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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Creativity For The Rest Of Us
By Alan Rosenspan

Can you learn creativity? Can you discover how to think more creatively about your direct marketing problems, and come up with more innovative, more effective solutions?

I believe you can -- and that's the focus of my Creativity Workshop, which I've done in almost a dozen countries and for several organizations.

In it, I dispel some of the myths about creativity; prove that everyone of us can come up with creative ideas; and reveal a secret -- the best ideas very rarely come out of the creative department. There's a good reason for that, which we'll come to in a moment.

But before we do, let me share with you some terrific creative ideas that have nothing to do with words or pictures.

Jordan's Furniture is a huge store in Avon, Massachusetts. In 1992, they attached a large Omni-like theater to their store and created an unusual movie.

The movie includes a roller coaster ride and other stunts. You're strapped into your seat, which rocks back and forth with the movie, so you feel like you're on the ride. There's also a part where you plunge into a river and real droplets of water splash down on you. It's very exciting and great fun.

Jordan's calls the experience M.O.M., which stands for Motion Odyssey Movie, and since it opened, it has attracted over 1 million riders (The town of Avon has only 9,000 people).The profits all go to charity -- and since they opened, they've raised $750,000 for the Aids Action Committee, the Red Cross and other worthy causes.

Now why would a furniture store want to go into the entertainment business -- particularly when they don't even keep the profits?

Well, I forgot to mention one thing: M.O.M. doesn't have a separate entrance. In order to get to the ride, you have to walk through approximately 40 rooms of Jordan's furniture, with over 250 different displays.

Was it smart to increase store traffic by over a million people? Did they come up with a very creative idea? Do you think they could have accomplished this with a really clever headline or TV spot?

As you can see, thinking creatively is the job of everyone involved in business, and creativity can be an important part of every direct marketing program. Fortunately, we're all superbly equipped to do it.

Are you a creative person?

Most people shudder, shake their heads and say, "No, I'm the least creative person in the world!" But let me ask you a few questions:

• Have you ever solved a problem in your business? The best creative people don't come up with ideas in abstract (if that's even possible). They come up with ways to solve problems. And they don't even have to be new ways. Thomas Edison said, "Your ideal only has to be original only in it's application to the problem you're working on."

Or, as Murray Raphel says, "Steal the best. Forget the rest."

• Have you ever changed or challenged or broken a rule? One of the simplest -- but most creative ideas -- I ever had was for B.J.'s Wholesale Club.

Wholesale clubs work on notoriously low margins. They deal in volume. And because of this, they generally have small advertising budgets to work with.

When I started working on the B.J.'s Wholesale Club account, they could only afford to do one full-page advertisement every time they opened a you heir headline -- always the same since they had found a winning formula -- read "Come to B.J.'s Grand Opening Day" At the bottom of the advertisement, they put a free one day pass that entitled people to shop on the Grand Opening Day without being a member.

The advertising worked well, and they generally attracted a few thousand people to each opening. However, they couldn't sign on many members. And for good reason -- the place was crowded, people waited on long lines.

I recommended that they change one word in the headline. What I did was change the word "day" into the word "week". The result was that people could come to the club when they wanted too -- not on some arbitrary day we picked. Plus, when they did come, they were delighted that the club wasn't crowded. There weren't long lines. B.J.'s Wholesale Club signed on almost four times as many members.

Show me the rule that says Opening Day has to be a day.

• Have you ever had to come up with an excuse? Maybe you forgot your spouse's birthday, or maybe you left some important papers at home. But if you've ever had to explain your actions to another person -- you were probably very creative.

The reason for this is simple: most people are only as creative as they have to be.

So if you decide that you have to be more creative at your job, you absolutely will be. And chances are, you'll be much more effective at it.

You are a creative person, but it's not your fault

You were born that way.

As Pablo Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist after you grow up."

Many people think they're not creative. But, in fact, every person is creative if given the right opportunity (and you give it to yourself). But before we go any further, let's define our terms.

What is this thing called "creativity?" What is this mysterious process that has led to the greatest advances in art, science and literature and yes, even advertising and direct mail?

