Creativity vs. Media buying – are they mutually exclusive?

Ivan Brozović

At this year’s IAB Bulgaria Mixx Awards 2023 event organized by IAB Europe in Sofia, the latest trends in the digital sphere were presented at the forum called “Unzip your finest”. IAB Bulgaria is the voice of the digital industry in Bulgaria where industry professionals share their knowledge and participate in panel discussions.

Ivan Brozović, Regional Digital Business Operations Director of Mediabrands SEE, was a member of the jury for the awarding of the IAB MIXX awards in Bulgaria, and he also gave a lecture on “Media creativity: What to expect from your media agency”. The topic of that lecture is very important for the entire media industry, and his insights can be applied in every agency. We spoke with Ivan about the lecture and the relationship between clients and the agency.

  1. In the lecture, you brought up a very important topic, creativity in the work of a media agency. Since you were involved in projects at the international level, how important is the role of creativity to a media agency when it receives a brief from a client?

Often, media agencies are seen as companies where people are more concerned with numbers and “boring” tables, which is a large part of the job of a media agency. I often like to say that we media people are more mathematicians than creatives – at least in the classical sense of the word where colleagues from creative agencies (designers, copywriters, art directors, creative directors) are considered creative. It is extremely important that media agencies are creative in their own way and that through knowledge of the media space and understanding of the target group of that business environment and the client’s goals, they define the best strategy and tactics for fulfilling those goals. Essentially, creativity in media agencies is reflected in how well we can use media and technology, in conditions of limited budgets, so that the creative message of the campaign is remembered and leads to the best possible results.

  1. Can you tell us a little more about your “Gatto” division concept? How important is the “thinking outside the box” approach in coming up with creative ideas and how should you approach every brief that a media agency receives from a client?

I’ve been thinking for a long time about why sometimes media agencies are seen as the less creative part of the advertising industry, and I actually concluded that it’s because creativity is often viewed through great visuals or superb copy. Creativity is a much broader concept than that, and that’s how GATTO came into being as a concept through which I (and I hope many others) observe creativity. In short, there are five statements that can be used to define what creativity means and what it means to be creative:

  • Generating original ideas
  • Applying imagination
  • Thinking divergently
  • Taking risks
  • Original and valuable outcome

Of course, there is a special emphasis on the statement “Thinking divergently”, which implies thinking “outside the box” and researching many different solutions and approaches to the problem that is set in the brief. To do this successfully, you need to be open-minded and have the will to explore solutions that may be considered unconventional.

Specifically speaking, when given a brief, sometimes the standard and obvious solutions are not necessarily the best. It is precisely for this reason that one should broaden horizons and explore all potential options to achieve the best result for the client.

And in my understanding, this is exactly what it means to be creative.

3. Now that we know how to approach the task, do you think that apart from unconventional solutions, it is also important to be prepared for failure? Do you think there is any truth in Samuel Beckett’s mantra that says “Try again. fail again. fail better.?”

Of course, because one implies the other. Being creative in any sphere, including media rental, means that we should be ready to take risks. Trying something new, different, and never seen before also means that we don’t have pre-defined benchmarks and it’s harder to predict outcomes.
But the key to everything is that even if we “fall”, to “fall better” next time. In today’s age, we have incredible opportunities to collect all possible data and analyze it. That way, we can see very well what went wrong and what to do better next time. Therefore, we should learn from our own mistakes and those of others.

However, I would say that in our region, in the advertising industry, the “fail faster” mantra has not yet been developed and that already tested and tried solutions are more often sought, and that even a small failure from which we learn is not acceptable… and in this way, we are not creative, we do not move forward and miss opportunities for much better results in the market.

4. As we know, clients are looking for agencies to come up with great ideas and have not adjusted the budget for such a thing. How can we reach the best solution with a small budget? What needs to be considered in creating an idea for a client?

It’s easiest to be creative with an unlimited budget  Creativity can be seen in situations when our resources (and budgets) are limited. However, it should be taken into account that this does not mean that you can do anything with a small budget… but you can get the most out of it. We should always be realistic here because some ideas may be very good and very creative, but they also have costs that accompany them and are not in accordance with the defined budget.

