Bits & Pieces?
We all come up with good ideas and executions all the time. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t make it in advertising for very long. Every once in a while, good work becomes great work. That’s the work that wins awards, grabs the attention of the media and may even become a part of pop culture.
What factors differentiate the merely good from the great? A lot of variables affect the outcome (client relationships, agency culture, budget, attitude – just to name a few), but two play a larger role in success than all the others: the idea and the execution.
You can have a fantastic idea and an OK execution, and your final product will be good, not great.
Or you can have an OK idea and a fantastic execution, and your final product will be good, not great
You will only have a great final product if the idea and the execution are both outstanding.
Here’s an example. Dolly Parton had a fantastic idea for a song.
Her execution of the song was good, but it wasn’t great.
(I may not have loved her version of this song. But that doesn’t mean I won’t always love Dolly.)
It took Whitney Huston’s execution to elevate the song to new heights.
By collaborating, Dolly and Whitney achieved success that went beyond what each could have reached alone.
This song is a lot like advertising. Except in our field, the person who most often gets all the credit and glory is the one who comes up with the idea. But, as we’ve just heard, the idea is only half of what makes something exceptional. Even if you don’t come up with the idea, it’s important to remember that the execution is just as important. You can take a great deal of pride in what you can do to transform good into great.
As you get your next assignment, be inspired by Dolly and Whitney. (Just don’t sing to your partner too much. I’ve been told that’s annoying.)
1. CG and special effects have infiltrated advertising and it’s not a good thing. All the complaints about feature films apply now more than ever to the medium of the commercial — with companies falling into the big explosion / historical biopic / action sequence formula. In the end, story — along with poignancy — is lost. The Kia dream spot is the perfect example — lots of money, lots of effects and a resounding thud of stupidity. In this spot an alternate universe is depicted in which a guy, in a dreams, sees a group of women in bikinis and just drives by.
2. Unfortunately, the 80s are back. Ferris Bueller, The Cult, Echo and the Bunnymen, John Stamos … and I’m probably leaving a few others out. What’s next, a Howard the Duck remake?
3. Copywriting is still king. I know, I’m biased here. But among my peers the hands down best spot was the Chrysler Clint Eastwood spot. Why? It’s well written — in a way that makes you feel something — and the brilliantly-shot film doesn’t get in the way of the message — it enhances it. Nice job tying the timing of the spot — halftime — with the actual theme of the spot, too.
4. A C-RV is not a Ferrari. A lot of people really like Honda’s Ferris Bueller spot. And there are a lot of good things about the spot. But I can’t help but think of the huge risk Honda took by putting their car in a place that was once occupied by a vintage Ferrari. That was Bueller’s great appeal and the thing that created tension in the original movie. While the C-RV is a nice car, it is the symbol now of ho hum forty something adventure riding — an “adventure” that leads to carnivals and museums.
4. Sometimes the client wins. I liked the Chevy Silverado “2012″ spot until one of the guys asks “Where’s Dave?” and a guy answers, “Dave didn’t drive the longest-lasting, most dependable truck on the road.” It’s about as ham fisted as it gets. It FEELS like the client wrote it. I have to believe there isn’t a creative person anywhere that would suggest the line and I could picture them begging — “can’t it be type on the screen?” “I’ll compromise — how about an announcer read?” “Isn’t seeing the product drive out of an apocalypse-ridden city proof enough that it’s dependable?”
5. The truth always wins out. The new VW Beetle spot featuring a fitness-crazed dog paled in comparison to last year’s Darth Vader spot because it simply doesn’t ring as true. A kid in a Darth Vader costume is human and resonates on an emotional level. A dog that works out just to make a point has the “cute-dog factor” — but isn’t nearly as entertaining, or as endearing. Great looking car and on the bright side, they do a great job of keeping things simple. Which leads me to ….
6. It’s incredibly hard to keep it simple. But when you do, good things can happen. Take the Toyota Camry spot that stays on point with the “reinvent” theme. It’s a great spot because it uses a simple concept to get across not just an idea about the car but about their philosophy as a company — and it works. You’ve got to love a spot that ends with “you’re welcome.”
7. Whether you like it or not, Coke must be recognized for being the only company that has a strong “brand.” I’m not a big fan of the polar bears. But they’ve got a theme and they’re sticking with it. It makes Coke stand out and get a little more brand recognition than others. Can you tell the difference between a Hyundai spot and a Kia spot? Or a Best Buy spot and a Samsung spot?
8. When done well, a simple, tried-and-true testimonial still works. Take GE, which has its employees tell the story. Well shot and nicely executed, these spots aren’t groundbreaking by any means, but they do a great job in what by all accounts should be a tired formula by now. I think it speaks to authenticity when a company’s employees can tell the story — it feels more “real.”
9. And lastly, for us ad folks, the game feels like a mediocre commercial for the NFL. All the buildup, all the hype, all the chatter about the game — and when it’s over it was just that — a game. This year it wasn’t extraordinarily well played, and the miscues overshadowed the big plays. I guess that describes the state of the commercials too.
So what do you think? Did you have your favorites? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let’s hear it.
Anyone can be creative. Often the biggest obstacle to innovative thought and new ideas is one’s own habitual mental beliefs that they are incapable of coming up with brand new, creative ideas, or that they don’t possess enough knowledge about a subject to think differently about it – often as a means to avoid failure.
The truth is that we are all responsible for and capable of creative thinking. Regardless of our specific functions in the workplace, we all work to achieve an ultimate goal and solve larger problems.
