Preparing Business for Creativity

By Fagiano, David | Management Review, June 1989 | Go to article overview

Preparing Business for Creativity


Fagiano, David, Management Review


Preparing Business for Creativity

Over the Christmas semester break, my son, a junior in the business program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, got hold of a brochure I had brought home on AMA's Sales and Marketing Conference to be held this month in New York from the 27th to the 29th. After looking it over, he asked me if he could attend the conference. His explanation: Upon graduation, he wanted to pursue a marketing career.

It made me very proud to learn that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. To feed my ego a little more I asked him why he had chosen marketing. "Because it's so creative," he said. Words including copy, art, design, point-of-purchase, and packaging were also sprinkled in his reply. No mention of father anywhere. Some day I'll learn not to lead with my chin.

His answer really shouldn't have surprised me. It's one I've heard over and over again from people applying for entry level marketing jobs. Unfortunately these people, including my son, have confused cleverness with creativity.

The best definition I've ever heard of creativity is the ability to take two or more apparently unrelated elements--things, events, concepts, and so on--and put them together to form something new. Although this definition applies to all creativity, let's take a look at it in the context of marketing and how it differs from cleverness.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between cleverness and creativity is by example. Writing a catchy jingle for Pepsi is clever; calling 7-Up "the uncola" is creative. The jingle creates nothing new in the consumer's mind. It may or may not reinforce what's there. But, oh, that word "uncola"--just look at what it does. First, it creates a new beverage category in the consumer's mind, an alternative to hundreds of colas in the market. And the new category has only one product, 7-Up. Second, it leverages the soft drink/cola connection already firmly embedded in the consumer's mind by tying a previously distant, unrelated beverage to it. Hopefully the consumer will think: "I want a soft drink...cola...uncola."

In the years following the introduction of the "uncola" concept, sales went from $87 million to $190 million, according to Al Reis and Jack Trout in Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (McGraw-Hill Inc., 1981). Somehow the person who came up with this brainstorm saw the problem differently from the other members of the group. Rather than pushing the traditional benefits of the product, he or she turned the problem inside out--highlighting what the product wasn't and turning that into a benefit. He or she was able to twist perception just enough to have a stroke of genius.

I used this "uncola" example with my son. After thinking about it for a while, he asked me if he was taking the right courses to prepare himself to think creatively. This semester he had just completed "Business Law," "Macroeconomics," "Ethics," "Buyer Behavior," and "Business Writing. …

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