Friday, April 24, 2009

the art of obvious

Doing things is better than saying things. Agreed.

Thinking about this in the context of embryonic-global-transparent-connectedness (cough), I've recently been giving an internal high-five to something more specific than just doing things: Doing obvious things.

I'd go as far to say that doing obvious things is often better than saying clever things.

'Obvious' has a terrible reputation. It sounds like a name for something without much value. But doing obvious things simply means giving people things you know they'll like.

Overly-clever communications ideas can be cumbersome; unnecessary blockages or distractions between your audience, your offering and their peers.

Agencies and businesses often fail to do obvious things because of an in-built desire for originality. The irony is that this crusade for novelty has turned things around. Obvious things are no longer obvious; they're off the radar for those who are paid to be clever. Very clever things on the other hand have become the new 'obvious'.

Of course there is such a thing as 'bad and obvious'. You have to make it entertaining, interesting, pleasurable or useful. Luckily, if it's obvious in the way I describe above (I.e. Your audience will like it) then you're probably half way there already.

Here are a few excellent examples of good-obvious things I've seen or been reminded of recently:

Red Bull in Venice
After record flooding, Red Bull got some dude to wake-board across St. Marks Square. This might not seem obvious. But think about it: Every ramp, runway or stretch of water is a canvas for celebrating extreme sports and speed. You just have to look for them. This only seems unobvious because people tend to think in terms of billboards rather than experiences; and campaigns, rather than moments. It's good-obvious :)
(Seen in this great list)

Adobe on Delicious
The software giant is bookmarking the most inspiring, interesting uses of Adobe software. I feel the urge to use the word genius. Of course, it isn't genius. It's simple. And almost free to do. So why don't more companies do things like this?

As Adrian says:
This is really smart. They’re driving traffic to these content creators from their 2700 fans (and their networks) and they’re maintaining a master list of the best how-to information on their products.

Blendtec on Youtube:
Yes, this old chestnut. But over-celebrated for good reason. "It's a blender. Let's see what it can do." Cheaper than TV and about a million times more spreadable.

Nikon in Georgetown
People love photos... of themselves and their friends. Nikon simply gave the people of Georgetown a load of awesome cameras, let them go crazy and then displayed all the images in the town hall. Its simplicity and integrity summed up with a gracious: "Thank you for doing this!" from a lady who took part. Every person involved became an instant brand ambassador.
And much cheaper than hiring a hoard of extras and shooting an expensive ad. (Via Faris) on the streets
A different kind of example.
This is only unobvious if you start your thinking process with traditional advertising. The solution here was simply to remove all obstruction between the audience and the problem they wanted to highlight. It's good-obvious. (And cheap!)

Nike store across the web
How do you promote your store in banners? Put your store in the banners. Let people browse products directly from the ad.

I'm guessing some people will disagree that all of these examples are obvious. But that's probably because it's a crude word that sounds like criticism. I use it with only positive intentions and I think all of the above are excellent.

For me, 'obvious' means ignoring your desire to be clever and focussing on bringing people and the things they want closer together. Then you can think about doing those things with charm, wit and creativity.

What would you do if your budget was £50, instead of £50,000? I think you'd probably do something good. And something obvious.

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Anonymous Asi said...


But I must disagree with your definition of obvious and the examples you gave.

I'd like to think in 3 categories:

1. obvious:
All the things that basic common sense and trained thinking will get you to (if not you simply suck and fail). from your examples it's the adobe and nike banner that qualified.

I'd put great blogs for example and everything that you do to meaningfully connect with people that care about you in a rather obvious way like listening, responding, being nice etc.

2. genius obvious

This is where most great creative fall. i'd put here the red-bull, nikon and 'will it blend'. you see these projects and the it immediately resonates (obvious) but still inspires you for it's simplicity, originality and integrity as you said. I'm tempted to even include Tweenbots, life zise blue wale, and Nike+ in this category but it might be genius genius obvious ;-)

3. genius

genius is rare(damn you genius). you get to see only few of these over a year. These are the things you look at and goes WOW, or f**k me, or just 'this IS genius'.

can't think of anything right now (see how rare it is? ) but will have a think and get back....

7:29 pm  
Blogger Andy Whitlock said...

Hey Asi - thanks for commenting and tweeting this.

You're right to pick at the word obvious. I started piecing together these things simply because they all removed the clutter from between the audience and the product - I.e. Why say it when you can show it?

As I typed, I started to try and tie them together more poetically and maybe failed a little ;)

I do think the line between genius and obvious is very thin. And depends largely on your perspective. I find it interesting that what 'should' be obvious ideas are missed simply because people are looking for something bigger.

I wonder if people would be better at spotting obvious things if 'obvious' was as well-rewarded as 'genius'.

8:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything that's great seems obvious in hindsight. That's because they're so simple, and now seem so obvious, you believe you could have thought of them.

Those are the obvious things that inspire me.

1:43 am  
Blogger Andy Whitlock said...

hello anonymous. I agree with you.

But I think there's more to it, too.

One example is that small ideas don't feel worthy of big budgets, even though they might be incredibly effective.

And I really think 'obvious' is a totally subjective state. It's only obvious if you're looking in the right place and we're often not - for arguably silly reasons.

Maybe the word obvious is distraction from the bigger point, which is that if a product has value, then putting that value as close to its audience as possible at the right moment and without distraction is a no-brainer.

Speaking of no-brains, I just woke up and I have no idea what I'm saying any more ;)

2:07 pm  

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