Said the pessimist to the optimist…
Innovation in marketing leads to cannibalism. That’s not too hard to believe, is it?
Here’s how it starts: as creatives in advertising we all have a deep, enduring desire to create amazing narratives, stunning visuals and unforgettable experiences—like, for example, virtual pop-up shops that only “exist” just before sunrise and just after sunset. Think it’s a great idea? It is.
Well, it was.
Now it’s been boxed up and filed away in some forgotten warehouse where the sign out front reads, “It’s been done before. Try something else.”
When every new idea is just another idea that can never be new again, the creative process becomes increasingly difficult—like a piece of paper that gets more rigid and unforgiving with every fold. I guess that’s the problem with great ideas. As soon as they stop working for you, they start working against you.
And as demand for creativity outpaces our diminishing ability to deliver it, every “innovation” becomes nothing more than a new spin on what’s already been done—each a dispiriting turn in a perpetually self-feeding cycle that forces us to create the new by consuming the old.
You see, cannibalism doesn’t always mean the loss of a limb. Sometimes it just gnaws relentlessly at the soul that yearns for something more to reach for.
OK, time to come clean. Everything I’ve said so far is a lie.
Well, mostly. We do want to create amazing things. There is a lot that’s already been done. But when it comes to innovation in advertising, I think there’s more to the story. How do we separate the fact from the fiction? To start, I talked to JoAnne Trahan—a GYK Antler designer. Because she happens to be someone who knows a thing or two about making old things new.
JoAnne Trahan, designer at GYK Antler, on the art of repurposing
Me: So you really like to re-purpose antiques. These things are all really fascinating. Where do you get your inspiration?
JoAnne: I get a lot of inspiration online. My favorite site is http://www.funkyjunkinteriors.net. Most of my antiques come from The Brimfield Antique Show. It’s held 3 times a year and I always go to the shows in May and September. I also get antiques from Etsy, Craigslist and estate sales.
Me: What’s the creative process like? How do you decide what a piece will turn into?
JoAnne: Usually I see something online. But sometimes an idea just pops into my head, usually when I’m not thinking about it.
Me: Tell me more about the windows.
JoAnne: I went to a restaurant on New Year’s Eve and they used overlapping old windows as a feature on two walls. I loved the idea so I looked on Craigslist and found someone selling old windows for $10 each. I removed some of the glass and replaced it with colored glass I found at a stained glass store. Then I found flexible LED strip lights and put them behind some of the panes to illuminate the colors.
Me: I think the globes are my favorite. What’s yours?
JoAnne: The salt shaker. It’s an interesting take on the snow globe.
Me: What do you love most about doing these projects?
JoAnne: The whole process, really. A lot of it is in the search. But there’s also something really unique about giving a different life to something. You know, using it for something where that wasn’t the intended purpose. I guess it’s because people are always so surprised at the different pieces. They sort of delight in the irony of something unexpected…something being used in a way it was never intended. That’s fun to see.
Innovation isn’t about what. It’s about who.
I learned a lot from my conversation with JoAnne. And to be honest, it really did make me more optimistic about what it is that we do as creatives, given the dwindling availability of genuinely new ideas. I think the main insight is that as advertisers, part of our job is to be agents of change. But one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to misunderstand exactly what we’re supposed to be changing.
Let’s be clear: whether it’s a brand strategy, social promotion, print campaign, or even a salt shaker snow globe, the images, words, materials and methodologies we use are nothing new. This much we know.
But it’s alright!
Because if we can take one thing away from our look at JoAnne’s passion projects, it’s that our job isn’t always about making things new. It’s about making people new. About using the familiar narratives and the recognizable visuals in ways that make people “delight in the irony of the unexpected.” In the end, it’s all about using anything and everything we can to create unique, authentic experiences that really pull at them—in ways they may have never been pulled at before.
It’s about reinventing them with every reinvention.
Now that we’re feeling optimistic again, it’s worth mentioning that—cannibalistic or not—feeding off old ideas to generate new ones was a hallmark of some of the most revolutionary inventions. Just look at the horseless carriage, which was simply a combination of a few already great inventions: the steam engine, the wheel, and the chair (my personal favorite).
Was it as paradigm-shifting as something like the theory of general relativity? No. But I bet the experience of heading downtown—with the horse still in the barn—was something newer than new.
Eat your heart out, Einstein.
Micah Petillo is a copywriter for GYK Antler. Prior to joining the GYK Antler team, he spent his time at Brookstone learning the ins and outs of SEO and writing digital, catalog and packaging copy for brands like Fitbit, Beats by Dr. Dre, AR. Drone, and those massage chairs you love. In his free time he teaches Philosophy courses, plays chess, and moonlights as a wild game butcher, where he aims to promote ethically responsible, more sustainable hunting and animal harvesting.