Embrace Limitations, and Find the Limits of Your Creative Resolve

4 reasons why constraints are good for you

Wide-open brief. Undefined budget. Think big, and we'll figure it out later. Do these describe a golden creative opportunity? Not to us.

Make no mistake, we love making big splashes with our work—the bigger the better—but we also love limitations. No time? Elusive audience? Uncharted social territory? Bring it on.

Engine, as an agency, has always been comfortable in the harsh realities of limitations. You might even call it our sweet spot. Some people bemoan it, but we love it. We're built for it.

Here are some reasons why embracing limitations can give your agency an edge and sharpen your thinking.

More limitation; more satisfaction.

Who doesn't love the feeling of beating the odds? With limitations come complications and obstacles that you can't spend your way past. You must outsmart limitations—innovate, explore, behave differently and develop a keen intuition. What bets to make? What angles to take?

Twitter is chock full of limitations, whether it's character count, volume of noise or the looming risk of getting torn apart by the locals. But it also has a tremendous organic upside. From a perfectly timed Oreo tweet to an epic HBO thread that doles out Soprano nicknames, winning on Twitter is as satisfying as it gets.

Limitations weed out the competition.

There are fewer players in a high-limitations game. Need to rebrand without increasing the budget? Need to tailor every piece of creative for the good, bad and ugly parts of a user journey? Want to activate your brand on Reddit? Limitations can scare off agencies and expose shortcomings. 

Agencies that win pitches with rigid limitations must be inherently flexible. Creatives who win awards without bypassing business objectives must use both sides of their brain. To win at the high-limitations game, ideas must be challenged and pressure-tested, discussions must be welcomed, and egos must be set aside. It's not for everyone.

Relinquishing control is a requirement.

This is easy to say, but oftentimes difficult to do, for both brands and agencies. It's why so many brands fail at social. You cannot control the conversation—only contribute to it. It's why time is so important, even though it's never on your side. These days, opportunities present themselves with a short runway, while the world is moving at a fast pace. If you take a more deliberate path to creating strategy, concept and putting everything into production, the world, at that point, has changed many times over. It's impossible to be culturally relevant and control the pace of creative development. Speed is critical.

Even when planning ahead is possible, some of the strongest ideas require brands to let go of control. Burger King has mastered the art of setting the stage for a clever stunt to unfold. They trust the agency. They trust the idea. And they trust that social media will help it spread.

Limitations aren't going away.

This pandemic dropped unprecedented limitations on agencies—from Zoom pitches to shoot cancellations. Contributing to the complexity, social movements and politics dominate the news, dramatically changing the cultural context in the blink of an eye. 

We understand that brands feel limited in what they can say and do, which explains the abundance of similar messages using similar stock solutions. 

We understand that limitations make everything harder. 

We just refuse to let them get in the way.

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Matt Steinwald
Matt Steinwald is executive creative director of Engine.

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