Second-hand goods: Why it’s important to not let current trends hinder creativity

“There is nothing new under the sun”, the famous saying goes. It actually comes from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament – written well over two thousand years ago!

The fact that it has resonated down the centuries, and (ironically perhaps) feels as fresh today as it ever did, surely points to the fact that for all the abundance of possibilities in life, we actually experience much the same things as each other, just in different formats or settings.

In the communications industry, it poses a particular challenge. Our brief as communicators, be that advertising, marketing or PR, is to find new and fresh messaging that will amplify the brands we represent and strike the audience in new ways.

So are we just wasting our time – if everything has essentially been done or thought of before?

Well, I didn’t pen this to depress everyone, so you’ll be heartened to know that I don’t believe this to be the case. There will always be scope in the industry for genuine creativity and original treatments that can still take people by surprise.

Creative ideas don’t happen in a vacuum and consciously, or unconsciously people often draw on other people’s work.  But I do think that we have to maintain a high level of originality and ensure that what we’re producing doesn’t appear second-hand.       

How many launches have you seen that involve floating something down the Thames? Or perhaps a mass, synchronised balloon release? Ribbons, twibbons, thunderclaps, selfies?

And remember the John Lewis Christmas advertisement from 2015 that involved a slowed down version of the Oasis song ‘Half the world away’? This then led to a slew of other campaigns involving – you guessed it – slowed down versions of other famous songs.

To put the argument for the defence, you could say that there is nothing wrong with tapping into the mood of the moment, the zeitgeist if you will. In fact, it makes sense. If people like something, they’re probably prepared to have more of it with a few tweaks or alterations. Part of the humour or originality comes from the clever twist on what’s come before.

There is definitely a place for that – but it mustn’t become our default position.

My worry is that when an agency and client are thinking about new campaigns, the starting point is to review what else is out there and this then morphs into just copying another campaign or concept with a couple of adaptations.

We need to resist that as far as we can – and keep challenging ourselves to come up with genuinely new ideas. Of course, look at what’s out there. But then return to the basic questions of what makes your client different, what are its individual USPs, how can you bring that to life in a new way?

It’s also about monitoring trends – and trying to think ahead before anyone else does. So where could this take us? What’s the new place we’re heading for and can we be the ones to break it? A bit of luck is probably needed too!

We’re really fortunate to be working when we are. Multimedia and social media have opened up so many avenues to us; there are so many ways and possibilities for getting a message across. With all of these new channels however, comes even more temptation to copy ideas, so we need to be working even harder to find creative solutions and originality.

There may be nothing new under the sun – but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a new light to cast it in.

Read more: Bravery: Challenging the client

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