Unstuck Yourself With Incongruity

When you are looking for something new and different and captivating, look to your right. When you are looking for something familiar and undifferentiated and understood look to your left.

When thinking up ideas and reviewing concepts and potential ways to execute them it is essential to consider the inherent tension in the idea, the contrast, the incongruity of it all.

This is the thing that drives an idea, it’s internal flame. Great brands thrive on incongruity and great products and services are often defined by one insightful point of tension that the product or service can overcome. And the campaigns that deliver these ideas with great creativity propel these brands to stardom.

Volvo cars thrive on the idea of safety which resolves the fear of injury or death.  BMW thrives on its idea of the ultimate driving machine, casting itself against dull imperfection, sensory deprivation and blandness. These are emotionally driven ideas, that touch the heart. Achieving the whitest whites in your laundry is not simply about whiteness, it’s about knowing you’ve done the best job you can, of achieving a visible perfection.

But why do ideas like these work? Why do campaigns like these hold our attention? It all comes down to the way our minds work. The left brain-right brain functionality forever studied and in some cases grossly oversimplified, hold the key to understanding what make a great idea — great.

The functionality of the right brain is dominant in alertness to new, different, incongruent and more “emotional” points of tension that appeal to our emotional self. The left brain functions as a sort of running catalogue of all things known, understood and expected. The left brain is so good at this that it gives the right brain the full freedom to perform the major task of keeping us alive to anything new at all — good or bad – it is our early warning system. The scanning, searching, emotional nature of the right and the deconstructing, comparative, analytical left come together to define the essence of who we are and our relationship to the world — our ego. This coming together to form what I’ll call the ego-energy of left and right brain functions is very much a complimentary end game and failing to satisfy one comes at the risk of losing the other and should be considered the emotional whole brain effect. The significance of this can not be overstated when it comes to creating ideas, because this is the terrain of the big idea.

Let’s consider the ubiquitous “Pharma Beach” ads. I’m not sure who originally coined this phrase. It started as a slight to the ever present execution of people on beaches in pharmaceutical advertising and now seems to have grown in meaning to include all the usual slice of life stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing day in and day out. Pharma Beach must be a pretty big place, maybe even bigger than the Hampton’s.  At this point there are so many people enjoying Pharma Beach that it would seem we’ve all been cured. Unfortunately that’s far from the truth, and for advertisers “Pharma Beach” has grown so familiar it is not the best place to attempt to differentiate your brand, unless of course you do something incredible different with it, which we rarely see.

Ideas that wash up on Pharma Beach are known and easily broken up into familiar catalogued bits by the left brain, filed and put away — a place for everything and everything in its place. The right brain has little time or attention to give to the familiar and generic. It looks past the known and understood — the generic. Why create a generic campaign for a branded product?

This, my friends, is why so many ad campaigns fail to deliver the true potential of the brand— they die of boredom, sequestered in the left brain catalogue of “I’ve seen this before.”

The capacity of the left brain to break things down into the known can cause a kind of circular thinking as its constant need to dominate the world by manipulating it into known components can hold us back from creating and trusting differentiated ideas.

Like victims of Stockholm syndrome we grow sympathetic to our captor and are held by our left brain’s incessant desire to break everything down into known bits, catalogue it for us and keep our world nice and tidy, and we like it.  This functionality of the left brain helps us reside comfortably in the known world but it can also keep us from breaking free.

If you want work that breaks through, then we need to break-through to the right brain. There are no formulas for this, no secret ingredient that will make you successful. There is only the need for a commitment that goes for the heart, that stirs the emotion that appeals to the ego. Ideally this is supported by a brand essence that embraces a meaningful incongruity that can only be resolved by the product or service itself.

It is hard work but when you Head For The Heart, great things happen.

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