Paolo Guglielmoni: for successful creativity, go circular

Paolo Guglielmoni: for successful creativity, go circular

Alberto Maestri Published on 1/15/2024

Ah, creativity: always in demand, sometimes woefully mistreated, and increasingly prevalent thanks to the web’s myriad stimuli. And undoubtedly an essential part of pretty much any successful communication and marketing project.

The current pace of change in the world poses a big question:

What does the future hold for creativity, and can we define an end point to guide us along the way?

These were the topics floating around our minds as we began our chat with Paolo Guglielmoni. Paolo is a copywriter and creative director, lecturer in advertising and viral creativity, and the only Italian creative to be exhibited in the Louvre’s Musée de la Pubblicité. He was listed on the Youtube Ads Leaderboard in 2018. Paolo has written a new book titled Creatività Circolare (‘Circular Creativity’), published in Italy by FrancoAngeli. Our conversation focused on good communication and – unsurprisingly – the idea of circular creativity itself.

Hi Paolo, welcome to the Pixartprinting blog. Let’s start with the concept you introduced in your new book: what do you mean by the term ‘circular creativity’?

Hello Alberto, hello readers! I decided to pair the words ‘circular’ and ‘creativity’ because ideas are our most renewable resource, and are just too precious to waste. This is true in advertising too, which is often polluted by homogenisation (too many overly similar ideas) and the thinking ‘just as long as it gets people talking’ (cunning ideas that generate short-term metrics and results without any real effectiveness in the medium or long term).

Circular creativity fights this creative pollution: when done properly, creativity should maximise results, minimise the amount of time and money wasted, and optimise brainpower use, as the things it produces go back into circulation, generating new questions, stimulating new answers and inspiring new ideas. Circular creativity therefore produces long-lasting and tangible results. Take major brand manifestos like Apple’s Think Different: that one creation has generated countless other examples of creativity, ensuring the message lasts a very long time and keeping clients loyal.

In the book, you talk about the three Es of circular creativity. What are they, and why are they important?

The three Es of circular creativity are excellence, effectiveness and efficiency.

Creative excellence is not so much about the number of awards a person wins, but rather their ability to solve a problem in an original and memorable way that reduces the amount of wasted time, money and ideas to a minimum. Creativity can be defined as excellent when it is effective, that is when it works. And it is effective when it is efficient: when it produces great results with little wasted time, money and brain power.

Excellence, effectiveness and efficiency are circular qualities in creativity, because they are connected by a circular dynamic, where one leads to the next. I borrowed this idea from the concept of functional design devised by the Bauhaus and applied to the consumer market first by Dieter Rams at Braun and then Jony Ive at Apple. Every detail in a 1958 T3 radio or 2001 iPod has been developed methodically and carefully, to ensure it is in the right place and works properly, with minimal wasted concentration from the user. They are both such beautiful designs and so excellent creatively because they are efficient in their effectiveness, allowing people to obtain great results in just a few steps. And both designs maximise results while minimising waste in terms of materials, interactions, time and manufacturing costs. When creativity is circular, it drives effectiveness through its efficiency.

You also mention vampires in your book and your approaches. Tell us more…

Ah, viral vampires. They’re the frenemies of creativity. First, though, let’s take a step back: the most coveted form of creativity is something that triggers spontaneous word-of-mouth – since the 1990s, we’ve called this ‘going viral’, but this marketing goal has always existed, even before the digital age and social media.

What I realised is that the most powerful drivers of virality are the same every time. There are seven of them: innovation, humour, catchphrases, shock, celebrity, character and gossip. They are extremely powerful, and so always tend to work, but often benefit themselves more than their users. If you don’t know how to handle them, they end up sucking blood (i.e. attention and memorability) from everything else. That’s why I call them viral vampires.

Remember the selfie taken at the 2014 Oscars by Ellen De Generes, featuring a crowd of celebrities? I’m sure you do.

Many people remember it, because it combined lots of viral vampires in one photo. But I’m certain not many remember – if they even knew in the first place – that it was taken with a Samsung phone, the event’s major sponsor. The viral vampires went viral themselves, taking away visibility and memorability from everything else.

However, when you do manage to tame viral vampires by following careful creative rules, they can become extremely powerful creative allies, multiplying your creative effectiveness and efficiency. Then you’ve got yourself an excellent creative idea.

What is the relationship between technology and creativity?

Technology has always driven human thinking. It’s a human product that we use to test our human abilities.

I am so convinced of this I have coined a term, s/app/iens, to define the stage of evolution we have now reached: the non-surgical fusion of sapiens and internet through apps. Technology offers the power of innovation, which in turn has the wow factor: an emotion that fills even adults with childlike wonder. Innovation, and particularly technological innovation, is one of the most powerful viral vampires, and must be handled with extreme caution. Remember Clubhouse? In 2021 it was everywhere; everyone was talking about this new audio social network, and everyone wanted to be on it. And indeed, many brands did establish a presence there. But which ones? Do you remember any? We remember the innovative audio social network, but not the brands that tries to vampirise the hype. And that’s normal: they were clearly vampirised themselves. Technology can only become an ally of creativity when it is considered not as an object but rather a behaviour, strategy or experience.

A prime example of this is NikePlus – a tech design operation that stemmed from thinking about new technological behaviours connected to listening to music on an iPod while running and the sporting experience of having a digital performance coach – which ended up having a much greater impact on brand perception than any traditional form of advertising then undertaken by Nike.

But do effective and efficient marketing ideas have to be the preserve of big brands? Do you have any examples from SMEs or smaller organisations?

Great question, Alberto. This is a myth that definitely needs to be debunked.

Circular creativity gives you the best possible results from any investment, no matter how small. Sometimes it takes very little – even as little as three words.

Thanks to the power of two tamed viral vampires, gossip and celebrity, just three words – Brad is single – generated a stream of bookings and spontaneous word-of-mouth: people could not resist the practical draw of the saving (the promotion also included a 50% discount for passengers named Jennifer, a reference to Brad Pitt’s former wife, Jennifer Aniston) or the symbolic attraction of imagining themselves as Brad Pitt’s next flame.

Since I was born and raised in Piacenza in northern Italy, I’d like to end by telling you about a social media campaign for a lovely small client of mine in that area: the Colli Piacentini DOC wine consortium, for whom I was creative director in 2021. We had a very modest marketing budget, limiting us to copywriting content, so I enlisted the help of one of the viral vampires: humour. The resulting social media campaign allowed us to make the most of every last penny of the media budget, generating impressive earned media or spontaneous word-of-mouth results (almost 30 times higher than the previous year), which greatly enhanced the overall effectiveness (an almost 700% increase in visits to the consortium’s website, with almost 60% active user engagement ).

Circular creativity means getting ideas to work by making them excellent, effective and efficient, and reducing the creative pollution caused by homogenisation and untamed viral vampires. And this applies to both small and large budgets. Whether conducted on a small or large scale, circular creativity gets the most out of your budget, maximising the results and minimising wasted time, money and ideas.