Sounds like a contradiction in terms, rules for creativity, right? But successful creativity depends heavily on rules. That’s because truly creative people don’t ignore rules. Indeed, they pay more attention to them than most people, because originality is all about knowing when and where the rules can be broken to create something new.
Tennis without a Net
Robert Frost used to complain that writing unrhymed free verse was like playing tennis without a net. For him, rhyme was the foundation of the poetic arena. Rhyme created expectations on the part of the reader that could be strategically violated, twisted, ignored, or met. He knew the rules of poetry so well that he could manipulate these expectations in unexpected ways, and that is really what great poetry is all about, whether it rhymes or not.
The same is true of great marketing. Context and convention, which are just different words for rules, are what make a marketing message relevant, intelligible, and acceptable to a particular audience. However, the effectiveness of a message often depends on its ability to defy context or break with convention at crucial moments. And really good marketers realize that context and convention are changing all the time, which makes this game even more interesting.
Funny Insurance Ads
Consider, for example, the recent trend in insurance commercials. A few years ago, somebody decided that “funny” sells insurance. State Farm, Allstate, and Geico are all running funny ads, but all of those ads play to one degree or another on a tradition of somber, serious insurance advertisements. Allstate has even found a way to spoof their own serious ads by putting the voice of their serious spokeperson into the mouths of other characters. And it won’t be long before someone figures out a way to bring “serious” back to insurance advertisements, just when our expectations have adjusted to the idea that all good insurance ads have to be funny.
If you want someone who can think “outside the box” for your creative projects, look for someone who knows that box, inside and out.
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