It’s time to get back in the box
Everyone on earth has been told they needed to, “think outside the box.” It’s a tired old term. But ironically, I’m here to suggest that what it replaced—”thinking inside the box”— is now actually more true in today’s uber-connected world.
See, thinking outside the box worked when our job was to “interupt” people. To come up with a crazy idea that would get people to take notice—a “hey look at me” tactic. Go back to Apple’s “1984” commercial. Or anyone remember, like them or hate them, the Quizno’s spongmonkey commercials? I realize some reading may not have been born in 1984, but Apple’s Macintosh launch was a piece of advertising history worth knowing about and it was certainly noticed back then.
Now fast forward to the millions of “viral” videos. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Do something outside the box—like make one of those viral videos.” First mistake in that statement is it wasn’t going to be viral until at least one viewer said it was good enough to share. And second, what the heck is the purpose? Seemed no one ever had too much of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot about popular content. But, I have to admit, I am a strategic creative. While I like creative for creative’s sake from time to time, I’m an inside out kind of a guy—I’d prefer to cuddle up to some research and some key consumer insights before I try to solve a problem. And I’d suggest that some of the more brilliant marketing tactics of late, start from painting oneself into a corner before knocking it out of the ballpark. Or to use the metaphor it the title, thinking inside the box can help you achieve succeess well outside the box.
As creatives, strategy is our friend. It tells us what to say to whom. It doesn’t restrict our thinking, it just channels our thoughts. If strategy comes with insights gathered from data or qualitative research that you trust, even better. Because of that, I’ve never really thought about thinking “outside the box,” the process to me is always inside, the fruits of our labor are what fall outside the box.
Strategy and insights form the foundation of what we do, always been true, never truer. What we used to do, whether we thought about it as out of the box thinking or not, was toss rocks over the sides of the box. Like a viral video here, or a guerilla tactic there. All concieved to make a ripple in a crowd of people. But to what end? Did it matter that most of the people who witnessed the message could care less about a brand? Well, for the most part it didn’t matter. Until the consumer got a way to be heard.
The way I see it now (refer to the sketch), we stand on strategy as firm as ever. We need consumer insights now more than ever. Why, well look in that box—as creative people (that means every person in this place), we now have two challenges that the new world is making us responsible for: setting goals, and measuring our success. They are finding their way into the foundation of what we do every day. Want proof? Just count how many times you’ve heard “social marketing” and “ROI” mentioned in the same sentence the past 12 months.
Our jobs are no longer about tossing ideas over the walls of the box from the solid ground of strategy and insight—to interrupt—without concern for what happened to our precious concept until far later. It’s now about breaking down the walls to get engagement and involvement—immediately. While our ideas can be outrageous and incredible, they are deliberate—because we know what we are asking for in return. And it’s more than a “please don’t surf to another channel while my commercial is on.”
How do we break down the barriers? Well, pick a wall, the directions are there. Choose “relevancy” or “utility” or maybe it’s to break down a wall with a “shared purpose” or belief. You can use an “incentive” or a “cultural movement,” you can use any motivation a group or individual responds to. The key is that they respond.
I contend that while social media and the likes include a lot of experimentation and adjustment, success is a calculated guess, not a shot in the dark. Consumers tell us what they think. They tell us what they want. We use our gut instincts to judge a creative idea based on what we know. Same as always. What’s different is that the medium could be anything. And the success isn’t only based on sales or next year’s benchmark research on awareness and perception.
The point is, even if you were on board with out of the box thinking, it doesn’t cut it anymore. Get back in the box and think your way out.
I’d be happy to hear others’ theories on where thinking has evolved. What’s changed for you?