13 Platinum Creative Concepts
for the New Decade
A designer says "I know the answer."
A Scientist says "I don't know the answer,
but I know how to find it."
From the team of
Mike Grisham and Steve Burnett of the Burnett Group.
And they are right. Creative must always question convention. Question
"rules". Question tradition. Question anything that says "that is how
we've always done it." Because there is not a single answer. That is the
scientific part ... always looking for another way.
In a previous "life" I said creative is an art, not a science. Well,
I was wrong. It IS a science. Not a mathematical model ... no. Instead
a searching, looking, seeking science. With an open mind to find what
is there. With an open door to let anything and everything walk through.
To learning what there is to learn. And then - and ONLY then! - responding
with an "idea".
Why is this so? Because there are many answers. Just as there are many
routes between any two places, there are many ways to reach an objective,
to achieve a goal.
Most certainly history and culture and language and experience can affect
what creative will work - and what will not. Still, as British creative
genius and friend Drayton Bird says;
"The first mistake is to change the product or creative radically
to meet cultural differences in the market. Often the factors that made
the original product or appeal successful are eliminated and the marketer
is surprised to have a flop."
So, what is going to drive successful creative in this decade ahead?
What must we do to avoid the creative "flop" syndrom? Here are 13
Platinum Creative Concepts for the New Decade.
1. Making Love is "In"
The customer expects you to reach out and touch.
To be a teddy bear. A security blanket. To get personal and truly know
them as a customer. And not to forget!, either. Meaning database rules.
For creative to think database may be a stretch. Sure, an early question
in any brief asks "who are we talking to?". Yet, if the customer expects
true personal attention, the message must be more highly specialized than
the broad brush of business codes and census data.
Which is why database will become a mid and small size business tool,
where previously it has been only a side-bar. And why big business will
fully adopt the latest methods.
Walt Disney said;
"People spend money when and where they feel good."
Creative in this decade must make certain the marketplace feels good.
Making Love is "In".
2. Still, don't get too close!
Yes, do not get too close, as privacy rules, too.
The customer says ...
"I do want to trust you ... I really do. Yet, I'm not certain I can.
Please understand I wish to be loyal by my definition of loyalty."
It is the rare customer who wants a one night stand. It is the rare supplier
who wants a one night stand customer. One night stands equal two unhappy
people. The long haul is what the customer is looking for. Ditto the seller.
So, how do you earn loyalty, build frequency and retain the customer?
What you do NOT do is invade what the customer decides is private.
The marketplace has awakened to the absolute fact that the more we talk
about privacy the less privacy they have. Much of this has little to do
with what you know ... it has much more to do with how you use what you
Being personal is expected. Mass "personalization" is expected ... and
understood. There is no fooling the marketplace in the new century. They
DO understand enough about technology to expect the words "mass" and "personal"
to be used in the same sentence. It is not an oxymoron.
Pitney-Bowes confirms this from survey after survey. The customer likes
getting meaningful personalized messages. They hate receiving anything
they are not interested in.
Still today we can learn from Ed Maher - the grandfather of direct mail
marketing education. "Interesting" was a favorite word for Ed. What he
taught me about direct mail is;
"Letters aren't short, letters aren't long.
They are either interesting or uninteresting."
The true creative challenge, in a world where dozens of new products
are offered every day, where there are literally thousands of "sound bites"
tossed into the marketplace every 24 hours, is to be interesting. Without
walking on private ground.
3. Customers Expect an Offer
Why is it product and service providers try over and over again and again
NOT to do what customers expect? Not to make an offer?
Today a message without an offer is not a message - it is "news". Adding
value is how the customer measures. The customer expects extra value ...
which is why advertising specialties, premiums and meaningful related
offers are "in". And will grow in importance in this decade.
Value is much more than price ... although price is a part of value.
Value can be as simple as meeting or beating a basic need. Toll-free phone
and fax numbers for orders and service. An offer could be the "Baker's
Dozen" - one more than expected.
