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Flexibility in Advertising and Pushing the Envelope: Part 1
By: Slajanna Jean
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Last week, the 2013 P.E.N World Voices Festival of International Literature wrapped up in New York City and one of the biggest highlights of the festival included an insightful panel discussion on boundaries, barriers, and ground breaking in advertising with one of N.Y.C’s own advertising titans. 

We’re referring to a small company (it literally only services the borough of Manhattan) with a very big impact (and input) on what millions of New Yorkers see every day. 

Manhattan Mini Storage’s own Archie Gottesman brought in her campaigns and charisma to discuss the company’s amusing and sometimes controversial ad campaigns along with the New Museum’s deputy director, Karen Wong, and other friends.

The panelists prompted an intriguing conversation on the impact of contemporary culture and values in modern advertising. Today’s consumers are more informed and virtually hold all the cards, a new reality marketers are still learning to get accustomed to. As interesting as the discussion was, one concept stood out the most: flexibility in advertising, particularly the premise of pushing the envelope vs. how far is too far?

This article focuses on the former. 

In advertising, the number one rule is to get someone to pay attention to you. In order to do this, companies entrust agencies with creating innovative, thought-provoking ads to get the consumers’ attention and, more importantly, move consumers to action.

Marketing to consumers has become more challenging, resulting in many ads being dull, uninteresting, or too innovative, going over the consumer's head completely.

Past successful campaigns established brand identity and differentiated themselves from the competition by simply pushing the envelope. The definition by which one defines or measures pushing the envelope is arbitrary, yet the general consensus is the same. It requires an attempt to convey concepts and send messages to consumers in ways that have never been done before.

Furthermore, the beauty of pushing boundaries is the risk associated with it. It's reminiscent of a game of blackjack. A safe two-card deal, like a safe ad campaign, guarantees you stay in the game. However, oftentimes, to stand out, businesses are faced with a critical decision: to “hit or stand”?

As the panelists discussed, many businesses tend to stand. This may be due to the shift in business models or the emergence of public awareness, where corporations were no longer seen as "for the people, by the people" but instead demonized as the wealthy one-percenters. This, in turn, requires many companies to tread lightly with their campaigns, attempting to come across as modest, humble, or the dirtiest word of all, likeable.

So what can companies do to get a "hit"? Following Manhattan Mini Storage's simple recipe may do the trick.

Use accessible ad space not only to convey a message on the benefits of the product/services offered, but also to create a platform to discuss current events in relatable political and pop culture issues with the affected targeted market.

Or something like that!

Part Two will examine the conflicting issue of when pushing the envelope is going too far.

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About the Author
Slajanna Jean is 23-year old freelance copywriter.  She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family. 
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