As we are about to worship at the altar of advertising creativity this Sunday during the Super Bowl, let’s reflect for a moment on the most essential element of creativity – risk taking.
Thirty-one years ago, Apple and its agency Chiat/Day took a huge risk by attempting to define the Super Bowl Commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII in 1984 people didn’t make a big deal of the commercials the way they do now, but one epic TV spot changed all that. The commercial is now recognized as arguably the greatest commercial ever. Ironically, it almost didn’t air.
The ad depicted a world of mind-controlled clones staring at a video screen showing Big Brother intoning about “information purification directives.” The police are chasing a woman athlete as she gets away and hurls a sledgehammer at the screen, smashing it and frees the minds of the throng.
The commercial was strikingly unconventional. It had no dialogue, no voice-over and no product shot or mention of product features. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word “Macintosh,” along with the tagline: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ’1984’ “, a reference to George Orwell’s 1949 eponymous novel.
It was the opposite of anything and everything that a commercial was supposed to be, and quite risky especially for the expensive price tag of a spot on the Super Bowl.
Steve Jobs, ever the risk taker, loved the ad but Apple’s Board of Directors hated it. After viewing it, the board wanted to fire Chiat/Day. At the end, the ad ran only because Jay Chiat claimed, untruthfully, that he tried but couldn’t get the network to release them of their airtime commitment.
“1984” became a sensation, a huge success. It was a defining moment not only for Apple but also for advertising itself. It proved that taking a detour from the true and tried can be extraordinary. By taking an unusual approach even to the usual practice of exposing a commercial many times and airing it only once, Apple amplified the myth surrounding the commercial.
However, risk taking can be, … well, risky. One has to assume, indeed embrace, failure as an option. Especially if you push the envelop and explore new territory.
Case in point:
A year later, the very same agency that created the seminal “1984”, Chiat/Day was asked once again to make another high risk blockbuster ad for the Macintosh Office product line that would hopefully ignite controversy and replicate the buzz created by the previous year’s commercial. The new ad was called “Lemmings,” and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White’s “Heigh-Ho” as they followed each other off a cliff. However, 1985 wasn’t like 1984 and “Lemmings” wasn’t “1984”.
Jobs didn’t like the ad, but Chiat/Day convinced Apple to run it anyway. It turned out to be a colossal flop and Jobs, in a characteristic act of self-importance, wanted to run an ad in the Wall Street Journal to apologize to the masses for the commercial. He backtracked only when Jay Chiat threatened to buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology.
The thing about taking a risk is sometimes you get it wrong. But if you don’t take the risk, you’re unlikely to ever get it very right.
Unlike the rousing, empowering message of the “1984″ ad, “Lemmings” was based on a flawed insight and insulted the very people that Apple tried to reach, business customers. The ad didn’t work because a big idea requires fusing smart insight combined with an intuition that is innately human.
We glean insight from research. The better the research, the better, more imaginative and inspiring the insight, which ultimately leads to a better creative idea.
Big Data can help finesse the insight better than traditional ad research; and using real-time data analysis and machine-learning can unlock a new understanding of consumer behavior.
Too many clients – and their compliant agencies – are approval-driven and risk-averse, especially since the 2008 recession. Big Data could give those marketers a new confidence when it comes to taking risks with brave creative ideas.
Although some people think that creating advertising comes down to a bunch of “crazy people” sitting in a room brainstorming wildly, the fact is that taking a risk requires a bold and disciplined strategy. Defining a strategy is the rigorous backdrop and critical part of the process — and it’s driven by research.
Big Data can inform better strategies and better consumer insight because of its robustness and the depth of input. Tighter, better-articulated strategies would lead marketers to become more comfortable with green lighting more edgy creative ideas.
Avi Dan is founder of Avidan Strategies, a leading agency search and compensation consultant
This article was written by Avi Dan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.