Creative, or The Art of Unexpected Expectedness

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Today’s dispatch comes to us from Kurt Ravenwood, the “R” of SRH.

Hi all, Kurt here. I’m going to take a stab at defining “good” creative today. Now, when I say “creative”, I mean it in the context of advertising.

Here are some ways people define good creative in our business:

  • It answers the brief
  • It follows brand guidelines
  • It adheres to principles of good taste

All of those are important to have. But will they guarantee your creative is good? Hell no.

For me, good creative work makes people pay attention. That’s it. Everything’s against you as an advertiser, people will do anything they can to ignore commercials. Good creativity is hard to ignore.

“But Kurt, I could just copy and paste a picture of Johnny Depp looking sexy into my ad for transmissions, and you’re saying that would make it better creative? People would pay attention.”

Well… yes, look at this nonsensical ad, that still sticks with me. Legal troubles aside, putting Johnny Depp on your transmission ad would certainly be surprising and unexpected. And it turns out, that’s the secret to attention.

Let’s talk about the science behind the word: unexpected.

There’s this great book, it’s called Wizard of Ads. It’s… unique. The author built a cult-like following that involves a medieval-inspired compound in Texas. The Wizard may be kooky, but if you’ve heard a Kessler’s diamond ad, you’ve heard his work.

In his book, he talks about “Broca’s Area,” which is the part of your brain that anticipates and ignores the predictable. If you want to make good creative, you need to get past Broca’s area. You can’t be predictable.

“Kurt,” I hear you say “You’re full of horse crap. When building a brand, you need to be consistent, you need standards, you can’t just go willy nilly every campaign!”

Yes, yes. That is correct — you do need to stay on brand. But the key is doing it in an unexpected way. Just remember the twist endings of your favorite movies, and how that surprise sticks with you.

—WARNING: SPOILERS FOR A FILM FROM 20 YEARS AGO BELOW—

At the end of The Sixth Sense we find out that Bruce Willis was dead all along. For many people that was unexpected, but if you go back and watch the film, the director lays a strong trail of breadcrumbs that support this revelation.

You didn’t realize it, but when the twist came, it made sense because somewhere deep down it was expected.

Your campaign has to fit your brand — it has to be expected — but to gain your audience’s attention, it should do it in an unexpected way.

If you can do that, you may deem your creative “good.” Expect the unexpected, indeed.

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