brands, it’s both exciting and a bit “it’s about time-ing” to see the pieces all come together. But, if you’ve been paying attention, it shouldn’t be surprising.
The unfairly maligned B2B world has helped set the pace for global creativity over the past decade, including several of the industry’s most award-winning and memorable efforts – including State Street Global Advisors’ “Fearless Girl,” which took home 18 Lions and 4 Grand Prix, and Volvo’s “The Epic Split,” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme flexibly spread between two trucks.
Pressure’s on: step up or get shut down
In the 2010s, the B2B marketing technology arms race was on. Marketers clamored to get the latest shiny tools and worked to master the science of modern marketing. Now, marketers need to similarly and even more passionately embrace creativity.
You can look at the need for creative excellence in two ways. One is to look at the necessity for uniqueness; when everyone has a martech stack with variations of the same tools and when buyers are bombarded by a tidal wave of “blanding,” creativity enables the differentiation and value required to make any impact with smarter, more empowered customers.
The other is to recognize that, more broadly, the bar for B2B creative is getting higher and more effective than ever. And if you don’t get bravely creative in this new golden age, more clever and ambitious competitors are going to eat your lunch.
If you even had to wonder where I stand, I like lunch. I like it a lot.