Updated: Aug 14, 2022
Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that the human mind responds to certain, predictable, stimuli and that response can be leveraged to influence behaviors. As with most things, this is neither inherently positive or negative; it just is. What matters is what you do with this response. Unfortunately, a great many members of our species have capitalized on this ability to service their own destructive, controlling, narcissistic compulsions, wreaking havoc on the rest of us and setting back our forward progress as a species. In my studies of this phenomenon, I’ve researched religions, belief systems, politicians, dictators, mass movements, rock stars, celebrities, advertising superstars, and consumer brands, all of whom have successfully tapped into the predictable stimuli needed to influence behavior. The tools that create this phenomenon have a name, and that name is creative direction.
By the definition above, a certain Austrian dictator was arguably the most effective creative director in human history, and to what end? As many of us intuitively understand, there is a very fine line between what constitutes marketing collateral and what constitutes propaganda. In the age of social media, alternative facts, and opinion-as-currency, that line has become increasingly blurry. This blurriness is one of the products of irresponsibly used creative direction. Old advertising concepts like the ‘glittering generality’ are examples of propaganda used as marketing collateral. Another, highly effective, and old-as-the-hills advertising/propaganda technique, of course, is the cultivation of fear — that same Austrian dictator, every cult leader, and virtually every empire-builder in history, has used this technique to get scores-to-millions to do their horrendous bidding. As have many churches. As have many governments. As have many brands. That’s how effective creative direction can be. The efficacy of irresponsible creative direction is a big problem. Creating assets and experiences that act on the human fear response is an easy clutch move because it works so dependably. These fear-inducing messages and their visual and experiential cues act on our reptile brains to elicit a behavioral response without delivering anything of use to the evolved reptile they motivate. Irresponsible creative direction cultivates fear and does nothing of service to the motivatee; it divides, it controls, it reduces power of the individual. Responsible creative direction moves the motivatee toward something they actually need, solves a problem for them, or elicits feelings of positivity and unity; it increases power of the individual. Back to the age of social media and the rise of opinion-as-currency: in a world where everyone is a content creator and everyone’s opinion is currency, we are all creative directors to one extent or another, using creative content to persuade other evolved reptiles to motivate according to the messages we deliver. Are we being responsible with our creative direction?