In this opinion piece, Dr Amantha Imber, the Founder of consultancy firm Inventium (pictured below) channels the great work of Wieden+Kennedy: forget what you know and why experts don’t always work…
Most of us would know the work of Wieden+Kennedy. For those who don’t, Wieden+Kennedy is one of the world’s top creative advertising agencies. One of the agency’s founders, Dan Wieden, was responsible for coming up with one of the most famous taglines on the planet: Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.
In recent years you might have watched actor Isaiah Mustafa riding a white horse backwards, claiming he was ‘The man your man could smell like’ and thus reviving the Old Spice brand. Or perhaps you remember the agency’s 2008 Super Bowl ad for Coca-Cola that featured two huge inflatable cartoon characters chasing a giant inflatable bottle of Coca-Cola across New York City, with an inflatable Charlie Brown emerging victorious having caught the Coke bottle. Adweek named it best Super Bowl ad of the decade.
One of the factors that has been identified as critical for creating a culture where innovation thrives is ensuring that different points of view are encouraged and that ideas are regularly debated. And at Wieden+Kennedy, challenging the status quo and debating different views is par for the course.
One of the first things visitors to the London office see is a shop-window mannequin that has a blender for a head. The mannequin is carrying a briefcase that has the words ‘Walk in stupid every morning’ written on it. The message represents something that cofounder Dan Wieden believes in strongly: that is, that to find innovative ideas, people need to throw away all their assumptions and preconceived ideas.
Neil Christie, who heads up Wieden+Kennedy’s London office, says, “The mannequin is there so it’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door, to remind you that that’s what we’re here to do. If you listen to conventional wisdom or think that the thing you did last time is going to work again this time around, then you’re going to lose. You have to assume that conventional wisdom isn’t going to work or the category norms aren’t going to work.
“It’s not that we’re encouraging people to be stupid. It’s more that we’re encouraging people to recognise that they don’t necessarily know the answers and that the most experienced people won’t necessarily have the answers either. Sometimes you’re going to get a fresher answer from somebody looking at it naively, or from a different perspective than the so-called experts.”
One of the ways the tenet ‘Walk in stupid every morning’ is applied is in the way staff are allocated to clients. In most advertising agencies, people are allocated to clients where they have significant industry experience. For example, if an agency is pitching for a cosmetics account, they typically identify everyone who has worked on beauty brands before, and put them on the team. Clients naturally love this because it makes them feel as if they have ‘industry experts’ working on their account. But at Wieden+Kennedy this idea gets flipped on its head. People are deliberately assigned to accounts where they don’t have oodles of experience in the category.
The Honda account is one example of this strategy in practice. “There’s a reason why most automotive advertising looks the same,” explains Christie. And that reason is that people who have experience working on automotive advertising—whether that be as a creative in an advertising agency, a producer, or a director—are generally selected to work on the account because they have years, if not decades, of experience.
So rather than go down this path with Honda, the agency instead put together a team of people who were not automotive veterans. Indeed, some of the people on the team didn’t even particularly like cars. But the work the agency produced for Honda was unlike anything else the industry had ever seen.
The Honda Cog commercial is one of the most famous and effective pieces of work that the agency has ever produced. It was released in 2003 and featured a series of Honda Accord automotive parts colliding into each other like dominoes with the ad climaxing with a Honda Accord rolling off the trailer to the line ‘Isn’t it nice when things just work?’ It is one of the most awarded commercials in history.
Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium (www.inventium.com.au), Australia’s leading innovation consultancy. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula (Wiley $29.95) (http://www.booktopia.com.au/the-innovation-formula-amantha-imber/prod9780730326663.html) is available now.