Why lateral thinking is the innovative approach

Several years ago, in a previous incarnation, I presented a media proposal to a corporate advertiser that was pretty radical and left the creative director choking on his Perrier. An hour later, as I sat cosseted on a train home, the creative director was on the phone imploring my boss to sack me before I brought the advertising industry into disrepute. The proposal remained forever in concept form.

This was a shame – not for me, but for my client, whose key problem was that the company was largely anonymous in a cut-throat industry full of competitive brands. In my opinion, it had a simple choice: be radical and risk failing or be conventional and definitely fail.

The importance of logical thinking is impressed upon us from an early age, and with good reason. If we eschewed the logical option all the time life would be unbearably complicated. Yet the most brilliant solutions are often the result of lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking is difficult, which is why people who do it on a professional basis, such as creative teams, have fat bank balances to match. In times of old, many marketers would identify them as their chief source of advertising innovation.

Marketers that still believe this need to think again. The world of media is now awash with opportunities. For some media agencies innovation is now so important that they are employing new teams to champion the cause. A media strategy should not be deemed successful just because it is efficient. Other factors, such as how fresh your idea is, are important too.

Constant media innovation is fine in theory, but is it possible? In the recent past there were three barriers to innovation: the client, the agency and the media owner. Today fierce competition for revenue has forced even the most conservative media owners to innovate.

As for advertisers and agencies, the latest report would I suggest read “could do better”. However, there are some fine examples around: Microsoft and Orange have a certain freshness at the heart of their media strategies. They often reject traditional ad solutions in favour of deeper partnerships with media owners.

Absolut Vodka has also used a limited media budget in exceptional ways. Boots’ “Find me a model” partnership redefined the concept of media promotion. Those that were exposed to the marvellous antics of the Pepperami “England mascot” or the Playtex model tempting Chris Evans out of his “gay phase” received a stronger brand message than a 30-second TV ad could deliver. These examples show that innovation can be tactical or strategic, a one-off stunt or a mass-market campaign. The only common link is that in every case innovation made the advertising more effective.

The rules are simple: value must be placed on risk, chance and instinct. Encourage disruption and invention. It’s entirely logical – for better ads, think laterally.

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