Thursday, 14 June 2018

Thinking outside the Lego box

Originally published in Adnews 14 October 2015: What Lego can teach us about creative briefs.


A planner is only as good as the ideas of their creatives. Which means, next to representing the consumer, a planner's role should be to champion ideas and be the guardian of creative culture.

Page Moreau, marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin, and Marit Gundersen Engeset of Norway's Buskerud and Vestfold University, conducted an experiment on creativity, which produced results that can arguably be applied to advertising.

Their experiment got one group of children to build Lego using kits with instructions (i.e. Star Wars Lego), and the other group to free-build using Lego arbitrarily poured on the ground (i.e. childhood).

And the results: "The kids who tackled the well-defined problem of building the kits performed worse on subsequent creative tasks than a control group and those who built whatever they felt like."

Moreau's main take-out: "The search for the single right answer was largely responsible for the decline in creative performance." In other words: Instructions undermine creativity.

John Lennon - one of the most creative men in history - sums it up nicely: "You can't paint a picture on dirty paper, you need a clean sheet".

Which begs the question: By dictating what's to be communicated, in the form of a 'strategic' advertising brief, have we been unwittingly fostering an uncreative environment?

Because if a brief is not essentially a set of instructions, what is it? And, equally, what's a proposition - single minded, unique or otherwise - if it's not aiming for a 'single right answer'?

Effective advertising, according to Binet and Field's IPA research, is work that achieves salient fame (not the transmission of a persuasive message, or proposition). There's certainly no 'single right' message to achieve fame, so why have we been writing briefs like there is?

All we've been achieving by doing so, if the results of the Lego study are correct, is putting the creatives in a mindset that inhibits creative thinking - and subsequently, results.

So, instead of writing as if briefs are a set of instructions (dirtying John Lennon's paper), all we need to include are the building blocks - insights, associations, category conventions, brand's market-based assets etc.

Then get out of the way and let creatives play.

Christopher Ott

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