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September 21, 2009
Why is Outrageous so Effective?

Kanye West is an idiot. Not many people would disagree with that in light of his most recent stunt at MTV’s Video Music Awards. But the fact that I don’t have to go any further to explain the incident in question demonstrates just how effectively Mr. West has made himself the topic of conversation. Did he plan the whole thing? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter. It’s kind of like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. It is what it is. Regardless of how it happened, Kanye has placed himself firmly in the spotlight–and that’s exactly what we as creatives seek to have happen for our brands. Now I’m not suggesting you have a representative from your favorite package goods purveyor crash a music awards show, grab the mic from Taylor Swift and talk about how his 3-ply toilet paper is the softest of all time. That would be wrong. Or would it? No, what I’m suggesting is that you understand there can be relatively few things in a given period of time that can captivate an audience and become a topic of relevance. And if that doesn’t add a new perspective to how we have to look at advertising and marketing communication, nothing will.

As creatives, we focus a lot on accomplishing the client’s stated goals and adhering to approaches and tone that have been vetted. That’s usually a good thing if you favor continued employment, but it doesn’t often accomplish what West achieved while inebriated. Clients and brands want to believe creatives have some magic to sprinkle into the work. They’re looking for us to show them something they couldn’t have thought of on their own. In short, they want us to break the rules for them. When you break the rules, you accomplish disruption. And disruption of the clutter is how a brand gets talked about. It’s not just about finding a way to be different, but about finding a way to become unavoidable conversation. Any advertisement that does exactly what an advertisement should do becomes a part of the clutter structure that conversation stands on top of. The few topics that are worthy of un-coerced conversation have theoretically been plucked from the sea of pithy lines and colorful visuals to be examined more closely. And because they’re examined more closely, their brands are too. That’s what we’re supposed to make happen.

Think about this: A brand is like a sculpture. From its most basic pieces like color palettes and typography, we refine it–hoping to create recognition and familiarity. But that’s not enough. If you go to any party, you’ll see lots of people who are familiar and recognizable. You may not run from the room when you see them, but they simply aren’t as exciting as the guy swinging from the chandelier. We have to find ways to make our brands chandelier swingers. We have to put them above the crowd and on the stage. To do it, we need to think beyond the comfort of colors and cool lines. We need to bust up the box. Start with the basic question of “why,” and then force everyone involved to think in a new direction. You won’t always sell it–new ideas are inherently uncomfortable. But if you hit the right place, you’ll see both Account Service and clients begin to bubble and get excited about what could be done next. Then you’ve got the beginning of a real campaign; something people are interested in talking about. You just have to get Kanye to shut up for few days.

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Alan Whitley is executive creative director for Starmark: a Fort Lauderdale-based agency focused on integrated communication. Prior to joining Starmark, Alan was Creative Director on the Marine Corps brand for JWT Atlanta. His work has been recognized by New York’s One Show, Communication Arts, The Effies, Graphis, and others.

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