Problems Dont Have to Be Torture

(Or Maybe They Should Be)

Many years ago when we were developing a low-budget TV commercial, my creative team partner and I encountered a problem that caused us to stretch to a place that helped us generate a wonderful idea we probably would not have come up with otherwise.

The spot was for a software product whose primary advantage over other software at that time was its extreme ease of use. We looked at many executions, among them an approach that showed or mentioned the problems of "harder-to-learn, harder-to-use" software. (This concept of demonstrating the problem with the competition is one of the more popular uses of 180° Thinking, which you'll learn more about in Chapter 8.) I forget exactly which creative approach we finally took to the animation house; all I remember is that we couldn't afford to do it. This was in the waning days of cell animation, just before computers made this art form almost obsolete and a lot less expensive. And therein was the problem. since animation costs were $1,000 per second and we had a budget of only $7,000 for the video portion of this commercial, we came up 8 seconds short of our 15-second target.

"Can't we find more money?" we pleaded with the client. "No."

"Can't we find a way to stretch the budget?" we pleaded with the animation house.

"Well, you can afford animation as long as the commercial has no more than seven seconds of unduplicated animation," they said. "So if you can find a creative approach that allows you to loop the frames, like a hummingbird flapping its wings or a flag waving in the breeze, you don't pay for the part that repeats."


We had a problem. Looping the animation cells was a solution. But how could we creatively pull this off? I remember thinking, "This is crazy, we can't let a production reality like this dictate the conceptual direction of the TV spot." Well, before we discounted this approach entirely, my partner and I thought of the Chinese water torture. The whole premise of this ancient, perhaps apocryphal, exercise was the excruciating pain caused by the tedium of the process. Wasn't that the problem inherent in the evil competitor's software product?

Bam! A problem caused us to stretch. No, it wasn't the usual kind of problem you'd expect to prompt fresh thinking. After all, it was just some quirky production value reality. But I have to tell you, I'm not sure we would have come up with this idea, which happened to be right on strategy, if this problem hadn't caused us to think in an arbitrary way.

Footnote: The campaign went on to cause a minor stir in the hightech marketing world, as it outperformed Microsoft and a dozen other major players in its primary run at Comdex, the technology industry's major trade show.

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