Make it rhyme and get out in time for the solo

Learn creativity from the master.
Learn creativity from the master.

Advertising lessons from Robert Plant

On Oct. 10 of this year, one of the gods descended from Mt. Olympus and bestowed the gift of light upon some wanting mortals. That is to say, Robert Plant did an intimate talk in front of about 50 people with a reporter from the New York Times. I was lucky enough to be one of those mortals.

The 16-year-old in me came wanting to hear stories about Jack Daniels, groupies, motorcycles and sharks (actually, I believe, if legend is correct, that’s all one story). Instead, the working adult in me got something far more valuable – a lesson in creativity from the man who somehow managed to work the phrase "bustle in your hedgerow" in to one of the world’s most popular rock songs.

When asked about his writing process and how he uses his lyrics to express ideas and esoteric concepts, Plant said that the main thing to remember is, make it rhyme and get out in time for the solo.

In other words, work within the form.

This seems applicable to both what we in advertising are tasked with saying and, increasingly, how we are saying it.

With every type of new media and technology comes a new set of rules, a new set of limitations. Whether it’s six seconds or 140 characters, these rules force us to be creative. The creatives who are successful in new media are the ones who understand the form and use the limitations to their advantage, and the ones who come up with solutions that feel like they were designed specifically for that medium, not retrofitted or forced.

Also implied in this quote is, understand what the job is.

Advertising is not a fine art in the pure sense of the term. It is an art, but it’s an art with a very defined purpose and a strict set of expectations. The art is in the solution. The art is in the way we are able to meet the demands and stipulations of the assignment through an execution that feels as if they weren’t there.

If you are an account person or planner, don’t try to do creatives the favor of leaving it wide open. There’s a fallacy which holds that creative people love unrestricted creative freedom. In fact, I think the opposite is true. I believe we should embrace restrictions. Restrictions focus us. Restrictions don’t prevent us from being creative – they force us to be creative. If you are a creative, demand a tight brief.

At issue here is, how do you do work that’s relevant and impactful in any medium?

Besides understanding the form, what it really comes down to understanding people. Technology is constantly changing, basic human needs and motivations aren’t. Work that uses the medium in the right way and connects to a basic human truth is the work that will feel current and paradoxically timeless. In other words, the more things change, the more the song remains the same.

Greg Hahn is Chief Creative Officer of BBDO New York.

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