03 Jan Why Creative?
Super Bowl LI (51 to non-Romans) will kick off soon. It’s the only time of year the entire country watches commercials with as much interest as the programming they interrupt. The rest of the year, when we flip through the paper or a magazine, channel surf or surf the Net, our attention focuses on getting the entertainment or information we want. Ads are a distraction, at least the great ones are.
Romans also know the Latin root of advertising is “to turn” – your head, your attention. Our Number 1 task as marketing communications professionals is to distract the members of our chosen target audience, away from where they intend to go. For example, if they are reading, they are looking to find a particular article, or if perusing the web, they are looking to read a post. Unless they are reading a fashion magazine, they are not there to look at ads. And with TV, commercials are useful for getting up and going to the fridge for another brewski. But, if you can craft a message to divert them, and hold them for a moment, you can impart your message. It may not be easy, but we have to be crafty – in a good way.
Your most effective tool in doing this is creativity. To arrest that attention, you first need to get a level on the “expected” content of the ads in a medium. Assessing media ad environments requires taking a look at as many ads as possible within an industry. A pattern often emerges. For example, in utility publications, (whether print or online) the visual is a transmission tower or, if daring, a bolt of lightning. In electronic publications its a choice: circuit board or proverbial black box. Advertisers in systems books and sites approve ads with computer displays – and the more the merrier. With little else to show and devoid of a creative concept, all too common, the product is tarted up with star-bursts and check marks and exploding colors that drive the viewer’s eye to anywhere but here. Identify the “expected” and you’ll know exactly what not to do, if you want stopping power.
The next creative step is research. That’s right. Get steeped in the functional reality of the subject, product or service – the who-what-why-where-when of it. After an incubation-rumination period, which could last anywhere from a few days to a week, scenarios and analogies present themselves – some clever or humorous, some beautiful, or downright unsavory. During this time you or your creative person’s antenna is up to collect relevant stimuli from sources in which there may be no prior interest. Pay attention to anything and everything in the product’s arena. For MKTX, who services high tech and industrial clients, there’s usually a lot of material to absorb. Intellectual curiosity finds this process interesting, even fun. Let all the ideas in. Filter nothing…though one might not share them all. At this notional stage, concepts are fragile. One negative word can blow them away. If not rejected immediately, these bizarre, nutty, crazy ideas can often be the bridge to a handful of unique concepts with real stopping power that would otherwise not have occurred to you.
The best concepts not only stop the viewer, but cause the viewer to linger, thinking “Huh?,” before putting two-and-two together. This is followed proudly by, “I get it. Pretty cool.” A person who ‘gets’ an ad, as opposed to having it shoved down her throat, likes the ad because it acknowledges her intelligence, and by association, she likes the brand or company behind it. This kind of engagement makes the ad worth its salt.
If your advertising looks a lot like others in your industry, think creatively of the alternatives that will command attention and set you apart. ‘Expected’ ads are probably wasting media dollars as the audience flips past, or worse, never actually sees because their conscious mind is not diverted. Besides being effective in getting attention, most people like creative ads. It’s the one thread of commonality in our chatter about them the day after the Super Bowl. If all advertisers valued their communications as much as those who pay $4 million per 30-second spot, the investment in creativity would become the expected, instead of the exception.