I think you will agree that "creativity" involves ideas, right? Okay, one question. What's an idea?

I believe that an idea is a change. Nobody ever said, "I've got a great idea. Let's do things the way we've always done them!" An idea is a change. And you could argue that the bigger the change, the bigger the idea.

Cablevision is one of the largest "pay-per-view" companies in the U.S. They were putting on the first Mike Tyson - Evander Holyfield Heavyweight Championship Fight, but "pay-per-view" sales were down. The reason was that Mike Tyson's last two out of three fights were over in the first round. Most people weren't prepared to pay $29.95 for three minutes of boxing.

So Cablevision brought creativity to pricing. Instead of charging $29.95 for the fight, they priced it at $9.95 per round. Their advertising said, "You're going to get your money's worth. Guaranteed!"

Not only did they attract more viewers, but since the fight went eight rounds, people actually paid more (the price was capped at $49.95) than if they had bought the entire fight.

Is creativity really important in direct marketing?

Today, we all have access to the same lists, the same formats, the same techniques, the same premiums. The only real leverage you can bring to your direct marketing program is creativity.

So not only is it important -- it is becoming more important every single day.

The reason why is twofold. First, we live in times of rapid change. In years past, a product or service could have a significant advantage over it's competition and sustain that for many years. These days, it is harder and harder to stay abreast of the competition, much less keep ahead of them.

Sure, I know the old Rudyard Kipling poem:

They copied all they could copy
But they couldn't copy my mind
So I left them sweating and swearing
Half a year behind!

But that was before technology changed the concept of time.

Less than 45 days after Princess Diana died in that terrible crash, there were commemorative stamps, plates, and two new books about it.

Think about it. Is there anything your company or product does that your competitors could not do? How about in six months time?

The second reason is that we live in an information age. It's possible, even easy, to see what every single one of your competitors is doing. So if you can see what your competition is doing, and they can see what you're doing, how can you take advantage of that? Here's one example:

Tweeter is a large chain of audio and video stores. But they had a problem. Most customers tend to shop around and even wait for a sale before they buy a new CD-player or Walkman. How could they get people to buy the first time?

They introduced Tweeter's Automatic Price Protection -- the way it works is this: if you buy something and it goes on sale, at Tweeter or anyplace else, the difference will be refunded to you. But you don't have to come into the store, or even call them. It's all done automatically. Do you think their sales went up?

If we're all creative, how can we be more creative? Are there any "rules" about creative thinking?

Funny enough, there are. There not really rules, of course, because creative thinking may take any form and go in any direction. But the following may be a good place to start. And, in the spirit of creativity, I've called them:

The 10 Commandments Of Creativity

1. Thou shalt be creative.

It's everyone's job, not just the job of the creative department. From now on, why not add the word "Creative" to your title? So, instead of being just the Direct Marketing Manager, you can be the Creative Direct Marketing Manager.

I did a similar thing with one of my Art Directors. He had done an excellent job for me on a project and I wanted to reward him in some way. I had just given him a raise, and I couldn't give him a bonus, so here's what I did. I made him a new set of business cards. Instead of reading "Mark Davis, Art Director," the new cards read "Mark Davis, Brilliant Art Director." He was inspired.

2. Ask and ye shall receive.

One dumb question is worth a hundred brilliant answers.

I used to work on the Steinway piano account. I wanted to do a testimonial ad because almost all of the world's great pianists use a Steinway piano. The client said, "You can't do that." I asked why. The client said, "Nobody has ever been paid to play or endorse a Steinway piano."

My next ad had this headline, "Nobody has ever been paid to play or endorse a Steinway. Not even Vladimir Horowitz."

3. Be fruitful and multiply.

Most people stop thinking too soon in the process. As double Nobel-prize winner Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."

Tom McElliot, one of the founders of Fallon McElliot, a very successful agency, does 400 to 500 roughs for every advertisement he creates. Even if only one of out 100 ideas is great -- he'll have 4 or 5 of them.

