Note from Guest Editors: Perspectives of Digital Creativity

Glenn Griffin

Southern Methodist University

Deborah K. Morrison, Kim Bartel Sheehan

The University of Oregon

Creativity. We all recognize it when we see it, but we have difficulty defining it, studying it, and understanding the best way to teach it. The growth of the Internet and the new forms of advertising available in an interactive, digital format make the challenge of understanding creativity even more difficult. In this issue of the Journal of Interactive Advertising, advertising professionals and academics explore the nature and challenges of creativity in the digital world. Whether we think of the online environment as the digital world, Web 2.0, or consumer-generated media, all of us are simultaneously amazed at the incredible work coming out of online user communities and advertising agencies and stymied by the prospect of characterizing the true nature of online creativity.

A recent issue of our sister publication, Journal of Advertising, was devoted to creativity research in advertising. The coeditors of that special issue stated that research in advertising creativity consists of three major perspectives. The first perspective relates to the people who create advertising. The second involves the process they follow in developing creative ideas. The final perspective pertains to the places or environments in which they work (Sasser and Koslow 2008). These perspectives, however, tend to be presented rather narrowly, suggesting that advertising is a top-down process executed by professional practitioners working in an agency environment.

Of course, interactive advertising is developed by people, but ever-changing digital technologies now permit anyone with a slightly tricked-out computer to develop and-perhaps more important-disseminate messages about products, services, and ideas, quickly and around the world. The process may revolve around a traditional, multiphase procedure that includes preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Wallas 1926). However, interactive processes also feature interactions with potential consumers during the course of the process. Although some creative digital work comes out of agencies, other work originates from the laptops of product evangelists (hello, Nick Haley), who create messages in their Oxford dorm rooms in between classes.

Sasser and Koslow’s three perspectives assume some degree of control through institutional arrangements. Interactive creativity, in contrast, seems to be more about how traditional structures surrender some degree of control. The more traditional structures seek to maintain control, the less energy will be available for creativity (Intuiosity 2008). Organizational creativity experts suggest that one of the first steps in developing a creative work environment is to promote an entrepreneurial spirit, a term first used by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in the first half of the twentieth century. Schumpeter (1961) believed that people who possess an entrepreneurial spirit were the ones most likely to produce innovative work and growth in the overall economy. The notions of entrepreneurship-passion, positivity, leadership, adaptability, and ambition-hold great promise as foundations for further research into the area of interactive creativity.

Interactivity assumes that messages are no longer “top-down,” traditional advertisements driven through mass media channels. In this special issue, Sheehan and Morrison explore the evolution of consumer-generated media and identify key campaigns that bring consumers to the creative table. These campaigns address creativity from a confluence (coming-together) perspective rather than a convergence perspective. Online users’ passion for social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, on which fans rush to “friend” their favorite brands and characters, captures this phenomenon. 

The notion of positivity suggests that clients and marketers should not fear the challenges associated with interactive creativity but instead should tap into the power of consumers to develop their messages. Shintaro Okazaki’s study considers how a packaged goods company (Knorr’s) used interactivity to explore consumers’ attitudes while those consumers participated fully in the product development process. Okazaki regards this use as a natural extension of viral marketing or electronic word of mouth, by which bloggers become opinion leaders who spread new product development updates to followers. His article also speaks to the new environment, or place, in which Knorr’s innovated its ideas. Specifically, the use of mobile phones for such consumer participation serves as a “mental and symbolic venue where virtual discussions took place.”

Another advantage of Knorr’s mobile blogging derived from minimized risk associated with the new product development. First, it reduced the cost of idea generation. Often, a search for important ideas resembles looking for a needle in a haystack. Firms make substantial investments and generate many ideas to find just one worthy of development. Second, the use of new technology (mobile phones) allowed for timely and speedy entries in blogs and thus compressed the development time.

Ozaki’s article also speaks to the notion of leadership, in that Knorr’s became an innovator in using events and experiences and creating a new marketing communications mix. To become a leader, both the client and the agency had to offer consumers an important role in the campaign’s eventual success. This new idea of leadership thus embraces the idea of ceding control to gain stronger ideas.

Adaptability is also an important theme in research by Sara Hansen, who uses the concept of symbolic interactionism to examine how MTV and its advertisers have adapted to the digital environment by granting creative power to users to build and leverage their personal identities and borrow brands or advertising interactions for social benefit. Content creation, game activities, and conversation produce and continually alter symbolic meanings. As more advertisers invest in new online environments, such as gaming environments, they facilitate greater content creation by players. This content creation in turn allows users to develop complex perceptions of brands. Advertisers should find ways to adapt to the changing nature of the digital environment and thus build stronger brands. 

Ambition entails a desire for achievement and the willingness to strive for it. Glenn Griffin celebrates the importance of strong ideas as the basis for all great creative work, regardless of the medium. Bringing us full circle, the advertising practitioners Karl Schroeder and Dan Ng recognize that the traditional advertising structure can, and should, have a place at the interactive table to define the elements of interactive creativity and develop a vision of what the future of digital content creation will hold. This notion echoes Griffin’s (2008) observation that advertising creativity focuses primarily on the pursuit of superior ideas and only secondarily on their execution (i.e., eventual translation into ads).

The articles in this issue encompass case studies of interactive creative development, analyses of interactive consumer engagement, and compelling inquiries into the basic nature of interactive creativity. A recurring theme is that all of us, whether we are online users, teachers, or professionals, still grapple with our understanding this process. What matters most continues to be the strength of a great idea that can help build a brand. This Special Issue is rich with examples of such ideas. We thank our colleagues who served as blind reviewers for this Special Issue and Hairong Li offering us the opportunity to begin this exploration.


Griffin, W. Glenn (2008), “From Performance to Mastery,” Journal of Advertising, 37 (4), 95-108.

Intuiosity (2008). Available at

Sasser, Sheila L. and Scott Koslow (2008), “Desperately Seeking Advertising Creativity,” Journal of Advertising, 37 (4), 5-20.

Schumpeter, Joseph A. (1961), The Theory of Economic Development : An Inquiry Into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle, Redvers Opie, trans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wallas, Graham (1926), The Art of Thought. New York: Harcourt Brace.

About the Guest Editors

W. Glenn Griffin teaches courses in creativity and portfolio development, and leads the Method Creative program at SMU’s Temerlin Advertising Institute in Dallas, TX. His research interests are in the areas of creativity, cognitive and educational psychology, social responsibility and advertising education. His work has appeared in the Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Education, Journal of Interactive Advertising, and Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, among other publications. He received his Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin and M.A., B.A. degrees from The University of Alabama. E-mail: [email protected]
Deborah Morrison is the Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. She teaches conceptual thinking, creativity and content, portfolio, and campaigns courses from a social responsibility perspective. Prior to the University of Oregon, Deborah was the leader of Texas Creative at the University of Texas at Austin for 18 years. Her research concerns professional creativity, social responsibility in advertising, and creative process. Importantly, she believes that good advertising can be one way to save the world. E-mail: [email protected]
Kim Sheehan is Associate Professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. She teaches courses in advertising management, media and research, as well as new media courses. Her research involves culture and new technology, and she has published extensively about privacy and the Internet, and about Direct-to-Consumer prescription drug advertising. She is the author or co-author of three books about advertising. She currently serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Advertising. E-mail: [email protected]