Saturday, November 13, 2010

The creative reality of pretending.

If your going to advertise something, you need to experience it. Even if you have to simulate the experience like a child at play. (IDEO's Tim Brown brilliantly explores the value of this method.) Basic, human-centered insight drives today's successful marketing. It's the ability to pick up on a core truth that is usually so simple, it's been overlooked.

Years ago I was asked to market a snowmobile adventure from Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Saratoga, Wyoming. The client insisted we do the trip. Having never driven a snowmobile, seven hours to and from a resort was a bit much. Two major snow dig outs, one useless throttle hand, and a couple of recovery days later – I had what I needed. I could tell the story. And with a little pretending, I could tell it from the perspective of someone more in tune with the whole trip. Not that the snowmobiling wasn't fun, in moderation. (If I were just marketing to myself, I would sell the overnight spa part. And, oh yeah, the homemade cookie thing. Definitely.)

We can't always fully experience what we're advertising. However, we can resurrect our instinctual childhood method for figuring things out and pretend.

Why do children pretend? Even though it can be silly, it's an essential part of developing life skills. Children learn to empathize and make sense of the world through pretending. Imagination leads to new realizations, pattern connections, and unexplored possibilities.

Though I'm biased, I'm amazed with what my niece comes up with. Always dressing up – performing, pretending, and creating. She's in her own world. It's like a window to the past. I can see myself and her mother doing the same things. Getting lost in imagination. Reveling in stories as they unfold. Occasionally subjecting adult victims to whatever ridiculousness we thought was pure genius.

As we become adults, imagination fades for most of us. It's still there, but buried under layers of daily responsibility. Those of us who can hold onto it go into some crazy business like advertising. And if we do our jobs correctly, we can bring our audience's imagination back to the surface. Even if it's just a pause before they turn the page and get back to reality.

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