I am a copywriter. I am not ‘creative.’
If you were to give me an assortment of craft supplies, and, with no time limit, tell me to “make whatever I want,” I will make nothing. I might eat the glue.
But if you were to give me that same assortment of supplies, a 1-hour time limit, and tell me to “cradle an egg from a 1-story drop,” I will have drafted ten ideas, picked five, tested three, and decided on one with five minutes to spare.
Why is that?
Because ‘creativity’ in the so-called ‘traditional’ sense isn’t real.
How the ‘Cult of Creativity’ mucks it up for everyone.
The ‘Cult of Creativity’ is this fanatic idea that it’s possible to create something from nothing: it glorifies writer’s block, worships the Muse, and treats inspiration like it’s some arcane secret guarded by bald men in robes. True believers insist that ‘good work’ only happens in certain locations between specific hours while partaking in the holy sacrament of day-old coffee and whiskey.
It’s utter nonsense, and it blows my mind how many people believe it.
Speaking of, evangelist John C. Maxwell calls creativity “the anticipation that a problem has a solution” — or the energy that empowers a creator to find an answer. For John, limitless problems contain infinite solutions, and creativity is the expectation of a single perfect solution. (An epiphany, if I may.) He also preaches that the spark generated from finding that perfect idea can power a project from concept to publication.
Yeah. I don’t follow that, either.
I’m baffled by the number of composition teachers at university who still worship the ‘Cult of Creativity.’ Several of them teach ‘freedom’ as the key to good writing; a few of them even encourage their students to pick their own paper topics and grade themselves. Unsurprisingly, the result is confusing, rushed, often incomplete work.
It seems the Muse only ever strikes when the deadline looms three hours away. This is unacceptable.
If ‘creativity’ doesn’t work, then what does?
The difference between free-thinking and thinking outside the box — is the box.
Take a look at the grid below. Using only three lines, can you connect all four dots? Give it a shot. I’ll wait.
If you try to think within the dots, it’s impossible to connect them; however, if you consider the space beyond the dots, the solution becomes obvious: a triangle (Barry 14, 308).
True creativity — the kind that works — is critical thinking. It’s acknowledging the parameters of a problem and poking its boundaries until you find a solution.
It’s a process.
I particularly like Luke Sullivan’s approach to creativity:
Creativity happens in response to a problem… In my experience, the best strategies and the best work usually come from a place of conflict and tension: strategies built on top of — and powered by — tensions. (Sullivan 145–46)
For Sullivan, creativity isn’t an energy; it’s a methodology — a technique that seeks feasible solutions to real-world problems.
It’s a cycle of tests, failures, and adjustments.
How to think critically about your ad copy.
Most marketing coordinators at work treat ads as a means to an end. They’re billboards that relate landing pages, verbatim. Daily, I read recruiting ads that read as follows:
[Insert number] sign-on bonus! [Insert number] average pay! Apply now!
This text doesn’t solve, or even acknowledge, a problem. Instead, it bypasses the problem and jumps straight to the happy ending: “working for us makes money.”
Yay! But isn’t that the spiel for every job ever?
Benefits aren’t problems. They’re solutions. And solutions are boring. Remember, it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey, man.
Instead, find a point of tension, and figure out how sign-on bonuses and pay numbers solve those problems. Do some research: are the client’s sign-on bonuses greater than their competitions’? Do they pay more? Or, if the client’s bonuses and pay are average (or below average), take a look at their reviews on Facebook and Glassdoor. Do employees enjoy the atmosphere? Do they like their boss? Is the work stimulating? What separates the client from everybody else?
Try to see the ad through the audience’s eyes. Are sign-on bonuses and wages enough to convince me to click an ad? Probably not. But an ad that asks me whether I can afford Christmas presents for my kids is liable to stop my thumb on the page.
Draw the triangle that connects the dots. Find the problem, then pursue the solution.
This is true creative copy. It is neither arcane nor secret; it’s merely methodical critical thinking.
And I think you can do it, too.