Insights that incite

Last year I mc’d an event called conversuasion where Mia Pearson, Greg Hounslow of West Jet and DDB’s Chief Communications Officer, Jeff Swystun all gave cosy fireside chats to an audience of advertising, marketing and PR industry folks. My favourite presentation was from Jeff called “insights that incite”. I’ve pasted the presentation below, along with a guest blog he wrote for Just Marketing.

“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum.  The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” Robert Wieder

Some of the most successful brands and their marketing can be attributed to a very straightforward but powerful theory that has been proven time and again. It argues that the most effective and enduring communications are born from single, simple insights into human behavior. Insights so simple, in fact, that once revealed we react by saying, “that must already exist” or “why didn’t I think of that”.

Think circa 1851 – when in Moby-Dick there is the tale of one of the characters strapping his sea-chest to a wheelbarrow but then, not knowing how to maneuver the barrow gathers the whole assembly and carries it.

Fast forward to the 1970’s when wheels appear on traditional suitcases. This is attributed to Bernard Sadow when he tugged the odd looking prototype into Macy’s in 1972. The luggage buyer ridiculed him saying no one would want to drag their luggage but was soon over ruled by a sharper, more travel-savvy Vice President.

For Mr. Sadow, inspiration had come one day in 1971 when he was lugging a large suitcase through customs and a man breezed by towing heavy machinery on a dolly. This led him to develop the technology whereby travelers could pull their luggage by a leash. And sure these poorly balanced suitcases toppled over en masse in airports and train stations but still it was a huge improvement over the technology that had remained largely unchanged for centuries. He demonstrated that an insight comes from acute observation and deduction.

Now we move to 1989, because it takes a further 17 years to improve on leashed luggage, when Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath develops the roll-aboard suitcase for flight crews. It soon spawns wheels on everything. I spend a great deal of time flying and I continue to marvel at roller luggage – a simple idea that has had such impact. In fact, if you think about the word “luggage” it connotes “to lug”, to be uncomfortable, to be a human beast of burden. It took us a long time to shatter that notion.

So you see, the best insights are the simplest ones. The ones that once introduced blend into our day to day consciousness with nary a ripple. They are so smooth in adoption that we feel like they have always been there. Insights are interesting in isolation but their real purpose is to solve a problem. How insightful are you and how inciteful are you?

Does your work prompt new thinking? Will it change the way people think? Is it creative solely for creative sake or does it solve a problem or advance an argument? Does it help your client sell more, more often, to more people, at a higher price? Does it improve our world?

There was a great line from Mad Men where the Creative Director, Don Draper, critiques some copy and offers the copywriter the following advice, “Stop writing for other writers”. Meaning be relevant to the consumer and engage them with powerful insights executed with brilliance both strategically and creatively.

So I encourage you to look at things from fresh angles, examine problems from other perspectives, seek inspiration from other industries, from the animal kingdom, from science, from science fiction. Uncover the insights that incite and you will find yourself in a rarified and exciting place. But do not be surprised that once you identify and implement that particularly amazing insight that people say, “wasn’t that done before” or “that’s not new” because as Arthur Koestler said, “The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.”


Get more of Jeff’s inciting insights on his tumblr or Twitter. Or, of course, the DDB blog.


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