Steve Babcock, CCO of New York based global digital agency VaynerMedia talks ‘Familiarity before Originality’

I got my start in this business in 1998. As a young, budding creative it was made very clear to me that originality was the prerequisite of creativity. If it wasn’t completely original, it wasn’t any good. It was a suitable guideline considering the one-way communication mediums of the day. The only chance you had to make a splash was to make it with something nobody had ever seen before. That’s how you broke through the clutter and got attention.

That was the game for a few years. But then along came YouTube. Suddenly, anybody with an internet connection could publish their original content. Before we knew it, originality had become democratized. As it turned out, it wasn’t reserved only for the advertising guys.

Our mediums and platforms evolved. They became more intelligent and reciprocal. Today, we know more about consumer behaviour, likes and dislikes than ever before. We know their Google searches. We know their Amazon shopping history. And, thanks to Facebook, we know more about them than I’m sure they’d like us to.

Now, the game is all about context. Yes, there’s still power in originality. But only when it plays to what is already familiar. The technology that allows us to target very specific audiences is an incredible advantage for marketers. Now we don’t have to rely solely on originality as a means to break through clutter. Instead, we can simply connect the dots between the brand’s message and what the audience already cares about. So in other words, the audience is cutting through their own clutter and, wouldn’t you know it, there we are! It’s almost like we knew exactly what type of toaster they’ve been researching. Hmmm.

Playing to consumer familiarity requires a very different creative approach. For starters, it means we must make way more content. We can no longer expect one, really original idea to connect with everyone. Disparate audiences with disparate interests require disparate communications. Whether it’s entertainment, politics, social issues, trends, sports, business or whatever, the goal is to custom tailor the brand message into each area of interest.

It also means we need to spend a lot more time understanding what makes our audiences tick. We need to explore their behaviours. Uncover their insights. The more time we spend in their worlds, the more relevant the creative ideas will be to them.

We need to spend less time going to movies or concerts to get creatively “inspired” and more time doing shop-alongs and ethnographies. You know, the stuff previously reserved for strategists. But if the goal is to tap into what’s familiar with the audience, strategy and creative truly have to become one discipline.

In the end, we must become less precious about our originality. It is no longer the only prerequisite to creativity. The starting line is now the segmentation of audiences. Understanding their different interests. Then creating original content customized specifically to them. We’re no longer clubbing them over the head. But instead, we’re sitting inside the Trojan horse.

Originality will always have stopping power. It will always be the quest of every true creative. But knowing what we know about the consumer today means we have context. And originality within context is the deadliest weapon to date.

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