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Blog Post: Blue-Sky Thinking Is Lazy. Discuss.

XYZ Creative Director Paul Stanway questions the previously untouchable concept of total creative freedom in integrated projects…

The positive problem of being really busy has meant the blog has had to take a back seat of late, but we’re back on it now and I’ve chosen a subject that has at times impacted on integrated multi-agency projects we’ve worked on in the past.

Controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway. Blue-Sky thinking is a cop out. Creativity without thought to feasibility is an indulgent route at best, and at worst it’s just plain lazy.

Sooner or later reality is going to kick in and decisions are going to have to be made in order to bring the idea to life, because in real life there are no Toolbar settings to magically produce the effect that sounded so good in the brainstorm. The compromises you have to make as a result of stubbornly trying to execute a creative that has no respect for real world or budgetary parameters are far worse than the compromises you have to make in creating something fit for purpose in the first place. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Pragmatism is not a dirty word.

Parameters, problems and restrictions are often the unsung heroes of successful work. They create tension and pressure which in turn focus our minds and creativity in the same way as adrenalin affects performance in sport. As creatives we can be guilty as sin of adopting the high ground when it comes to conceptual work, decrying pragmatists (or production managers as I refer to them) for “black hatting” and being negative too soon in the creative process. Conversely, I don’t believe in ditching a concept at the first hurdle either. Just because it’s not immediately apparent how to make it happen, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Isn’t that why a lot of us do this in the first place? To figure this kind of thing out. Like many areas in life, maintaining a healthy tension between opinions can often produce great results.

If you do work in a medium where you are able to jettison the drag factor of reality, then as far as I’m concerned you have a duty as a creative to produce work as fantastical, imaginative and unencumbered by the dull realities of everyday life as possible. Leave the world behind and take us on a journey somewhere we couldn’t and wouldn’t already go. Do not waste hours (and your talent) trying to convince us that model X has slimmer legs or actor Y has less than 1% body fat. It doesn’t add anything to the world and just makes people feel bad about themselves. But in experiential we’re not working in such a world, our world has gravity, Risk Assessments and ambient light, amongst many other dull things. But our world also has touch, taste, surprise and lots of other amazing things that we can harness to our advantage if we prioritise them in the initial creative.

I liken experiential work to theatre. No one has tried to stage The Fast & The Furious at the Donmar Warehouse, and quite rightly so. The medium is not correct to tell that kind of story, and if you did you’d be playing some terrible back projection of speeding streets to an empty theatre. For the most part plays don’t try to tell stories that aren’t based around an immediate emotional connection between performance and audience for their power. So instead of emulating their cinematic relatives, playwrights concentrate of producing the very best possible work that is best served by theatre alone.

What we do also has immediacy, it is emotional and requires proximity to our audience, and with that come some parameters. That may mean the experiential execution plays out slightly different to an execution in print ads, online or in the TVC, but if the emotional truth of the core idea is still there for all to see then is it really all that different? If it can’t withstand a slight difference of interpretation then we need to ask ourselves if it is really a strong enough idea in the first place?

The stories that stay with us are often those in which we can place ourselves and allow us to personalise them. They remain the same story but become ours at the same time. I deliberately use the term story, not book or film or poetry – they’re channels just like YouTube, Twitter or 48-sheet poster sites.

We are what we create, we create what we are.

Long gone are the days of a single channel being used by a brand to speak to their customers, so how are you going to get anywhere if the creative you’ve come up with is only going to work in one or two very specific media types? Equally important is the need to avoid generalisation, we all know that painting people as stereotypes is a surefire way to ensuring they react against the message. It’s a paradox isn’t it? We’re looking for universal truths to reassure us we’re not alone in the universe but we also demand to be able to direct relate it to ourselves otherwise it’s not insightful enough. Of course it is, humans are a jumbled mass of contradictions and conflicting opinions. We created this thing called marketing, and as such it works in the exactly the same infuriatingly complex way as we do. We are what we create, and we create what we are.

So if we can all agree that central creative needs to be robust enough to withstand interpretation in different media, let’s tackle it early in the process. That way the core, central truths of what makes the idea effective are still fresh in mind and won’t be lost in the fog of production. Best practice in this area has to be to understand and (more importantly) acknowledge what will and will not be effective in the medium we’re using to communicate the creative. This applies to scale and budget as well as feasibility. Where changes need to be made, surely it’s better to do that from a position of active understanding than from passive ignorance?

“Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in Post”.

There’s a saying in film production – “don’t worry, we’ll fix it in post”, yet if you ask anyone who actually works in post-production they’ll more than likely tell you it takes twice as long and costs twice as much to do that. In experiential we have no post-production tools (again, back to the theatrical analogy) so it has to be fixed in pre-production. Creative issues are no different from any other, and by tackling them early you can not only reduce their impact but often turn them to your advantage.

Paul Stanway | Creative Director – XYZ