Les Binet and Sarah Carter get a little bit angry about some of the nonsense they hear around them… like the notion that creativity is all about ideas.

At a recent 'away day', discussion turned to the issue of creativity. What exactly was the role of creativity for brands? How could it add value?

We found the discussion fascinating. It was a big, complex question. But interestingly, the same word kept cropping up: innovation. It was clear that to many people, creativity was about being new and different.

It's a really common view, but it got us thinking. Maybe creativity isn't really about new ideas. Maybe it's not about ideas at all. There is another side to creativity, which is far less frequently mentioned, but possibly far more powerful. Brilliant, effective creativity can be less a function of how new and different an idea is, and more about how this idea is brought to life.

We sometimes forget that we, people, respond to the design of a pack or a website or an ad as a whole – not just as an idea, a message or a storyline. Just as when we watch a stand-up comic we respond to the whole person – his or her posture, face, physique, timing, accent, gestures, eye movements – long before they start to tell the joke.

As Bill Bernbach said: "Most readers don't come away from their reading with a clear, precise, detailed registration of its contents on their minds, but, rather, with a vague, misty idea, formed as much by the pace, the proportions, the music of the writing as by the literal words themselves."

Craft, artistry, execution – call it what you will, this is a very different thing from the need to communicate a message, or even to showcase a big creative idea. Yet it is incredibly powerful. As we've pointed out before, studies by Watzlawick on relationships have shown that what he calls the 'meta-communication' or how something is said (gestures, tone of voice, body language, etc.) is far more influential than the 'message' or what is said.

It's the fine, often seemingly inconsequential details that really matter, not the big idea. It's the frog leaping into the coloured balls in the Sony Bravia ad, the eye-patch in the classic Hathaway shirts ads, the Smash Martians' laughter, the Russian accent of Aleksandr the Meerkat in the Compare The Market ads, the Guinness surfer's not-quite-straight eyes. It's what Bernbach referred to when he wrote: "I can put down on a page a picture of a man crying and it's just a picture of a man crying. Or I can put him down in such a way as to make you want to cry. The difference is artistry -the intangible thing that business distrusts."

Business distrusts art because it's obscure, complex and ambiguous. Indeed, William Empson believed that ambiguity was the very essence of poetry, hiding the message to make it richer.

But this stuff matters for very practical reasons. 'Doing the common thing uncommonly well' gets more attention, stimulates more mental processing, creates more and deeper mental connections, gets a bigger emotional response, and is more likely to be remembered. It's also more likely to be talked about and shared. People share kitten videos not because cute kittens are a new idea, but because of the precise way those kittens are being cute.

Without this magic, even the best 'creative idea' will fail. Evidence from Peter Field and Millward Brown themselves shows that creative awards correlate with effectiveness better than pre-test scores. But with it, ads without simple 'messages' can have big effects. It's hard to sum up simply the messages or ideas of 'I'd like to buy the world a Coke', or Nike's 'Write the future', or Budweiser's 'Whassup?' – they work instead through the details. And it pays back in spades.

Back to Bill: "Can you really judge an idea from a storyboard? How do you storyboard a smile?"

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Admap. Click here for subscription information.