At IA, we are often asked about the best ways to get an idea across to an audience. There are two obvious ways to do it. We can spend thousands of dollars on media and force our message down our audience's throats, or we could say something controversial to spark a response. These 2 methods are somewhat cold and obnoxious, but there is a third way, which requires a bit more thought and sensitivity. It’s called lateral thinking. It’s not a new invention and it’s not a new idea. Some of us already practice it creatively and it is a worthwhile topic to investigate.
Lateral thinking is quite different to critical thinking. Critical thinking requires finding a solution, an approach for one objective, whereas lateral thinking is more focused on empowerment. It allows freedom of thought, there could be multiple conclusions or at the very least a variation of the same conclusion. We often liken lateral thinking to the opposite of micro management. You can steer where the story/idea goes but you don’t interfere with how it happens. It's a dynamic method to convey an idea, without the audience feeling like they are being spoon fed.
Too often we choose not to adopt lateral thinking in our creative thinking and output. Why? Probably because it requires a deeper understanding of the product we’re trying to sell. It definitely needs a deep understanding of human behavior and what makes people tick. We're not talking about hours and hours of research data, we're referring to intuition and being able to read your target audience. This is where it gets interesting. Clients generally do not like to decide and act on someone’s gut feel, which is understandable. After all, they are throwing thousands of dollars into a film or an Ad campaign so why would they risk it? They prefer concrete information, data, proof of industry. Unfortunately for us though, most ideas that are proven, are relatively predictable and boring.
So what's there to gain from pushing Lateral Thinking? For those who champion creativity, it is an obligation to ourselves to push the limits and see where it goes. Lateral thinking. You know those times when a friend tells a joke, everyone laughs....and it takes you a couple seconds more to get it? That moment is the outcome of lateral delivery and thinking. Your friend did not explain the joke to you, the joke required a pause and an ‘Aha!’ moment. When you get the joke, isn’t it satisfying? Isn’t it even more satisfying when your friends are still left scratching their heads? You got it first. You feel smarter. You think it’s a great joke.
Ideas, visuals and meanings generally resonate better when it is felt as though one conceived it themselves.
Here is an example by Leo Burnett for Car One.
Though the phone conversation was the driving force of the ad, it was actually our minds piecing together a narrative. We didn’t see a sick uncle, we didn’t see our hero buy or sell any cars...in fact we didn’t see anything to relate the phone conversation with the cars, but our minds connected the dots and any further information is redundant. Simple, elegant and cleverly not straight to the point.
One of the biggest problems in our industry is that we tend to underestimate our audiences’ intelligence. Most of us are fairly smart and there is no need to spoon feed every single bit of information. If we give our audience space, psychologically, in the most passive manner, they’ll appreciate it. The previous example is for video content. Let’s try another but for a print ad campaign.
<Silence> Got it? Great! See how it worked? This print ad had one message and you figured it out. To many, this many be a bold move. It’s vague, some may even argue that you have to read it to get it, blah blah blah. But whoever partied hard would know this phrase, and those people are the audience that Oxford Art Factory would want to communicate with, hence quality not ambiguity. Further more, for those who don’t get it, it would probably spark an instant conversation piece amongst their peers. The execution of the ad generated a life span that works beyond the delivery. It got people talking.
Finally, although not exactly lateral thinking, this example falls into the realms of filling in the space yourself. This is an optical illusion with 2 frames and a bit of boogie, resulting in a clever and charming animation. Do we question what happens in between those 2 frames? No. With an act of repetition and definitive pair of frames, we wish we’d thought of that.
Lateral Thinking requires more effort and time to conceive which is where most creatives fall short. The sense of discovery is the essence of a great communication piece, be it a film or an ad. Our brains love to discover, constantly trying to connect the dots and make sense of things whether we like it or not. When something can’t be explained, we actively seek an answer for it.
Senior Art Director