Creativity is a paradoxical concept. In order to create something new, one needs to have knowledge, but forget that knowledge, to identify unexpected or unobvious connections in things. We need to work diligently but also allow down time to allow information to set in and inspiration to strike. We need to collaborate as a team but look at the same information and see it differently. We also must have the confidence in our abilities to head to the advice of experts, but know when it is appropriate or strategic to propose something different.
Michael Michalko, author of Creative Thinkering, Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques) and Cracking Creativity, worked as an army officer where he organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and academics from around the world to gather information on the best inventive thinking methods. Below are some of his key takeaways, which can be applied to creative thinking regardless of the environment or role you find yourself in.
- You are creative. Each of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not.
- Creative thinking is work. You must have passion and determination to immerse yourself in the process of creating new ideas. You must also have patience to persevere against all adversity. All creative geniuses work passionately hard and produce incredible numbers of ideas, most of which are bad.
- You must go through the motions of being creative. When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become.
- Expect the experts to be negative. The more expert and specialized a person becomes, the more their mindset becomes narrowed and the more fixated they become on confirming what they believe to be absolute. Consequently, when confronted with new and different ideas, their focus will be on conformity. Does it conform with what I know is right? If not, experts will spend all their time showing and explaining why it can’t be done and why it can’t work. They will not look for ways to make it work or get it done because this might demonstrate that what they regarded as absolute is not absolute at all.
- There is no such thing as failure. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have learned something that does not work. Ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?”
- You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are. Interpret your own experiences. All experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. You give them meaning by the way you choose to interpret them.
- Always approach a problem on its own terms. Do not trust your first perspective of a problem, as it will be too biased toward your usual way of thinking. Always look at your problem from multiple perspectives. Always remember that genius is finding a perspective no one else has taken. Look for different ways to look at the problem. Write the problem statement several times using different words. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
- Learn to think unconventionally. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers that mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. These new patterns lead to new connections, which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on.
As Albert Einstein once famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
I love “not knowing.”
I love writing songs because generally I have no idea what that song is going to sound like when I’m done. I love taking little photo journeys, wondering what kind of shots I’m going to get. And in my job in advertising, I love the next creative opportunity and wondering how I, along with the team, are going to solve it. The “not knowing” is part of the thrill of the chase.
But if you’re creative, like me, you run into brick walls periodically. For me the brick wall is usually fortified with some kind of impenetrable force that stifles my enthusiasm, desire, and willingness to try harder.
As you grow as a creative person, the brick wall is perceived as a number of different things: the reason to quit your job, the reason you suck, the reason advertising may not be your calling, the reason to stop searching Some of these things may or may not be true. Generally, based on my experience, they’re not. (And really, we should never stop searching.)
But I have figured out the reason the brick wall exists. It exists because, generally speaking I “know too much.”
Let me explain.
As creative people, over time, we take on baggage. When you first start a creative endeavor, the only baggage you have is your own tendencies as a creative person, your past experience, and the things going on in your life. Your baggage, as far as your work is concerned, is relatively light. When a new client or opportunity comes along all things seem bright — you have a new challenge and you’re excited to see what your creative output is going to be.
Then, over time, baggage starts to build up. Client meetings. Rounds of work. More meetings. Dead concepts. Corporate machinations. A victory here and there. You begin to know the client, their taste, and their goals very well. You begin to see what the limits of your creativity can be within a certain context. It’s like going to the same location to shoot photography over and over again. Or writing songs with the same band for years — there is a good reason songwriters make solo albums.
When the definition of insanity starts to creep in — you know, the whole “doing the same thing over and over again” thing — you’re in real trouble. The wall begins to build.
This baggage corners your creative psyche inside your brain armed with a knife, threatening to stab and kill it.
So what do you do? Because knowing too much can kill the creative desire to discover, you need change. A new account. A new lens. A new photo location. A new musical instrument. Heck, move around your office to get a new perspective. Agencies can shift creative teams to new accounts. Change keeps things fresh and change brings new things to discover. It can also bring you back to where you were blocked with a whole new perspective too.
It’s good for agencies to recognize those who have hit a wall and help bring about the change the staff needs. What do you think? Are you driven by not knowing?
It’s not new news, but most of the time, even in our changing world—many advertisers still want to talk more about themselves than their consumers. In their version of the advertising strategy, features outweigh benefits in key messaging platforms. Especially with limited dollars, “more bang for the buck” comes with cramming every nook and cranny of a spot with something to say about the product. I’m not casting judgement. I get it—with the pressure to succeed, and success ever more tied to ROI, it’s tough to be a marketer. But I urge us all to still focus on the consumer. Something I think we did well (along with our client) in these recent spots for HSHS (Hospital Sisters Health System) in Green Bay.
You may have read a post here months back, on a 60 second spot we shot with Michael Prince for the brand. Well, these are the harder-hitting siblings of that spot. What we’d call the “service line” spots for cancer and orthopedics. These spots carry some pretty heavy loads—boasting that “we provide the most treatment options,” that “we beat national survival rates” and that “we are among the nation’s best” when it comes to cancer. Product features, not benefits. But notice how the facts are surrounded both visually and verbally with “life”, “hope” and “a new belief.” Things I believe every person with cancer wants as much as the latest and greatest treatment.
By identifying that what we see in a cancer patient is a path to new life, we brought context, benefit and a personal connection to what would be a list of ingredients. Kudos to the team and the client on recognizing the fine balance between logic and emotion, especially when it comes to our health.
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