Counselor Commentary: Challenge Your Creativity

Time To Think Outside The Box

Dave VagnoniEver heard of beardvertising? It’s when companies market their brands by paying men with super furry beards to wear little plastic billboards in their thick whiskers. Sounds totally ridiculous, right? Even the ad exec that came up with the idea thinks so. “It’s so absurd,” says Whit Hiler of Cornett IMS, an agency based in Lexington, “but we’ve earned a ton of free media from it. It was at first a self-promotion piece, but then we got clients on board as partners.”

If you think Cornett is a bit out-of-the-box, Seattle’s Wexley School for Girls – another ad agency – surpasses just about any level of unorthodoxy imaginable. Yet, while the firm has an oddball name and an equally bizarre office space, which includes hanging rubber chickens, it claims Microsoft, Nike and Sephora as its clients. Not too bad. “We do a lot of experiential and event work, trying to engage crowds,” says Cal McAllister, Wexley’s co-founder. “We want to start an interesting conversation.”

McAllister insists Wexley’s best work has been in marketing the Seattle Sounders, a Major League Soccer franchise. When Seattle was awarded a team – long before there was a coach or any players – Wexley was asked to create fan enthusiasm. So what did Wexley, one of the most clever agencies in the entire country, use as the center of this launch campaign? A promotional scarf. Seriously, Wexley hung logoed scarves on trees, buildings, bridges and any Seattle landmark it could find. In the end, team interest was off the charts and the Sounders broke every record in the league for ticket sales, selling out every single game.

So what’s the point in all this for ad specialty companies? Here it is: It’s time to challenge your creativity and think more like a push-the-envelope ad exec than an order taker. Sure, you’ve heard this before and that voice inside your head keeps telling you that you lack the resources, the time, the investment, the whatever. But let’s be totally honest – putting billboards in beards or hanging scarves from trees isn’t really marketing genius. You could’ve come up with the same ideas. They weren’t expensive or that difficult to execute either.

So try this: pick five of your accounts and start thinking about new campaigns you can run, not new products you can pitch. If you’d rather pursue prospects, consider the hot markets of real estate, home healthcare and energy. People and companies in these industries are looking for a marketing edge. Give it to them. If you really want to stop worrying about margins, online threats and rising shipping costs, come up with an idea that brands will pay good money for. And, by the way, part of your marketing approach can be driven by self-promos, too.

Finally, if you hit a mental wall and nothing innovative comes to mind, check out the March issue of Counselor for some truly unique marketing ideas. And be sure to tell that voice in your head to get lost and go work for the competition.