Unmasking the magic of creativity

Reveal the brand building creative process, urges Chris Jefford

Back in 1905, the Magic Circle was formed. As an organisation dedicated to promoting and advancing the art of magic, it has a simple, single minded, very Latin motto – “Indocilis private loqui”, roughly translating to mean ‘not apt to disclose secrets’. Members of the Magic Circle — including the likes of David Copperfield, Dynamo, Fay Presto and King Charles III — must vow not to break this rule of secrecy, to keep the methods behind their magic 100% hush-hush… 

I’m talking next-level-don’t-even-tell-your-mum secret shit.

Any slip ups and they will be expelled from the circle, disappearing no doubt into a puff of colourful smoke. A fate that has befallen many greats including John Lenahan, Stephen Mulhern and Dom from Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow. This month, the Magic Circle announced the passing of David Berglas, widely regarded as one of the great magicians of the 20th century. Known as the International Man of Mystery, he was the first magician to have his own show on British TV, and was renowned for a card trick called the Berglas Effect. As the BBC noted, the trick was ‘regarded as the holy grail of magic effects, the secret of which he took to the grave.’ Dom, from Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow, take note.

It is, of course, understandable that magicians mask their secrets and maintain the mystery of their acts as they find continual ways to surprise audiences — or in the case of David Blaine v David Brent, completely scare them shitless.

A similar mystery shrouds the creative world

The craft of creativity — or should that be witchcraft — is believed to have magical qualities, characterised by moments of blinding inspiration and incredible, lucid thinking leading to huge, superhuman leaps. And agencies have for many years traded on this magic, with clients often paying handsomely to reap the fruits of the alchemy.

The Big Reveal. An agency’s equivalent to, ‘Is this the card you were thinking of?’

And yet, when you’re only celebrating the trick, you do a disservice to the hard work, wrong turns, ups and downs, accumulated deep experience, and the painstaking journey of getting to the applause. When you only focus on the what, it’s easy to believe that there is no ‘how’. I vividly remember a client once telling our agency that they didn’t want to pay us properly for the work that went into developing a brand line because ‘Chris, it’s just 3 words’. We’d sold them the magic solution, but not popped the hood on the process. It’s alluring for an agency to trade on the magic, black box of creativity. But for agencies to thrive in the future, it’s equally important for them to get better at explaining the hard yards and harder years that enable them to craft their ideas effectively and in an impactful way.

Watching the recent Disney+ Beatles’ documentary Get Back there is a moment that for me says everything you need to know about the creative process. A bored George Harrison and Ringo Starr, waiting for a John Lennon who’s ‘late again’, are sitting watching Paul McCartney strum his guitar as he searches for a melody, singing a beautiful sort of gibberish throughout. And from that, a song forms, Get Back. And I could watch it over and over again, forever. It is magic to watch, a stunning moment in a brilliant documentary. And yet what we’re seeing isn’t magic at all. It’s mastery, experience, bravery and vulnerability, and patience and belief.

In all forms of brand building, we need to remove the mask of magical creativity and reveal the process of creativity

It’s okay for us to admit that this shit is hard work. That to get to the right idea requires a megaton of wrong ones and that many rabbits had to die before this particular one is revealed from the ECD’s top hat*. As Teller, from Penn and Teller, once said, ‘Sometimes magic is just spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.’ Yes we should revel in the theatre of the creative reveal, but for our industry to survive in the face of current and future disruptions we also have to let the mask fall, to celebrate and communicate the journey we went on to get there. Or else we’re all in danger of going up in smoke.

* no rabbits were hurt in the writing of this article.

Featured image: Fariborz MP / Pexels

Chris Jefford, Co-Founder and CEO at Truant London

Chris Jefford has spent his 20-year career working across a range of media and technology roles. Starting his first business at the age of 14, Chris graduated with an Economics degree before moving into technology at the dawn of the Internet in 1998. Father of two and hip-hop devotee, he started his career working for a range of original dot-com start-ups, before settling in adland in 2006 working as the operations lead at Y&R on the Microsoft account.He went on to become Head of Digital at Holler, working with the likes of Channel 4 and Yahoo!, before moving to become Director of Innovation at Saint@RKCR/Y&R, where as one of the first employees, he was instrumental in helping the business grow to become agency of the year. In 2011, he left to start his current business, Truant London, with his partners Dave and Simon, where he is now CEO.

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