An offer is a reason for the prospect to consider doing business
with you - now. It rarely will make the sale. An offer is to S T O P the
prospect. To get her to "think" you. Then to take action ... make a move
in your direction. Now.
An offer is for the benefit of the customer. There is no turning back
- successful marketers will offer offers. And eat the lunch of those who
Offers have been key to successful direct marketing for decades. This
next decade that dominance will continue and grow in importance.
4. Slow is out ... Quick is "In"
This "fact" is an oxymoron.
Rambling introductions will turn your reader off. And not just on the
web. Ditto for print, direct mail and broadcast.
Yet, and at the same time, story telling is very much "in". Nostalgia
is enjoyed, if not practiced. It is remembered - frequently historically
incorrect ... but who cares? As story telling allows one to "dream" without
the need to "do". Meaning case history stories and testimonials will have
more weight than ever before.
This is a quote from a generation "X"er ... which tells it exactly
like it is, for real;
"I have never been one to sit and analyze every word in a piece of writing.
I like to read it once and if it doesn't explain itself then I move on
to something else."
BINGO! Writers and designers take note. The Baby Boomers are still readers.
They will wade through your copy and put up with your over arty
message. The rest of the marketplace will not.
The medium was not, is not and will not be the message. The message is
the message. If yours is not "quick", your prospect will be "out"! Your
customer will move on.
5. Overload is not going away
Overload does not mean choice. It does mean our ears and eyes and minds
are busy. Every day this is what runs past us;
570 ad & marketing messages
76 which we "see" or "hear"
12 we remember ... 3 negatively!
Yes, there is a wide variety of activity. It's not that it hasn't been
there - more or less - since the end of WWII. It is that now it is tossed
our way in a onslaught of ways 24 hours /7 days a week.
Choice is not the issue - even in the remote agricultural desert where
I live there is choice from 140 television channels. And probably more
if I wanted more.
Overload did not happen when the World Wide Web burst on the scene. Although
the WWW did accent it. As now nearly everything known to exist, every
bit of knowledge, is gathered together in a single place ... and most
of the time you can find it.
What does this mean to marketing creatives? It means 2 prime things;
/ it means we had better be good! Or we'll get lost in the maze that
is the customers mind. Simple is very much "in". And ...
/ it means we must repeat our message over and over. Once will not be
enough ever again. Ever!
Saturation may not be here - yet. It is peeking in the marketing door.
Our creative approach must be ready.
6.Type "rules" are still very much in effect
The basics, the foundation, the platform of writing to be read, to be
understood, to be acted upon - is in revival. Out of necessity ... as
quick is "in". And overload is a fact.
What does this say to the copywriter of this decade? Use plain language!
Avoid jargon and lingo. No abbreviations. No acronyms. Avoid complex terms
and definitions ... you may sound bright to begin - you will be ignored
when it comes time for action.
It says short words inside short sentences and short paragraphs are each
a necessity. Do indent the first line of every paragraph. Do not hyphenate
words. Do ragged right margins ... no justification or proportional spacing
It says basic grammar is expected. This does not mean grammarians
rule ... no way in communication writing. It does say the KISS principle
applies ... Keep It Simple, Stupid! Clear, concise and direct are the
writing guidelines to gain you max response.
Reading itself is an oxymoron. More books are sold every year than previous.
Ironically, millions through web marketing. Which itself is a "read medium".
And more magazines are available every year. Newsletters multiply. Both
electronically and on paper.
So reading is "in". Yet, the word from readers is they are not reading
as much as they use to. I can look at myself and agree ... I catch up
only when flying to client meetings and conferences around the globe.
So, writing to be read is even more important in this decade.
7. Graphic "rules" are still very much in effect
The basics, the foundation, the platform of writing to be read, and thus
understood - and so acted upon - is in revival. Out of necessity ... as
quick is "in" and clean is "in".
