Want to be more creative? You’ve got to get weird.

Charlotte Irwin

In October, I spent a day in the belly of a Brighton comedy club with Louise, our Content Director, listening to copywriters, strategists, artists and even a “type taster” talk as part of the annual CopyCon conference.

While there was a lot of wisdom shared, one very simple thing stuck with me: nearly every speaker stressed the need to be more creative. Or as speaker Amy Keane put it: “embrace our weird”.

Sounds obvious, right? Copywriters and designers are in creative roles. It’s our job to exercise our creative chops every single day. But if we are honest, tight deadlines and client expectations can sometimes get in the way of realising our biggest, boldest ideas.

The Frameworks team has spoken a lot about why we’re always pestering clients to be bold when it comes to creative. We know from experience that big ideas drive the best results. But often, following the path of least resistance leads teams to settle for the safe option, rather than leaning into the creative journey.

So, what can creatives do to stay weird? And how do you make that work for clients?

Avoid the “sea of sameness”

The aim of every piece of creative is to capture your audience’s attention, but the advertising landscape often resembles a “sea of sameness”, as CopyCon speaker and author of The Creative Nudge Kevin Chesters dubbed it. 

And he’s right. There is a lot of formulaic stuff out there:

Car advert? Car driving on an open road, often by a mountain.

Perfume? The latest “it” actress lounges by the bottle, typically near water.

Technology? “Reimagining [insert practically anything]”.

It’s hardly a revelation that blending in doesn’t make you stand out. Even the annual Christmas ad battle is feeling a bit same-y as brands scramble to make us cry with family scenes and messages of togetherness. 

To avoid bland, creatives need to go to playful places.

Take a walk on the weird side
If you’re stuck in a creative rut, it’s important to find ways to reconnect with your weird. How do you reignite your creativity? Here are some tips I learnt from CopyCon (and elsewhere):

  • Shake up everyday tasks
    This is a creative nudge from Kevin Chesters that I’ve been putting into practice…
    Take your dominant hand. The one you use to stir a saucepan or brush your teeth. And next time use your other hand. It might feel silly – and totally unrelated to your latest project – but unexpected shocks in one part of your life can help open your mind to new ways of doing things elsewhere.

  • Be silly
    To come up with better creative ideas, you need to challenge the way you think. Ask yourself: what would your brand be if it was a poem? Or, what would it smell like? When you engage in weird, creative exercises, you discover more about your brand that helps you find your next bold idea. 

    A bit of lateral thinking can help. Take Compare the Market. We all know its tagline as “Compare the Meerkat”. Some of us even have a meerkat toy (and a car insurance deal). This iconic campaign was the result of some playful thinking and a pretty bad pun – and it has just run and run. In fact, imitators have tried to emulate the success of a mascot, but none have quite pulled it off to this level. Because how do you copy the absurdity of an imaginary Russian meerkat?
  • Embrace your inner copycat
    That said, being creative isn’t necessarily about being original. It’s long been established that most creativity is a combination of pre-existing ideas. We beg, steal and borrow. And, most importantly, add our own twist. To be more creative, you need to experience other work – and put yourself in a position to be inspired. Go to the cinema. Read a book from a genre you wouldn’t usually choose. Hit “surprise me” on Netflix.

  • Break the rules
    Grammar is there for a reason. But aren’t rules made to be broken? Some of the best taglines don’t make sense grammatically. Take Apple’s “Think different” or O2’s “Be more dog”. As long as your copy appears deliberate rather than a mistake – and is understandable – it doesn’t matter. These grammatically challenging lines are memorable and stand out. That’s far more important.

Creativity is a battle

Once you’ve come up with a bold idea, there’s only one hurdle left: other people.

First, you’ve got to sell the idea into your team, but the most important decision maker is your client. They need to understand why your bonkers idea is right for them so they can easily present it to their own stakeholders. This is arguably the hardest part of the process and what can force creatives to play it safe. It’s important to get it right.

It’s worth remembering that some of the best ideas were resisted initially – and some of the most successful ads almost didn’t get made.

Take Cadbury’s gorilla, which is perhaps the most famous ad that almost hit the cutting room floor. Sure, it doesn’t have anything to do with milk chocolate. But it fulfilled the brief to be “as enjoyable to consume as a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate” and it was bold. It took four months to convince Cadbury’s to air it. But the agency Fallon rightly persevered: sales increased, awards flooded in and, for a generation, that iconic drum solo isn’t Phil Collins, it’s Cadbury’s.

So, if you know in your creative bones that an idea is right for your client, fight for it. How? Spend time crafting the story around your idea – and tell it convincingly. 

Not every client will take the leap. But they hired you to be weird. Remember that.