Creativity is maximised when you are living in the moment
A story on why, even when you believe in a system-based approach to creativity, you should embrace moments of creative serendipity when fate deals you that hand. These moments can also lead to ideas that create authentic brand stories, vital for millennial appeal in the face of the Fyre Festival farce and ‘influencer inflation’.
Sitting across our agency bar from me one ‘long lunchtime’ are my wife and her friend Cathy. They were enjoying one of my whisky Old Fashioned’s and I could see Cathy checking out our collection. The one that caught her eye was Smokehead, the wild one of single malt; a high-quality and delicious Islay whisky. Staring at the gold skull-adorned bottle, Cathy turned to me and said: “you should speak to my brother-in-law, Tyler. He builds cool bikes, loves whisky and he’s just moved from Brooklyn to Edinburgh.” It was serendipity in action; a spontaneous connection that couldn’t be synthesised in an agency brainstorm. It was real emotion and an original idea… Cathy knew Tyler would love Smokehead and we’d find Tyler to be a ‘person of interest’.
And that’s how it started.
As a passionate ideas guy who works in an agency that prides itself on creating challenging, disruptive and, most importantly, consumer-validated ideas, I work with a lot of different people to come up with different ideas every day; generating new ones, optimising nearly-there ones, pivoting on dodgy ones and binning crap ones. We apply our proprietary creative and research system (great insight planning, leading to a powerful and springy brand proposition) and cover it in a diverse coating of creative magic dust. This then leads to ideas that we take into our research process to prove impactful (or not) for stakeholders – both client and consumer (or customer). This system approach helps bias strong commercial results for our clients. But it isn’t spontaneous – that’s when human brain magic comes into play.
We met Tyler a couple of weeks after the bar chat – turns out he was born in California, trained as a farrier, then moved from horses to bikes to learn the craft of Ducati motorbike maintenance and customisation in NYC. Christened as ‘The Ducati whisperer of the Tri-State area’, he’s built bikes for obsessive bikers, rock stars and now (thanks to Cathy’s suggestion) we were talking about a cool Islay whisky brand which also follows a different path. And here’s where the story gets a whiff of destiny… Tyler told us Cathy was right that he does love big smoky single malts and last year in New York, he’d bought a bottle of Smokehead in a specialist liquor store. Smokehead is one of the fastest-growing smoky whiskies out there but that listing surprised even the brand owner…
Now, when a cool idea hits you in the face, what helps is when you have real confidence that it’s a ‘good’ idea. I knew we just had to get a collaborative project with Tyler moving, because I had rock-solid confidence in Smokehead’s brand positioning and vision. We knew the two talented and bold personalities would hit it off – both uncompromising and stubborn but committed to high quality craft in their unique creative expressions. So, we needed to get everyone on board.
Tyler is a natural visionary, so he was obviously in, but we needed agency and client bravery to commit and make this idea happen. And it becomes relatively straightforward when you have a smart, cool and collected client. They knew we had the brand foundations right (because we had positively researched pack design, the ‘Not for Everyone’ activation platform, ran a 3-month social media TOV beta-test and they had read the buoyant sales and brand engagement reports). So, we chose not to over-research the executional collaboration concept. Instead, we were going to build the wildest custom Ducati bike Tyler has been dreaming of building; sharing with global Smokeheads video diaries of the design and engineering challenges that Tyler’s single-minded approach brings to the project, whilst documenting the incredible human skill in bringing ‘The Smoker’ motorcycle to life.
So, the moral of the story: firstly, protect and act on spontaneous creative ideas because they are a rare and precious thing. Yes, create and research strong brand foundations that resonate with your audience, but be open to those wild ideas that blow in through the windows of your strong brand architecture. Allow them to redecorate and you could end up with a funky new room that brings a fresh and appealing new angle to your brand pad.
Another wild idea? Try Smokehead with Coke and loads of ice – just to annoy tweedy old whisky guys.