Hey, didn't I just say the same about type? Yep, and it is equally true
about art, illustrations and photography, layout, design, format and look.
Everything to do with graphics. Yes, it is equally important!
Burnett and Grisham say it this way;
"Most design work is centered on aesthetics. We don't have much evidence
that 'pretty' makes people buy things."
Bingo again. Hey, I like "nice". Most folks enjoy a good looking ad,
a well designed flyer, an attractive piece of mail. Yet, we in direct
have proven time and time again that "pretty" does not always sell.
Still, the days of Rexall style jam-packed ads and Publishers Clearing
House jumbled mailers are numbered. The marketplace wants your message
- as long as it is understandable. "Stuff" everywhere is fast coming to
the end of an era. Immediate confirmation is screamingly evident in the
hundreds of web sites that do not sell.
This does not mean image, awareness, positioning take a back seat to
"looking like what you are". If you are Ferrari or Rolls Royce you had
better look rich. If you are the Salvation Army or the Red Cross you had
better look poor.
At the same time you had best think about what the customer sees. No
matter who you are nothing less than a clean 9 point serif typeface is
the rule. There is reason 70%+ of the world wears glasses or contacts
... they cannot see! 11 or 12 point is even better.
What is not better is ... reverse type, ALL CAPS, italics for more
than a few words, too much bold, too many underlined words
... they each slow a reader. Meaning your call to action gets lost.
Knowledge of physiology continues to play a role in marketing communications.
We must understand how our bodies work - how we see and read. What our
mind - our brain - does. We need to use all we know to get, serve and
keep the customer.
8. Smaller & Larger, Shapes & Sounds do make a difference
Bigger is better. Smaller is better. 3-D stuff works. Some extra - as
a sound - helps. Oversize and undersize does make a difference.
Just as customers come in all sizes and shapes and dispositions, so must
our marketing messages. Customers do have a wide variety of needs ...
we must offer a wide assortment of packages.
It is not usual for Coca-Cola, Ford and other major marketers to have
scores of different radio, television and print advertisements. Each directed
to a different audience, to address a different customer need. The message
is the same - the focus is on the customers specific need.
Ditto we in marketing. A good way to meet the needs of our audiences
is with "different". Meaning JUMBO in size ... and tiny in size. Meaning
odd or different in shape. Meaning with "things" that make sounds, "noise"
There is no doubt 3-dimensional works. Be it an outdoor poster, a magazine
space ad, an insert in the newspaper, a direct mail shot. It is hard to
ignore a box or puffy bag, a giant post card or pop-up poster. An audio
or video tape or compact disk. Or something less complex, such as a post-it
note pad or pencil.
As our audiences slowly become saturated with more and more we need to
consider different ways to get attention, to gain action.
9. Black & White is out ... Color is "In"
Unless you are a Boy Scout passing out flyers about your Saturday morning
newspaper collection, black & white is dead.
The "X" and "Y" generations do not know black & white ever existed.
We have been, are and will be in a color world. Even B/W television commercials
and outdoor posters/billboards have high-lights of color for attention.
True B/W is out.
It is out with yuppies, hippies and baby boomers, too. Studies confirm
color increases interest, makes reading easier.
Still, a word of caution; an overdose of the 17 million and counting
color options from computer-generated documents is too much. Far too much.
When color overwhelms the message is lost.
The message is and will continue to be with copy. Graphics are to support
text. Ditto color - it is to support the message ... not become the message.
Color is "in". Use it well.
10. Gimmicks do make a difference
You have 2 or 3 seconds to grab attention with your direct mail. Your
reader will decide in those few moments what to do with your message;
3 open and read it immediately - right now ... it is important, urgent,
3 stack it to read at a later time,
3 route it to another person, someone they feel may be interested, or
3 toss it, trash it, into the bin or wastebasket.
Same with E-mail marketing. And fax marketing. 2 or 3 seconds to "invite"
your reader in.
