If rules are meant to be broken, then rules for doing creative are not just meant to be broken, but then taken out to a large field and blown up. Every day, new approaches, media and technologies are revising the possibilities of how we can communicate to each other in creative ways.
What follows, then, aren’t so much rules for effective creative as characteristics of it. We call them the 7 habits of highly effective creative. They’re a checklist of best practices that can help both the creation and evaluation of effective work. If anything were to be called Manifest’s creative approach, this would be the closest thing to it. We invite you not just to read them, but use them.
1. Tell a truth. Most effective creative is built on an insight about human nature, a surprising fact about our world, a truism that gets heads nodding or opens someone’s eyes. We introduced a program supporting children in sports by reminding people how exciting it was to get your first uniform. We also got national attention by telling Canadians that a strategy for combating cancer had been sitting on a shelf in Ottawa for years while people were unnecessarily dying.
2. Trust your gut. People evaluating creative will often second-guess a sudden, positive visceral response, because they think they need to be level-headed and evaluate it more “strategically.” They do, but if doesn’t move you it doesn’t matter. And if it moves you, it’ll move others. Unfortunately, when it comes to creative, we tend to trust our negative instincts more than our positive ones. (Sigh.)
3. Right vs. Good. In the golden age of Hollywood, an expression was invariably heard whenever a film was well-made but didn’t register on an intellectual or emotional level: “They filmed the script.” “They filmed the brief,” describes advertising and creative work that, while possessing all the required content and even a touch of persuasiveness, lacks an intriguing insight that makes it good.
4. Take the subway. This title comes from an insight an employee at Manifest had one day while taking the subway in Toronto, and realizing that he was probably the only passenger who was born in Canada. If you’re trying to communicate to a wide group of Canadians, are your ideas dependent on cultural references, turns of phrase or other “inside” notions that a lot of people simply won’t understand?
5. Don’t wimp out. Nobody wakes up in the morning looking for your ad. You’ve got to stop people in their tracks with boldness, something surprising, a human truth. It’s not about being provocative: it’s about not being ignored. This applies far beyond advertising, from how you write a letter to how you make a presentation.
6. One sentence. This is a test that we apply to all creative ideas at Manifest: if you can’t describe the idea in one simple sentence, it isn’t a simple idea, so it probably isn’t a very good one. Even the best complex pieces of communication, such as speeches or presentations, are rooted in one central idea.
7. Tell me something I don’t know. This is one of the best ways for your communications to make friends quickly: give audiences something that makes them go, “Really?” That’s usually followed by, “Tell me more.” (If they ask for your phone number, then you’ve really hit it out of the park.) A surprising piece of information, such as a little-known fact or product attribute, establishes you as an expert, as well as someone with a real concern about the subject.