When thinking about a strategy for a client and defining an idea, we must:

  • know what the key business KPIs are for the client
  • know what the main goals of the campaign or some activities are
  • know the target group of the client
  • understand the activities of competitors
  • understand market trends
  • know the state of media and technology

Once we know this, it is crucial to develop a solution that has the potential to deliver results and deliver value to the client. Being creative for creativity’s sake is not our job, and no matter how much certain advertising projects look like art, they are still there to bring business value to the client. Of course, this does not mean that we should not challenge the status quo, that we should not pay attention to aesthetics, and that we should not constantly look for a fresh perspective and look at the business problem that is put in front of us.

  1. At the conference, you mentioned some of the projects that the UM agency worked on. Could you perhaps tell us how you recognized the problem and fulfilled the client’s goals by using media on the projects for Perfecta Dreams and Pirinsko Ledeno. How did you use technology and programmatic buying to get the best results for the campaign?

Sometimes it’s hard to pick just a few out of a lot of great campaigns, but when time is limited, there is always a way.

For example, our clients and partners from Perfecta Dreams found themselves in a situation where they wanted to reposition their brand and raise it to the Premium category, which is fully supported by the quality of the product itself. That alone made our task clear, but we had to find the best way to present the brand in a premium way, and yet to ensure that all brand parameters were raised in the desired way. Perhaps it’s best to see how we did it from the video below:

LINK TO VIDEO CASE STUDY PERFECTA DREAMS – Perfecta Dreams – #ostvarisvojesnove.mp4

For the Pirinsko campaign, our creativity and that of our partner agency Proof manifested itself in absolute knowledge and understanding of the possibilities that technology gives us. In order to use the defined budget fully and efficiently, and thus ensure the fulfillment of the goals, we went for personalization and increased relevance by displaying ads only when the given conditions were met – which is in contrast to some standard approach that aims to cover as much as possible people with ads and have the greatest reach. And that is perhaps the easiest to show through a video case study:


Both case studies can be an example of creativity in media agencies – through understanding the goals of the client, the business environment, and the target group, solutions were proposed that lead to positive results in an extremely relevant way.

  1. You touched on the topic of AI technologies in the media world. Can you already see the future of AI? Are clients today looking for solutions created using AI technologies and how important is the synergy between everything?

AI has been a “hot topic” recently and a lot of questions are being asked – from usability and ethics, and there are also certain fears. However, we are aware that the development of technology can sometimes slow down, but it can hardly be stopped, and this also applies to the development of AI.

I personally think that AI is a good thing (of course, provided it works in accordance with ethical and moral principles) and that it can help us work smarter, faster, and easier.

Today, we live in a time of short focus and small, quick wins, where long-term planning is something that is more at the level of wishful thinking than real planning. Unfortunately, various global crises force us to be ready for rapid changes, almost every day. Likewise, technology is developing faster, changes are more frequent, and trends are shorter. In addition, our target groups are increasingly demanding of brands, and proportionally things become boring to them much sooner.

In order to stay relevant, a synergy of technology understanding, customer understanding, creative approach, and effective media approach will be the only way to deliver campaigns that deliver value. In this respect, the use of AI as a tool that will speed us up and make all our processes easier will be inevitable. And of course, many clients are already thinking about AI today and are exchanging information with their partner agencies on how to use different AI tools in processes related to advertising – from design, copywriting, and even media planning.

But fundamentally, I believe that one thing will remain the same, but also the most important – and that is a strategic approach and management of data in order to create the right insights that will lead to creative ideas… and AI can help us be faster and more efficient in that process. I think that it is important for everyone in the advertising industry to embrace AI as soon as possible and see how to incorporate it into the processes because, with the rejection of technology, we will very quickly become irrelevant – because in today’s world, bigger fish no longer eat smaller ones, but faster ones and AI give us that opportunity to be faster.