With a newspaper or magazine you have 3-4 seconds to move your reader
to stay with you. And even less time with a flyer or brochure in a take-one
box. Up to 8 seconds on your web site is all you have to get attention.
So, stickers and stamps and stamp sheets, coins and paper money and tokens,
decals and bumper stickers, perforations, scratch-off and scratch &
sniff, "live" product samples and other action "stuff" are all very much
For the WWW moving script, isolating icons, running headlines can all
do the job. Whatever it takes.
Yes, gimmicks can help you pull your audience in. Still, remember ...
gimmicks are not the message. They are not features or benefits - they
are only tools. Use them as such and you will enjoy the rewards.
11. Customers expect multiple options
Small, medium and large ... red, white and blue is NOT enough.
No, the customer in this decade wants everything from extra small to
3X ... in a rainbow of color. Meaning your product and service must offer
options. A selection. A collection to choose from. More than just one
Meaning you need to offer different ways to do business with you. Direct,
through a third-party, at a remote location, over the phone, by fax, E-mail,
the Web ... bricks and mortar, at a trade show and more.
Meaning payment options, too. Cash, credit, delayed payment or in advance,
extended payments, by invoice, maybe trade or barter as well.
And total customization as well. That may not be necessary for your toaster
... it most certainly is for your computer. You already expect personal
custom work for your corporate literature, sales brochures and stationary.
Mass produced new homes are decorated to the buyers wishes. Food cooked
to order ... no longer limited to 5 star candle light dinner houses -
fast food, too. Why not for "everything"?
Automobiles built to order is a reality. Clothing will become more personalized
than it already is ... custom tailoring vs. one size fits all.
Offering options is no longer an option - it is a necessity. The customer
12. Still, scrap the hard sell
A.F.T.O. is in.
Ask For The Order is okay. In fact, you are expected to be assertive,
You are to "tell" your prospect or customer what to do. And how and when
and where to do it. Call today. Fax this form. Redeem this coupon. Visit
this exhibition. Tour this web site. Return this application. Do something!
Yet, do not push too hard or you will be pushed out.
Ego and competitiveness are expressions of self-confidence ... certainly
a positive trait in sales. This next decade will find empathy becoming
Being the good Girl Scout or Boy Scout will move you closer to your customer.
A truly warm smile and sincere hand-shake will get you further along than
a hard sell "used car salesman" approach.
When you give each letter of the alphabet a number, i.e., A = 1, B =
2, Z = 26, Attitude becomes ...
A = 1
T = 20
T = 20
I = 9
T = 20
U = 21
D = 4
E = 5
Attitude = 100
Yes, your 100% attitude is certainly more important to the
customer than your product or service. Customer attention is "in" ...
hard sell is out.
13. ChaNge is Out ... ChaRge is "In"
Somewhat sadly, "think, plan and organize" has been replaced with fire-fire-fire".
Frequently without "ready", and with very little "aim".
ChaNge by itself is dead. Why? Because, in an era when we have so much
information available to us, we've elected to use so little of it. All
in pursuit of 24/7 service to the customer. Thus, frequently missing the
full purpose of the message and the needs of our target audience.
This same philosophy is going to continue. Why? Partially because the
customer is telling us to ChaRge - to do - to go - to act ... and to do
it now. Some of this is the fault of the marketer of the late 20th
Century. We got good at planning. We fell somewhat short at doing. Strategy
became a big thing - tactics got "cute". The customer became impatient.
Today ChaRge equals "action". The customer wants less and more at the
same time. They are saying answer questions right the first time. The
customer says fix problems before they happen - and promptly when they
do happen. The customer expects you to follow-up to make certain your
promise is fulfilled to the maximum satisfaction.
Relationship marketing, loyalty, 1:1, permission, target, direct, and
similar will not mean a hoot unless the customer gets what the customer
expects. And gets it now. ChaRge is definitely "in".
Well, that's it. 13 Platinum Creative Concepts for
the New Decade. Learn 'em, use'em and reap the profits.