Tuesday 21 June 2016

Think inside the box

Originally published in adnews.com.au 3 March 2015.  

As a card carrying creative, what I’m about to say could get me kicked out the circle. Despite what you think you know, ‘thinking outside the box’ is the single most erroneous platitude in the history of creativity.

Thinking inside the box is the real tip. Restrictions, constraints, parameters, boundaries – whatever you call them - create a box that keeps ideas salient, and surprisingly more creative.

“Give me the freedom of a tight brief” Ogilvy.

In the case of an advertising brief, it guarantees whatever idea you come up with (inside the box), it will achieve one of the main objectives of any campaign: to be remembered.

Advertising works by getting your brand stuck in your audience’s minds, so when they’re in a buying situation next they’ll be more likely to buy you.  

This means for your ads to be effective, they need to be loaded with memory cues that make it easy for this to occur - like the little hooks on Velcro, each cue makes your idea more adhesive and easier to remember.

How do you make sure your ideas are stacked with said cues? Simple. You think inside the box. It’s impossible to introduce random or un-ownable objects, environments, symbols or ideas if your thinking’s focussed inside the world of the brand.

And not only does it make your advertising more effective; it also makes it more creative. Which achieves the other essential ingredient to effective advertising: to get noticed.  

If your advertising doesn’t get noticed it may as well not exist. And to be noticed it needs to be creative. Thinking within the box achieves this, too.

A team of researchers (2009) looked for patterns in highly awarded ads – trying to crack the ad code - and what they found was that the best ads all had something in common:

They worked in the ‘closed world’ of the brand. In other words ‘the box’.

What does this all mean for creatives, and the suits and clients that brief them?

If we know an advert needs to be conceived inside the box to be effective and creative - to get noticed and remembered - then it gives us all a new starting point.

The suits can outline the box in their brief, it gives clients something to judge the ideas on (other than what their partner/dog/goldfish think), and it lets creatives start with more than just a blank sheet of paper.

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”  TS Eliot.

 ‘Thinking outside the box’ is a bum steer. It will only lead you away from the solution to your brief. And if that happens you’ll end up wasting a lot of time reigning your ideas back to relevance – that is, instead of making magic.

Think inside the box. Not outside.

Christopher Ott

Goldenberg J, Levav A, Mazursky D, Solomon S. 2009. Cracking the Ad Code. Cambridge University Press. 

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