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Boxed-In Boring, But Brilliant
By: David Soyka
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How many times has this happened to you? A client asks for something different, something “out of the box,” an expression overused primarily by folks who don’t know the inside of the box from the outside, but makes them sound as if they do. This is the assignment we all want, right? Where we can show off our creative chops and render copy with a clever quotient sufficient to gain industry accolades and an upward adjustment of the hourly rate truly more in line with our talent. Have some fun for a change.  
 
After we’ve polished off our masterpiece, we knock out a couple of other concepts, one a variation of a theme the client’s been using since the Paleolithic Age, and another one so banal that it’s bound to make the “out-of-the-box” pitch appear even more so as an original work of art. 
 
So which one does the client select? Right, the Paleolithic Age continues its reign.
 
Why did they even ask for something even remotely different than what they’ve been doing since time began? A related question is that, having been presented with the fruits of your “out-of-the-box” creativity, why are do they still prefer staying in that box?
 
The answer to the first question is that people involved in an activity labeled as “creative” like to think of themselves as, well, creative. And they expect people they’re paying to produce something creative. Even if they’re just some bureaucratic functionary not actually empowered to make a decision but instead anticipate what their boss and their boss’s boss is going to approve. And that they’re working for a corporation that, notwithstanding the promotion of itself as an entrepreneurial entity continually evolving, remains a lumbering dinosaur.
 
So they use terms like “out-of-the-box thinking” as something that sounds like you’re supposed to ask your creative people to do, whatever that means.
 
This brings us to the answer of the second question. Particularly in this economy, nobody really wants to rock the boat or stick their neck out on something that could potentially blow up in their face. So the familiar (what the powers that be in the corporate hierarchy are already comfortable with) is always the safest choice. 
 
Here's the part that a lot of us creative types don’t like to admit: sometimes they’re right.
 
If the tried-and-true is still working, why fool with it? Certainly not to satisfy the ego of some copywriter who, truth be told, has no empirical data linking a radically clever direct mail headline, no matter how impressive it might be to our fellow M.F.A. classmates, with an increase in open rates.    
 
The way I look at it, the client is paying me for my time. If they want to spend that time coming up with concepts they’re not likely to use, well, that’s up to them. Just as long as I provide something they’re going to want and, moreover, will work for them. Because sometimes it’s just as clever to be on the inside of the box looking out. Even if it is a little boring. 


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About the Author
David Soyka is freelance copywriter who has conceptualized and developed a range of strategic advertising, marketing, training, and technical communications for  advertising agencies and Fortune 1000 companies in print, web, and broadcast formats. A former newspaper reporter and English teacher, he is a published author of ficiton and non-fiction, and a DJ at WTJU-FM. Find him online here.


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