Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Answer is Right Where You Won't Find It.

Okay, so my tastes run a little eclectic, but when I'm jammed in a creative rut, I whip out a stack of my favorite CD's and relax to my favorite Elektra library of sound effects.

No kidding, nothing gives your brain a re-charge like kicking back and trying to make sense of a sequence of seemingly unrelated aural events. I just pop in a disk and listen to Body Falling Down Stairs, followed byTrain Whistle and Children Playing in Schoolyard, and well, you get the idea.

You have to do this with your eyes closed, incidentally, to get the full effect. It takes about three selections before you start visualizing each effect. After about five, you catch your brain trying to link the sequences together to make some kind of sense.

Bugle Calls, Woodworking Shop, Big Door Closed with Reverberation, Automatic Garage Door, Heartbeat -- now that's weird enough to link into a Pseudo-Psycho Hitchcock movie. Bicycle Chain, Police Car, Submarine, Video Game starts to meld into an Independence Day meets Waterworld sort of genre.

You don't have to do this very long before you realize that your brain really enjoys getting stretched like this. It almost can't help itself, frantically stitching together these random factors into an understandable, logical sequence. And if you pay attention, it doesn't take very long until you begin solving strategic problems the same way; deliberately looking for solutions where you shouldn't be finding them.

The fact is that many of us are so hung up on having our ideas accepted that we lose focus of our true objective: solving a problem. But guided by a strong strategic discipline, you'll find that working your way back from a randomly selected source can produce effective, creative results of dimensional proportions.

I recall a design problem I encountered developing "the world's lightest, smallest and most portable camera tripod." Every design I came up with was still too large, too expensive and too bulky, until I decided to link the ordinary to the weird:

What if the tripod had four feet instead of three?

I suppose I could have just as easily imagined it with five, but randomly selecting four did the trick, producing a radical re-design that flew through the U.S. Patent office in record time. True, I could no longer accurately call it a tripod, but nobody since has complained about it.

I once pitched a video dating service account. Seven other agencies presented campaigns about the company's state-of-the-art facility and new machines, because they thought that's what the client wanted to hear. We could have done the same, but just for exercise, decided to start at a randomly selected point -- the video-date consumer -- to see if we could work our way back to a strategically sound campaign.

The result was a campaign that took video dating from a "last ditch effort for losers who can't get a date" to "a service for people who were too busy to be contacted through by any other means." No mention of state-of-the-art facility or new machines. All of a sudden, being a video dating customer meant you were in demand. A winner.

Sure, it was a risk. But we didn't let the chances of acceptance get in the way of a good idea. And it's a good thing we didn't, because we got the account.

It's good to take occasional trips through the realm of randomness, where searching for logical links can piece together some of the most innovative ideas you'll ever have. It's okay to search for a link between trucks and tampons. But a word of warning: as important as jumping off into the world of weird is, it's equally critical that you feel your way back with a strong, strategic discipline. One that makes sense on the bottom line.

Otherwise, people will think you're just some nut who listens to sound effects records.

Rob Frankel

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