Copywriting: Creative Technique 2

[June 29, 2010]

“Your first thought is always the best,” goes the wizened wisdom of many a creative with no creative process. Of course, if gut instinct is your only creative tool, that tired maxim might make some sense—and my sincerest sympathies the day your gut comes up empty. Look for that to happen sometime in the near future, when everyone clamors for a “Big Idea” to shower them with millions.

Not that there’s anything wrong with jotting down any relevant thought the moment it pops into your head. The start of a project is not the time to suppress your imagination. Besides, the tiniest scraps of inspiration can sometimes come in handy as you work out the final details.

Dig into the background.
But before you commit yourself to any concept, I suggest you start by absorbing all the available background material. While no mere information-gathering process should determine the shape or scope of creative concepts, consumer “data” is important for two reasons. Properly interpreted, these shreds of insight do place the brand in a larger social context.

They also give you and your colleagues a shared vocabulary at a critical stage of the process. Considering the number of projects that get derailed because of poor internal communication, that’s no small thing.

But having absorbed the background data, shove it right back into the background. Only in very rare cases can literal quotation from consumer data be of much use. A creative concept must be more than the bearer of information. It must move, motivate and be memorable—the start of a lasting, sustainable connection to your audience.

Start with connections close at hand.

Now imagine you’ve just been briefed on a new assignment. The Ginsu knife, a legacy brand, wants to re-enter the market. All you have to go one is:

The knife is pretty darn sharp

People over 40 have fairly good recall of those classic TV spots

And one more thing, in 2010, Ginsu wants to reposition itself as the knife of choice for the upscale kitchen.

Hmm. Well, imagine a celebrity endorsement campaign featuring America’s top chefs:

Wolfgang Puck says it best:
“Any way you slice it,
Ginsu is a cut above.”

Get enough be-toqued celebs involved, create a cross-promotional tie-in with Bravo’s “Top Chef” franchise and let’s get cooking. On second thought, maybe not. Celebrity head shot or no, its appeal is purely word-based, rational and unlikely to get the phones jangling.

Now, maybe if our approach grew directly out of a consumer’s everyday experience we’d have better luck. A campaign featuring home recipes that require a lot of chopping might help us tap a deep-seated source of performance anxiety:

Gazpacho for 8!
Where’s my Ginsu?

A series of sponsored content on AllRecipes.com might give us a way to distribute the value of Ginsu’s cutting edge technology. A parallel series in Gourmet or Real Simple (online and off) giving DIY instruction, for making decorative garnishes with precise cuts, goes a step farther. At the very least, this concept has the advantage of being moored in the real world.

Reach for a broader appeal.
But what if we wanted to elevate the Ginsu to the highest levels of brand equity, by positioning it as an essential component of the “hip-to-the-minute” lifestyle. Improbable? Let’s give it a shot.

Parachute pants?
Doesn’t cut it.
Ginsu does.

The Ginsu knife as fashion accessory? With a carefully crafted brand voice, it could work, provided your writer could consistently tap the right vein of wickedly ironic humor.

At the same time, opening the brand to a wider range of emotional and social connotations also makes its entry into social space that much more natural. Sure, you could always go with “What doesn’t cut it for you?” the now-standard video upload party, perhaps grouped thematically, as:

What doesn’t cut it on a first date?

What doesn’t cut it on Flickr?

What doesn’t cut it at work?

Opening the shutters wider still, the brand might sponsor the discussion of larger themes, in the form of a digital petition.

Let’s tell BP: Pollution doesn’t cut it.

OK, none of these ideas are liable to win me a Clio. But at least I’ve broken through the surface. I’m starting to address the emotional center of my target’s worldview. If I actually had this assignment, and the collaboration of talented team members, there’s no telling what path my thoughts and feelings might follow.

All that matters at this point is that I’ve found a creative process, a set of techniques enabling me to clear off space and start working with emotions, themes, images, distribution strategies and—Oh, yeah—words.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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