Shoot some PIG

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For his 25th birthday one of my copywriters was given an inflatable basketball and goal by his co-workers. It now adorns a corner in his office. There is something infinitely satisfying about hitting a hook shot while goading him to meet a deadline. All kidding aside, this little basketball goal is quite therapeutic. By bouncing (no pun intended) ideas around in his office while shooting that little blow-up ball, listening for nothing but swoosh we keep the thinking loose and spontaneous. It breaks up pressure.

However, a dispute developed while we enjoyed a heated battle of the basketball shooting game PIG. You know the game. A person makes a shot and if their competitor doesn’t make the same shot he gets a letter. The first to spell PIG loses. The disagreement was over the rules of the game when more than two people are in competition.

My position is that the shot made by one competitor must be made by all. Some of my obviously less-experienced competition believes the official rule is that after a shot is made it has to be matched only by the shooter who follows. If he or she misses the game is reset and the next competitor may take any shot he or she prefers. So far we have played by my rules. (Surprise.) But my competitors whine continually, feeling that I am not giving them their right to play by their less demanding rules. By the way, they may be right about the rule, but distracting them with debate helps my chances of victory. I know however that in the long run they will see the wisdom of my “new” rule.

All of this disagreement about the rules of PIG got me to thinking about the rules of life in general. Politics, religion, even your bathroom habits are formed and practiced by following the rules passed on to you from society. While still in diapers, I learned the classic of all rules, how to lower the toilet seat from my older sister. Yes, rules are here to stay.

It’s obvious all great rule makers have something in common. They all broke a rule that was in place to install their new and improved rule. Think about America’s our founding fathers. They broke all the rules because they saw a better way.

If we are to do better work in advertising we have to be willing to risk our necks, like they did. We have to have a certain dissatisfaction with the work we have done that has met with approval. Our work isn’t a flange machined from stainless steel. It can’t be programmed to work. But the rules that are put in agencies’ and client’s minds convinces many there are rules for successful advertising. Take for example the television commercial. If we obey the rules for a guaranteed effective commercial, it would have a jingle, written to the tune of a popular song from the 60’s or 70’s. The product would appear in the first three seconds being held by a Hollywood celebrity, or a professional athlete. The spot would be culminated with a succinct three-word tagline. Can you imagine anything more bullet proof?

We work very hard here to educate clients about the dangers of “rules” in creative thinking. This begins with the strategic plan through the creative execution. Advertisers cannot afford to rely on rules to guarantee success.

But clients aren’t our biggest danger to creative thinking. I think we can be our own worst enemy many times. As I’ve judged creative competitions I’ve observed that there is a “safe” zone of creative executions. These formulaic ads always makes it into the “yes” pile no matter how many times they’ve seen it before. The truly innovative thinking is also present and might I add, more handsomely rewarded, but why is it that we have such a comfort zone for repetitive thinking?

I once had an employee who told me he had figured out the formula for winning and there was no point in doing anything else. The formula: Stunning photograph. Short, clever headline. Logo. The scary thing is that he was right. He got in the shows over and over with this very well worn technique. I’m not criticizing his solutions. Some were quite clever. But I do believe that this attitude is as bad as a client who wants a jingle or a tagline because everyone has one.

We will not stretch our industry into new areas if we aren’t ready to break the rules, especially the ones we love. We must not think about what clients and show judges will like. We must strive to discover new way to stand apart. My hat is off to those who are risking much with their clients and peers by trying to start a revolution.
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