Creativity happens in response to problems.

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.

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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?


1 Comment

  1. Luke- are you starting an education program for clients?
    The typical reason they call us in is “we want to sell more and we don’t know how to do it.”
    The first problem is almost always that clients don’t know what we do or can do, and the second is they think they already know how to do what we do.
    Want to see an absolutely sickening client meeting?
    Watch this video as a school board member with a PhD tells the agency he helped hire to come up with a campaign in a week- using better “Landing pages” and, wait for this- “Flash”
    And you wonder…


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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.