Thought Leadership

Meet the Forward: When the best creativity is invisible, how can we learn from it?

We need to stop fixating on the tip of the iceberg and understand the power of creativity below the brand’s surface. Because often it’s the invisible interventions and minutiae of creative craft that make the biggest difference.

Ben Essen, Iris

Chief Strategy Officer


Click to the ‘work’ section of an agency website and you are faced with a familiar sight: a patchwork of two-minute videos highlighting some of the best films that agency has produced.

Scrolling through these reels feels like scrolling through the feed of an aspirational influencer. Glossy, filtered images of a perfect end product which leave you with the feeling something has been edited out. These films are the tip of the creative iceberg, a carefully curated highlight with little indication what was really going on beneath the surface.

For any marketer looking to transform their brand, they are inadequate summaries. They show you where the brand ended up but provide very little insight into what it really took to get there.

For the best modern integrated agencies, 90% of the work the agency does is hidden from plain sight. The strategic machinations, the inter-specialism negotiation, the client collaboration, stakeholder management, creative experiments and marketing failures it took to get to success. The role of a modern marketer, and their agency, is as much about building the infrastructure for success as building the campaign that celebrates it.

In an omnichannel age when brands are built through the whole experience, not just the ads, the best creativity can often be invisible. It is harder than ever to work out what’s driving the success of the brands built through participation and customer experience. The best creative innovations can be only visible as an absence: the absence of a queue, or fewer negative comments on the Facebook page.

With these shifts in mind, Iris has reinvented how we share our work. Instead of a glossy reel or annual, we have launched a new seminar-based approach, where each client project is given a 30-minute-deep dive into what really went on. All the hidden details are revealed from the client-agency dynamic to the creative nuances hidden from the human eye.

And instead of these being an agency bragging opportunity, these are co-presented with the brand marketers responsible, to better reflect the client-agency collaboration that went on behind them.


Kelly McConville, Head of Social Media and Content, EMEA, Uber

Neil Manhas, MD, Pizza Hut Delivery UK, Yum! Brands

Tim Hulbert, MD & Group Head of Brand and Insights, Barclays

Tom Preston, Head of Online Retail, Samsung Electronics

Guest Author

Ben Essen, Iris

Chief Strategy Officer,


As Chief Strategy Officer, Ben has been at the forefront of Iris’ Participation Brand building work over the past 10 years, producing award-winning work for Samsung, adidas and Pizza Hut. Ben spent two years in the USA providing strategic direction for Coke and Reckitt Benckiser and has since helped build Iris London’s strategy unit to over 50 planners, strategists and analysts. Ben is a regular speaker at Adweek, SXSW and Cannes on topics around creativity, culture and progressive branding and was awarded the Admap prize in 2015 for his thinking on data and creativity.

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