Sunday, August 14, 2011

I hope you have three identical homes someday.

       Thriller writer Stuart Woods, whose books I'm afraid to read, has three homes. One is a co-op in New York; another is on Mount Desert Island, in Maine; and the third is in Key West, Florida. They're all decorated alike, with the same Ralph Lauren furnishings. "You get into certain grooves", Woods says, "I have certain requirements".

       The reason he has homes in three different locations is that he likes the same temperature year 'round, so he moves with the seasons. The reason they're all decorated the same is so he has less to adjust to as he moves from home to home.

        In my experience, creative people have certain requirements, too. They don't want to flay around wildly. They want to know the rules of the road. A lot of executive types think they're doing writers and art directors a favor by not giving them directions and boundaries. That's like giving someone a car with no brake pedal. In advertising at least, creative people want to know what to be creative about.

       Even if you're asking someone to think out of the box, the least you can do is show them the box.

       "The ultimate driving machine" for BMW came from looking carefully into the box. It helps separate performance-oriented BMW from, say, Mercedes, which is more of a luxury automobile with a soul. A few years ago when BMW insisted on trying to get part of Mercedes' luxury market, they ran ads showing elite polo players, and nearly lost their carefully-won performance branding.

       Nike's "just do it" campaigns aren't about shoes so much as they're about sports; sports values and the sports ethos. If you're not fully into the joy of winning and the agony of defeat, you shouldn't work on Nike marketing. Silly commercials, movie star endorsements --- sorry, that's not Nike.

       I enjoyed working on Pringles, Head and Shoulders, and Mr. Clean. Each Procter and Gamble product has its own hard-won creative strategy, and if you deviate from it, it could be curtains for you. But the commercials you write can be funny, serious, informative, anything --- just not off strategy. That's a requirement, and P&G people are great about letting you be creative within its bounds.

       Author Stuart Woods doesn't want to have an identity crisis every time he changes locations. He wants his creativity to come out with everything else held constant, not demanding his attention.

       He's got to keep his mind on making you jump out of your skin.



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