No presentations with titles like “Effective management thru visualization!”
No slides with lines like “follow your heart to creativity!”
No advice like “let your creativity sparkle brightly!” ever.
No fluffy non-speeches like “be more creative in three easy steps!”
No slides that say “creativity is courage” ever.
No cliches about “don't be afraid to try!”
On Thursday, March 23rd, I am presenting a webinar about brand storytelling where I describe some of the very best ways I’ve found to create storytelling platforms. (Register here.) A big part of storytelling, of course, is establishing conflict. I couldn’t fit everything into the webinar, and had to cut this part about the purpose of conflict in brand storytelling. So, I put it here.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Creativity happens best, in my opinion, when we’re presented with a problem, not a solution.
I am not a strategist and never have been. But in my experience, I think the best briefs set things up as a problem, not a solution.
A wall, for example, presents itself.
Okay, … I can go over the wall – with a rope, a ladder. I can go under it with a shovel, through it with a bulldozer, or beam down on the other side with Spock.
Or, on the other hand, I can be presented with the land on the other side of the wall. (Which is how I think most briefs read. “Please do an ad about this fine ten-square-yard patch of lawn.”) Well, I’m sure it’s a fine hundred-square-feet of winter rye on the other side of the wall; thick, green, and the envy of the entire block. But because it’s a solution and not a problem, as a creative I always wondered, where do I go from here?
One could argue this hypothetical lawn could be turned into something creatively dazzling, in all kinds of ways. It could, yes, but I’ll dig in my heels here to make a point. When you start with a problem, you have the beginning of a story. And story is a bigger, better place to work towards than just an ad or a campaign.
As you may recall from Mrs. Hansen’s 11th-grade English, all drama is conflict. Sometimes it’s a protagonist versus an antagonist. Sometimes it’s love versus loneliness. But there’s always a “versus” and it’s that versus which drives the story.
What’s interesting to note here is how stories never start with a “happy ending.” A good thing, because happy endings aren’t interesting. It’s the beginnings, where the problems are, that make us lean in. I’ll wager if we were hours late to a movie, few of us would buy a ticket to catch the last scenes and the credits. Everything turned out okay of course, but it’s the least interesting part of the story.
Unfortunately, many people think the purpose of a brief is to provide creatives with all the information they’ll need to film the happy ending.
I’m not positive I’m right about this. But I suspect most creatives would agree it’s easier to create something interesting when you’re presented with a problem and not a solution.
That’s my 2¢. What’s yours?
“Don’t do an ad. Do something interesting.”
This is one of the best and most basic pieces of advice I have for my students and, for that matter, anyone in the communications industry. Because when you follow it, you’ve pulled yourself out of the old world of advertising into the new.
The old-world model is what I’ll call “interruption-based” advertising.
In this model (which is kinda like Mad Men), we all sit around drinking Old Fashions, smoking filter-less cigarettes, and figuring out the right message; the right headline. “What,” we ask, “is precisely the thing we want to say?”
Once we have this polished gem of advertising perfection, we go out into the world and use it to interrupt, harangue, and irritate pretty much everybody. We barge into their homes, onto their TV programs and car radios, and breathlessly unreel our fascinating story about the acne medication that will change lives.
The new model, I think, is not only more polite but more effective. The new model suggests instead of saying something, we do something. We do something so interesting we don’t have to interrupt anybody to get their attention. Because if what we do is sufficiently interesting, they’ll find us. Our ads don’t have to carry our message, people will.
The real trick in this new model is this: we have to do things so interesting, people will listen even if they’re not currently in the market for our brand or even our category. I’ve watched – and I’ve shared – interesting content made by tampon manufacturers. Such is the difference between messaging and content. Because content is interesting in and of itself.
Where we once spent time worrying about what our clients should say, today our time is often better spent figuring out what brands can do.
Doing something interesting, something that communicates the value of a brand without using interruption, is the first part of a simple four-step approach I learned from my co-author, Edward Boches. He writes about it elegantly on pages 211 – 213 in the new edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.
I’ll be doing a live webinar on how folks can use this concept to leverage social media platforms for their brands. It happens this very Friday, December 9th at 12:30. You can register here.