Shopper Communication, Knowledge Bank Blog, Pricing & Promotions

Creativity Within Constraints

Do you have the right constraints in place?

Those of you who read our blog regularly will have heard us talk about focussing on getting the important stuff right. Doing the right things in the right way, consistently.

When we say it like that, though, it can sound a bit boring.  It sounds like it doesn’t allow much room for creativity.  And a lot of people enjoy doing the funky, creative stuff.

Is it an either / or choice?  Either you get the basics right or you get creative?  Not necessarily.  It can be an AND. There is no reason why you can’t be brilliant at doing the right things consistently and be creative whilst doing so.  In fact, the right constraints can allow creativity to flourish.

Think about any art forms.  They all work within constraints.  The songwriter has the harmonic scale and the verse / chorus format.  The TV drama writer has 13 episodes x 42 minutes to build the story.  The Japanese Haiku poem consists of a 17 syllable verse made from 3 units of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.  Is that restrictive?  Hugely.  Does it often lead to more creativity?  Definitely. GK Chesterton said ‘art consists of limitation’.

We think the right constraints on some of the activities we do can allow creativity to flourish.  They can increase your chances of doing more of the right things and of those things working in the marketplace.

Importantly, it also means that people are directing their creative energy on the things that matter.  Not the things that don’t matter or shouldn’t be played around with.  Don’t waste time refining the third message on a piece of POS, when it should only have one message in the first place.  Focus all your energy on that one.

So, how can the right constraints allow creativity to flourish for some of the activities that we do?

Pack Design.  The more consistent the rules that govern your base pack design, the more creative you can be within that.  Take Heinz – the clarity and consistency of their Beans or Ketchup packs means that they can write something like ‘bursting with tomatoes’ or ‘grown not made’ instead of Heinz Ketchup.  It means one creative change rather than a complete pack redesign.

It also means that when you do a redesign, you work within the guidelines that the brand has established over time.  Energy isn’t focused on coming up with a completely new identity, but on refreshing the current identity.  If there are no constraints that the brand and design agency are working to, you have no control over what the new design options are going to be.  Take a look at Cadbury’s Dairy Milk packaging range for a great example of creativity within constraints.

Proposition & Messaging.  We’ve talked before about the temptation to over communicate.  To tell shoppers everything you possibly can about the product and how good it is.  However, what if you were only allowed one message on your pack?  What would you focus on?  What if that message on Pack or on POS was limited to a maximum of 7 words?  That would really test your creativity and clarity.  And it would be much more likely to cut through with shoppers who don’t have the time or inclination to read the 40 words you spent so much time coming up with.

Promotions.  What if you said that you would only run promotional activities that do not offer a price discount?  We can almost hear the collective intake of breath on that one!  If you did have that constraint, would you think about promotions in a different way?  You would have to.  Would you do something different to what you have done before? Yes.  Would you do something that is different to your competitors?  Almost certainly.  Would it work for shoppers?  Probably.

There are lots of examples of promotions that offer no price discounts.  For example, Walkers ‘1 in 6 win a free lunch’ activity.  Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign.  Collectible red noses for Comic Relief in Sainsbury’s.  It can be done.

Constraints are often thought of as a negative – a restriction on freedom and creativity.  However, genuine innovation rarely comes from blue sky thinking.  It usually comes from the right constraints forcing people to think in a different way.

A lot of activities fail not because of too many constraints, but because of too few.  It sounds counter intuitive, but a better pack design, ranging solution or promotional activity is likely to come from narrowing the options not exploding them.

Where do you need to be creative?  And what constraints may help you?

Feel free to forwards.  Have  a great weekend and speak to you next week.