One of my favorite things in the world is to cook delicious food. At home. With friends. I even love cooking on vacation. I do it day after day for many reasons, but there are a couple points that really stand out in my head. First, if you know what you’re doing in the kitchen, there’s a good possibility you’ll end up with exactly what you want. Second, it’s therapeutically fulfilling – meaning that there’s something soothing about breaking down different pieces of whole foods and combining them together to make something new. Third, cooking brings people together and enables a shared experience.
What does all this have to do about advertising? I think the same three reasons I love cooking are the same reasons I love advertising and creating engaging, emotionally connected branded experiences. Of course, with cooking, you end up with something that can nourish your body and soul. Advertising could (and should) do the same thing. Not much of it does, though. Most advertising is junk food, rushed out of the kitchen without much concern for the consumer. I believe that if you do both of them (cooking and creating) right, you can end up with a product that brings the joy and inspiration…not gastrointestinal problems.
Let’s go through those three points one at a time:
1. If you know what you’re doing, you can get exactly what you want.
Unlike being a home chef, advertising takes a lot of cooks in the kitchen. And it’s not just cooks – in advertising, everyone has to have a say: the farmer that grew the product, the distributor that sold the food, the server that takes the order and delivers the finished product. Hell, even the dishwasher has P.O.V. in the advertising kitchen. But, with a bit of know-how, leadership and planning, all of those disparate voices can come together to create an end product that’s artfully shaped into the perfect dish for the occasion. Sounds remarkably like what happens in a well-run creative department.
2. Breaking down whole pieces and combine them together to make something new.
This is the heart of the creative process – both in the kitchen and in advertising. Taking old ideas, mixing them with new idea and producing something familiar yet novel. Two famous examples of this (one from each discipline) are Wolfgang Puck’s now infamous California-style pizza from restaurant, Spago. He rose to celeb chef stardom in the 80s by smashing together the idea of east coast pizza with fresh, healthy toppings native to California. It was a winning combination of two simple things that, when combined, took the nation by storm. An advertising equivalent is one of my favorite TV spots of all time: Bouncy Balls for Sony Bravia. The agency somehow convinced the client to let them throw a literal ton of bouncy balls down a hill in San Francisco and film it. Here, the elements they combine are brilliantly simple. The vividness of the bouncy balls and the spectacle of the stunt combine to demonstrate how the TV produces “color like no other.” When you can break down things into smaller pieces and combine them to form something new, it just feels right. Like it’s something that should have existed all along.
3. Bring people together and enable shared experiences.
As stated above, I love the act of cooking. But what I think I really love is the act of eating. And most of the time that involves other people. It’s the food that brings us together. Without the food – and of course the act of preparing the food – people would just be sitting around a table staring at each other, tummies rumbling. It’s the act of sharing a meal that really makes the experience. Advertising does the same thing. Not to get all McLuhanian on you, but advertising really is the “folklore of the industrial man.” It’s something we consume, internalize and then share with others. When we’re exposed to a piece of advertising (even when we consume it alone), it becomes a shared experience…just like sitting around a the supper table.
So next time you pull your chef’s knife out of the block, take a sec to think about how the food you’re about to create does more than feed others, it helps shape the world around them.