When the subject of creative exploratory comes up, the typical direction from client to agency is to bring back creative based on original ideas, ideas that will set my brand apart, ideas that are "out of the box."
Rarely does a client demand advertising that's been done before, that's "tried & true," that's formulaic.
Ok, that's the set up...
Let's consider four campaigns. Two truly original and "out of the box." Two based on the formulaic, and done many times before. All four highly successful, as they ran, or have been running, for years.
The two truly original campaigns first:
The E-trade toddler campaign, and the Gekko campaign for Geico. You can researchthe heck out of these campaigns, but you'll never know for sure if they're going to work, or not work, or embarrass you, until you put them on the air. These two obviously worked, and are still working. So, high praise to agencies that created them, and to the clients who had the guts to take the shot. It obviously paid off.
Two campaigns based on principles "tried and true": First, the "real people" campaignfor Bayer Aspirin. The loyal users in these 15-second spots talk about their brush with death, and how low-dose Bayer Aspirin now helps keep them alive. Nothing new here; it's been done a thousand times; but this is powerful stuff. Executed well, "real people testimonials" can still turn skeptics into believers.
Next, the Mac vs. PC series with John Hodgman and Justin Long as the bumbling PC and the hip, unflappable Mac. An incredible 66 spots were produced with these guys. Fact is, the underlying principle behind this great campaign is quite conventional. This is a side-by-side comparison, a long-established technique. But it was executed here brilliantly, with results clearly terrific.
OK, the lesson:
Every creative exploratory should obviously attempt to deliver work that's original and out-of-the-box. The upside can be great! But the odds you'll get a campaign like E-trade's or Geico's are not great. They come along every so often. So, protect yourself, and protect your stockholders, by making sure that you're also considering campaigns based on principles that have worked before, and are likely to work again.