The problem as a question.
“I saw a subliminal advertising executive, but only for a second." -Steven Wright
Certainly, the viewing public is cynical about the advertising business. Every year, Gallup publishes their poll of most- and least-trusted professions. And every year, advertising practitioners trade last or second-to-last place with used-car salesmen and members of Congress.
It reminds me of a paragraph I plucked from our office bulletin board. One of those e-mailed curiosities that makes its way around corporate America:
Dear Ann: I have a problem. I have two brothers. One brother is in advertising. The other was put to death in the electric chair for murder. My mother died from insanity when I was three years old. My sisters are prostitutes and my father sells narcotics to grade school students. Recently. I met a girl who was just released from a reformatory where she served time for killing her dog with a ball-peen hammer, and I want to marry her. My problem is, should I tell her about my brother who is in advertising?
Pose the problem as a question.
Creativity in advertising is problem solving. When you state the problem as a bald question, sometimes the answers suggest themselves. Take care not to simply restate the problem in the terms it was brought to you; you're not likely to discover any new angles that way. Pose the question again and again, from entirely different perspectives.
In his book The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy, Tom Monahan puts it this way: "Ask a better question." By that he means a question to which you don't know the answer. He likens it to "placing the solution just out of your reach," and in answering it you stretch yourself.
"What would make a person pay twice as much for a bottle of whiskey just because it's manufactured in small batches? ... What is the main difference between the manufacturing process of large and small distilleries? ... If it takes just as long to age a lot of whiskey as it does a little, why bother with small numbers?"
As philosopher John Dewey put it: "A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved." It can work. Eric Clark reminds us just how it works in his book, The Want Makers.
In the 1960s, a team wrestled for weeks for an idea to illustrate the reliability of the Volkswagen in winter. Eventually they agreed that a snowplow driver would make an excellent spokesman. The breakthrough came a week later when one of the team wondered aloud,
"How does the snowplow driver get to his snowplow?"'
If you've never seen it, the VW "snowplow" commercial is vintage Doyle Dane. A man gets in his Volkswagen and drives off through deep snow into a blizzard. At the end, we see where he's driving: the garage where the county snowplows are parked. The voice-over then asks, "Have you ever wondered how the man who drives a snowplow ... drives to the snowplow? This one drives a Volkswagen. So you can stop wondering."
Hey Whipple, Squeeze This
“Beauty is but a flower, which wrinkles will devour.” -Thomas Nash
Sparks of creativity often flow from new knowledge. Frequently it's information about things that are completely new to you. Sometimes, it's new facts about familiar things. And sometimes it's information about things that you didn't know you didn't know. This last category, usually filled with items that are silly and fanciful, can provide a platform for your imagination to jump from.
So here I present the: "Things you didn't know you didn't know" section (or the alternately titled: the "Trivia to win bar bets" section).
Why Does the Skin on the Extremities Wrinkle After a bath? And Why Only the Extremities?
Despite its appearance, your skin isn't shriveling after your bath. Actually, it is expanding. The skin on the fingers, palms, toes, and soles wrinkles only after it is saturated with water (a prolonged stay underwater in the swimming pool will create the same effect). The stratum corneum-the thick, dead, horny layer of the skin that protects us from the environment and that makes the skin on our hands and feet tougher and thicker than that on our stomachs or faces expands when it soaks up water. This expansion causes the wrinkling effect.
So why doesn't the skin on other parts of the body also wrinkle when saturated? Actually, it does, but there is more room for the moisture to be absorbed in these less densely packed areas before it will show. One doctor we contacted said that soldiers whose feet are submerged in soggy boots for a long period will exhibit wrinkling all over the covered area.
Why do clocks run clockwise and other imponderables? An Imponderable Book