Wednesday, March 19, 2008
...or the lives of ideas, at least.
Words - their nuances, their power to evoke and persuade - are part of our stock in trade.
Yet most of the agencies I've worked have been careless about the language they use, both internally and often externally, when speaking to the client.
Example: For a brief of any size, we present a "spectrum" of options for the client. Nothing wrong with that.
But what's at each of the spectrum? Generally, one end is marked "safe", the opposite "edgy" or "creative".
Let's take "safe" first.
With the possible exception of "inexpensive", I struggle to think of an adjective that would be more enticing to a client.
"Safe" means "my job is safe", "my mortgage is safe", "my kids' school fees are safe". Safe means "nobody can criticise me for taking this option".
And what does the other end of the spectrum hold out to answer this warm, inviting safety?
"Creative". For us, the word has overwhelmingly positive connotations. Not only is it our job title, it's the quality we strive for most in the execution of said job.
But for the client (and perhaps for the society at large?) it might means something a little different.
It has connotations of art, of the avant garde. It's an excuse for flaky behaviour ("He's very creative you know"). It's synonymous with self expression, perhaps even with us indulging our artistic whims at the expense of the brand. Many times i've heard it used as the opposite of "effective", as in "well, that's a very creative option, but we're here to SELL!"
Even if I'm overstating it, "creative" isn't the good-in-itself to a client that it is to us.
What about "edgy"?
Sounds dangerous. Sounds like something that someone might not like. Sounds like I might cut myself. (And, 99% of the time, it's a lie. Compare the any but the edgiest TV spot to even a mildly transgressive TV show and it comes out looking pretty tame. The same is true of most other media environments.)
So what's the solution? I don't know . But one thought might be to start talking about the creative stuff in a way that reminds clients of what they come to an agency for: "this is the more interesting/ more engaging/ more thought-provoking/ more attention-getting/ more involving option".
And stop calling stuff "safe" when the only thing it can be safely said that it'll do is be ignored..