Want Fresher Creative? Stop Siloing Your Agencies

4 strategies to avoid the copycat sea of sameness

Modern brands are increasingly complex, the sum of many human touchpoints that need careful management—so much so, that no one agency can do it all (despite what the holding companies will tell you). Clients increasingly feel the need to put agencies in specific "lanes" with remits according to their expertise or build their own internal agency to control.

On the surface, it makes lots of sense, but the more you resign them to a lane, the more you get work that is fundamentally limited from the outset. Worse, over time it all starts to look and feel the same. 

Startup advertising has for years been a sea of sameness. Take off the logo and see for yourself: is it an Rx at-home delivery service or an emerging fintech challenger brand? Surprise! It's a new dating app.

We've seen this with the rise of the sans-serif typeface. It had a minimalist vibe that represented the apex of flexibility and convenience of the new DTC universe that we were all about to scroll our way into; Swiss Style-inspired fonts and grids that said challenger brands, free of brick and mortar, are here.

But design is ever-changing and pendulum-like. Notice how now, in lieu of clean lines, we are all living in a world of long bendy arms? It's the latest illustration trend initially adopted by tech companies, known as Corporate Memphis, that involves the use of simple, cartoon figures with distortions in body proportions to signal that a company is inclusive and fun.

On TikTok, to be a part of the social conversation, you have to espouse all the copycat tropes of the day... it's a culture of sameyness that the algorithm requires you to adopt to break through, even if it’s fleeting. Everyone is trying to stand out while giving people a sense of belonging. Millennial Pink has been officially replaced by Gen Z Green, which makes sense since we have outsourced the saving of the planet to them. 

But what can we do to counter program all this, and ensure that we are not caught up in a copycat sea of sameness?

Build collaborative, multidisciplinary teams.

Bill Bernbach's sage advice still holds true: "An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it." One strategy to avoid sameness is to build collaborative multidisciplinary teams that are not predisposed to seeing solutions in set media channels or outputs. Make sure there are folks in the room (on the Zoom) who see the world differently and intentionally create a working model for them to come together and create.

The Coinbase QR code idea and execution (with its distinct lack of storytelling and celeb cameos) traversed many different realms of creativity—from cross-generational tech tropes to social and meme culture. I like to think that the execution was a clear result of many disparate groups inspiring each other to get to the most talked about commercial of the game.

Bring design upstream.

I find that there's too much distance between the strategy and the design phase. It's never been more true that people love to be drawn in by design, so if you want to break through and land a punch, consider bringing design upstream into the organization. Ensure your strategy is built on robust brand design principles, (not just brilliant insights and cultural behaviors) with designers and strategists working hand in hand from the outset. Good strategy is about unearthing the things that make your brand unique, so don't forget the folks who will bring it to life visually.

Infuse your brand with product thinking.

Brand is now product and product is now brand. There is increasingly less distinction between these two concepts, and with the encroachment of the metaverse, this distinction will only become more blurred. I predict a world where all future brand storytelling is anchored in literate product design system thinking that doesn't feel the need to be designed with the exact same user interfaces.

Seek diversity in ideas.

If your creatives all look the same, the ideas likely will too. Much has been written about this already by great minds. What I will add to this is that we need to check our creative egos at the door and allow for not just the possibility that ideas can come from anywhere, but also that they can grow and be nurtured by people who didn't go to the same prestigious art schools and ad schools.

To stand out in a convergent marketing world, build cross-functional teams that are open to learning from different backgrounds and lived experiences. Break the process and make space for them to think outside the box and approach problems from new angles. What might look or feel out of place now may be the next humanist typeface.

Cedric Devitt
Cedric Devitt is chief creative officer of Big Spaceship.

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