March 20, 2013

Think outside the bubble. Category experience can kill creativity.

If you’re scheduled for surgery, you (really truly deeply fervently) want the surgeon to have category experience – to have done that procedure 512 times before.

With a creative resource, not so much. You are, after all, looking for the breakthrough, the category changer, the wow factor, an end product that delights, surprises and opens the wallets of buyers. Aren’t you?

Surgeon13753639_sAnd yet… category experience is often demand number one.

That’s understandable – it’s an easy disqualifier to sift through candidates: “We want someone who speaks our language.” “How many widget-maker clients have you had?” It’s also reassurance for the insecure: “Don’t blame me. I chose the guys who did it 512 times before.”

Yes, it’s a comfort to find someone already in the bubble. But it’s often the road to Ordinary.

To illuminate, a personal story: years ago I had a subgroup within the creative team who handled our one-and-only ag client, a company I won’t name, but their initials are Monsanto. The subgroup consisted of an art director and a copywriter who had tons of ag experience. Then, with a deadline approaching for a new product intro, the art director had a heart attack, and the writer had a nervous breakdown. In a matter of days, I had one guy in a hospital, one guy in a rubber room, and a big problem on my hands. I recruited a brave art director, and flew to St. Louis to meet with the client. We asked for and got a one-day immersion in the product and the market, starting from our city-boy ignorance of “post-emergent herbicide” and “no-till” and when the heck do farmers make purchasing decisions?

Back home, but still basically ignorant, we pulled together a campaign that made sense to us, told the brand story, and made us smile. We held our breath. Net result? It was record-breaking in its impact, and won all kinds of industry awards. The success, I am convinced, came from our not knowing the traditional way things are done.

In short, growing your brand exponentially-not-incrementally might require a bomb-throwing disruptor more than a careful, surgical clinician with category experience. Celebrate the un-expected.

Yesterday, we got an RFP from a manufacturer looking for a re-branding which asked for recommendations from three other manufacturers for whom we had “done similar work.” Sigh. We knew two things for sure: they’re likely to get an Ordinary campaign – and we wouldn’t respond.