It's amazing how changing your language can change the way you think. Words can act to restrict our thinking or enhance it. They can add emotion or take it away. They can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another.
Take any poem by William Wordsworth or a piece of Shakespeare and translate it into functional speak. "I walked along a field past some daffs and a lake." Or how about "bit unsure to be sure, should I take things as they come or challenge things?" Get the picture?
While as an industry we like to believe we think outside the box, in fact we do a lot to stay within them, most being media boxes. Ask any creative team to come up with an idea for a poster or a TV ad and instantly they are restricted. Ask them to find a way to emotionally engage the consumer and you'll get more imaginative and original results. Change a few words and then you instantly change the way people think.
One of the key problems that trips us up is the difference between rational and emotional words and their meanings. It's a simple fact the consumer spends a large percentage of their income on emotional purchase -- cars, houses, decor, holidays, food, entertainment and gaming. The fastest growing economy is the leisure economy, in London it's worth over £10bn a year. By comparison, we spend very little on rational needs by choice -- tax, insurance, utility bills and alimony.
As consumers, we are all seeking an emotional benefit yet when asked to justify our purchases we are conditioned to offer a rational explanation. How do you really justify buying a funky shirt, a designer pair of boots or even a holiday in the Caribbean? Instinctively we prefer to use language that is kinaesthetic like "feel", "gut instinct" or "it looks good" but are conditioned to use rational explanations like "it was a bargain". "I needed it for work". This is a common problem with research groups, consumers tend to give logical answers that can act as a decoy and results in briefs that focus on the wrong motivations. Yet instead of asking "why?" ask how they "'felt" about buying something and you get a very different result. That simple word "feel" reveals a new insight.
Great creativity doesn't come with easy to buy rational explanations. How can you rationalise paying millions for the Mona Lisa? It has no real function unless you want to hide a stain on the wall. But owning it would make anyone feel great. And how do you explain great music? I wonder how well great artistic works would stand up to the classic adland research groups?
Unconsciously, most of us have been conditioned to think in a rational linear way (it all originates back to the Greeks). This is the way most clients and account handlers think. This isn't a criticism but an observation, no one way is right or wrong in its approach unless it creates the wrong outcome.
Creatives by comparison think in what is known as "fuzzy thinking", they are more emotional and chaotic, making leaps between different ideas and thoughts forming new connections.
When asked to explain their thinking (a phrase that in itself defines the nature of the answer), they often look to a planner for a rational. They know it will work, they have a gut instinct but clients don't buy words like "instinct" anymore, there's too much risk.
We assume that everyone understands what we mean when we use even common words like 'love'. Ask seven people to write down seven words associated with love (a simple exercise I use in workshops). Now compare. Even the obvious ones like romance and sex aren't on everyone's lists. In fact, very few people will put down the same words. Each person has their own collection of word associations that reveal a lot about themselves. When confronted with words like "quality", "fastest", "better value" or "number one" (common words found in briefs) their interpretations can be very different.
When you employ foreign creatives -- I have an eclectic department from Poland, Spain, America, Italy and Australia -- they make you realise how easy it is to misunderstand words. I recently hired a young award winning Polish animator, she expresses herself in a very imaginative way, whereas the Spanish and Italians language is very emotional, using very passionate words to describe things.
Another word that throws up different meanings is "ideas". Commonly used in advertising to define creativity, it is in fact a rational word -- a term created by people who need a logical explanation. What's the idea behind a great picture, poem, music, food or a great design? It's all about how we feel. So instead we should ask "what is the emotional reaction it creates?" If we applied this to many ads we may get a different result.
There is a growing trend in "emotional connectivity", an approach that doesn't seek to define creativity by logic, but instead it seeks to connect, engage and influence in the way art, poetry, writing and music does. I recently reviewed a campaign for a fashion brand of shoes. It was fantastic, illogical but somehow said it all. It made me feel I wanted them. I suspect the brief was very kinaesthetic rather the traditional proposition type we use or worse still the type that tries to sum up the brief in one word.
I have noticed a tendency for brand consultants to use this approach, to try and sum a brand up in one word. "Invigorating", "innovative" or "leadership". I have one word, "tosh". If we can't all agree on the meaning of a universal word like "love" what chance does "innovative" have to communicate?
I have been reading a lot of comments from the US about the fact we no longer work in "advertising" but the "communications industry" and that we need to change the way we think and behave. I agree, I love change and am a big champion of "change marketing".
So time to change your vocabulary, instead of "media" think "channels", for "creativity" think "emotional engagement". And for "ABC1" think of "Joan, John and Jackie" -- real living human beings who have hearts and minds. And if you want to inspire people use inspirational words.
By simply applying a different language you open up the mind. And minds are like parachutes - they work best when open.
Chris Arnold is executive creative director at BLAC, and chairman of the DMA Agency Council.