As someone once said, "Many people have the talent to become great, but few have the energy." Decide that you will.

4. Thou shalt not settle for good-enough.

The worst enemy of a great idea is a good-enough idea.

There's a very useful tool that I call "The Second Best Idea." What this means is that after you've solved your problem -- don't stop thinking. Because the pressure's off. And the next idea you come up with may be an even better, or simpler or more elegant solution.

5. If you don't have an idea, you don't have enough information.

Have you ever been stuck for an idea, and then you found out just one more little bit of information and then the idea came? I've found that the best way to come up with new ideas is to learn new things.

Interleaf is a software company that specializes in document management. While looking for an idea, we kept coming up with more and more fascinating information. (For example, did you know that the paperwork involved in building a battleship actually weighs more than the battleship?).

There was so much of it, that became our offer: "Free. The 50 Most Often Asked Questions About Document Management. And the Answers." And we won a Gold Echo.

By the way, this is the reason that the best creative ideas often come from clients and account people rather than the creatives. You know more about your business.

6. Thou shall covet thy neighbor's ideas

What works in one business can often work in another.

Tom Monahan, a Creative Director in Providence, Rhode Island, has an excellent example. According to Tom, the gravel industry has been revolutionized by new selling technology. Now, you drive your truck up under a machine, you press a few buttons as to the amount of gravel you want, and the size (or grade). It then pours out of the machine right into your truck, and you drive away. You never even have to leave your seat.

Sound familiar? Maybe not in the gravel business. However in the fast-food business -- drive up service has been around for years. So the next time you're trying to come up with an idea, think how an entirely different business would do it.

7. Thou shalt not be judgmental. At first.

Don't let the Editor get ahead of the Muse. List all your ideas. Don't evaluate them until the very, very end.

Nothing kills creative thinking like saying, "That's a terrible idea!" Even if you say it to yourself. What I recommend is that you give yourself some time in between creating and evaluating. Talk a walk or even a nap. Then come back and look at your ideas. You may have an entirely new perspective.

8. Think beyond boundaries.

This has also been described as "out of the box" thinking.

Imagine if you had all the money in the world to solve your problem. What would you do? What if you had no money, and had to solve it for free? How would a child solve it? What if the problem were reversed?

Let's take the idea of negative option. As you may know, negative option is the technique that the book, CD and video clubs use. The idea is that you have to tell them that you don't want this month's selection, or else it gets sent to you automatically. And a lot of people invariably forget to, and accept it when it arrives.

You may not enjoy negative option, but it's sold a lot of products. And it came about because someone said, "Instead of trying to get them to request our product, how about making them request not getting the product?"

9. Remember there's strength in numbers.

All of us are more creative than any of us, with very few exceptions.

Even Isaac Newton wrote, "If I have managed to see far, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." You may not be surrounded by giant thinkers, but try holding brainstorms and getting as many different people involved as possible. Ideas can come from anyone, as long as they are in an environment where creative thinking is recognized and rewarded.

10. Think big.

David Ogilvy said "Unless your advertising is based on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night." In direct marketing, the ship will sink.

Dunkin' Donuts recently changed their advertising campaign. After 17 years, they finally retired "Fred the Baker." Most companies change campaigns quietly. Dunkin' Donuts gave Fred a giant retirement party and gave away free donuts and coffee all day long at every one of their locations. (They also gave away $1 million in charity in honor of Fred.)

As someone once said, "Make no little plans. They don't have the power to stir men's souls. " Or to get response.

The Wizard of Creativity

What does a creative genius look like?

You may picture him or her dressed in long flowing robes, surrounded by candles, perhaps even perched on a mountain top. Instead, just look in a mirror. You are a creative person. You can be more creative, and there's really no mystery about the process of creative thinking.

In the movie, "The Wizard of Oz", Dorothy and her friends are trembling in front of the great and powerful Oz. At that point, her little dog Toto runs around a curtain to reveal that the wizard is actually an ordinary little man who is using special effects to terrify them. It was all just a facade. Caught, he bellows, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

The moral of the story is -- we can all be our own "wizards of creativity."

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