“If there isn’t a problem, you need to create one.”
To put it another way, advertising superstar Luke Sullivan is high on Vader, low on Skywalker, and suggests problems are a solution.
The point of Sullivan’s talk, which I saw during the Go Inbound Marketing 2015 conference earlier this week, was that “you can’t start a fire with a stick.” You need opposing energies, and things only get interesting where they meet. It’s why we watch lightsaber fights instead of grass growing and why cooking shows got a lot more popular when they became competitions. It’s also why you’d never pick up a finished crossword puzzle on a train: “Solutions aren’t interesting. Creativity happens in response to a problem.”
Thus the true thing a company wants to say about itself may not be an interesting one or the one that gets attention and moves people to act. “Fresh food means better health” may be accurate, but it’s as likely to move you as the fine print in your dishwasher warranty.
Wrap it up in white bread and who’s going to be motivated to even find your truth? One more safe family couldn’t get attention in the sea of insurance advertising, but mayhem could—and did.
Mayhem is a clear enemy of security. Pepsi made an enemy of Coke, which was hardly a stretch, and then Coke got clever enough to make an enemy of itself with stunning spots that showed real lawyers responding to whether Coke could sue Coke Zero for “taste infringement.”
When Canadian Club recognized it had become, to quote Sullivan, “the rotgut my dad drinks in the basement,” it made an enemy of its own image with ads that flipped that reputation on its head. “Damn right your dad drank it” ran the tagline under retro images of dads you’d want to emulate and messages like “Your mom wasn’t Dad’s first” or “Dad never tweezed anything.”
Now that’s how you light a fire.
Villains are more interesting than good guys, and they’re in steady supply, if we only think to look for them. And why wouldn’t we? Pitting a product or company against an enemy enables it to shine—brightly enough to draw the eye.
Think you have no enemy? Invent one. Just take the truest thing about your product, Sullivan urged, and find the conflicts around it.
You only win in the end.