Chris CampeauSenior Writer


culture - industry

Hitting a Creative Wall? Try Thinking Inside the Box.

“Think outside the box.”

We’ve all heard it. A mantra so married to the creative industry, so embedded in our lexicon, it’s as commonly uttered as “two rounds of revisions.”

But it’s not surprising.

Increasingly, these four words are a result of today’s marketplace. As consumers continue to be bombarded by brand interactions (it’s estimated we’re exposed to as many as 10,000 ads a day) brands have to work double time to compete for attention. The pressure’s on.

As a result, marketers and agency partners are challenging their creative teams, today more than ever, to produce work that stands out. To strike gold with blue-sky ideas. And while a strong creative team will never rest on its laurels, it’s important to step back and recognize a valuable truth—that some boxes exist for a reason. And we can use them to our advantage.

Six boxes. Eighty-nine per cent.

In 1999, a team of Israeli researchers from the Jerusalem School of Business Administration analyzed 200 award-winning and highly regarded ads. They found that 89 per cent fell within just six categories: pictorial analogy, extreme situation, consequence, competition, interactive experiment, and dimensional alteration.

More than 20 years later, these blueprints are still visible among much of today’s advertising. Consider this campaign from KFC that uses the brand’s chicken in lieu of fire—a pictorial analogy. Or Intel’s new counter to the old “Mac vs. PC” ads—classic competition.

In their accompanying paper, “The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads,” researchers Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon concluded that “creative ideation is a highly complex process, difficult to formalize and control.” Still, “even in a complex thinking context certain patterns of creativity may emerge.”

By observing the patterns laid before us—by stepping inside these boxes—we can explore routes of creative thinking that have been “proven to lead to productive ideas.” That’s not to say we should take the easy road, and let our creative muscles atrophy, but if a path exists, why go off-roading? Familiarity resonates. It’s just a matter of what we do with it.

Billions of stories. Seven boxes.

On the topic of resonance, perhaps nothing’s more powerful than a story.

Thanks to neural coupling, as SJ Murray notes in her 2014 TEDx talk in San Antonio, “the brain of a person listening to a story mirrors the brain of the person living the adventure for the first time.” Put simply, if you tell a captivating story, your audience can touch, taste, smell, and hear the experience. They can see themselves within it.

How does this apply to brands and boxes?

Brand storytelling is a convention so firmly rooted in the marketing wheelhouse that it’s no longer a buzzword but a best practice. And at the heart of every good story is a conflict and resolution—i.e., a customer challenge and solution.

Further to this, as literary theorist Christopher Booker argues in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, nearly every story stems from one of seven archetypes: rags to riches, the quest, rebirth, overcoming the monster, comedy, tragedy, and voyage and return. These plot structures have influenced storytelling from Greek theatre to the modern paperback. And brand storytelling is no different.

We see the rags to riches trope all the time. A classic Cinderella story, brands use it to show the transformational nature of their products or services, how they help you reinvent yourself or become something better.

Overcoming the monster is also common—pitting audiences against an antagonist and demonstrating how a brand empowers them to triumph. Think of the villain here as a customer burden: a cyber threat, maybe, if you’re an enterprise security firm; or low self-esteem if you’re a fitness brand.

Again, these narrative throughlines are patterns we can follow to hook attention and hold it. To champion our audiences as heroes. And to craft brand stories more likely to stick because we’re compelled by similar frameworks.

Boxes or building blocks?

These are but a few examples of the many boxes we have at our disposal as creative thinkers. Others, though not as obviously, include creative briefs and deadlines. (Yep, constraints are good!) This isn’t to say we should limit our creative thinking—it’s important to encourage the free-flow of ideas—but channeling it can help, especially under pressure.

So, the next time you’re tasked with drumming up a great idea, wired on your fourth cup of coffee, trembling with creative paralysis, remember that what’s novel can still be familiar—even if it’s not obvious. The important thing is how you innovate. How you seek inspiration within these boxes then stack ‘em to build something new.

We can’t guarantee your work will go viral (is it ever that easy?), but chances are you’ll be proud of it. And your clients should be, too.

Chris CampeauSenior Writer

Chris CampeauSenior Writer



Copy vs. Content: What’s the Difference? (And Do you Need Both?)

There’s an ongoing debate among us marketers (or at least us writer-types). Are copywriting and content writing the same thing? If not, what’s the difference?

They both employ the written word, do they not? And they both support brands. So why are they two terms? Why are there two job titles? Doesn’t one encompass the other?

So many questions, so many opinions.

Here’s ours.

Copywriting: the art of persuading.

While no one’s job description can be reduced to a singular focus, we’d argue that, at the highest level, copywriters exist to prompt action – be that placing an order, subscribing to a newsletter, or simply clicking a button to learn more.

Copywriters harness audience insights to craft tailored, empathy-infused messages that hook attention. They open a dialogue with a single person. They articulate the value of a brand’s product, service, or solution in a way that addresses a pain point and that can’t be ignored. And finally, they persuade a user to do something. That’s the goal, at least.

That doesn’t mean a desired action needs to be immediate. Sometimes – in the case of brand-awareness marketing, for example – a user might see a message that resonates, form a positive brand sentiment, store that message away, then recall a particular brand at a later date when they’re ready to consider a purchase type.

In other words, it’s not always about moving prospects through the funnel. Sometimes, it’s enough to just move them.

Copywriters come in all shapes and sizes – direct-response, UX, brand, and creative copywriters – just like doctors with their unique disciplines. But regardless of their specialties, all copywriters serve people, which makes it doubly important that they write like one.

To summarize, a copywriter’s job is to connect and inspire action. Sometimes that materializes as big-thinking advertising, loaded with pithy headlines, or a landing page geared for lead generation; other times, it shapes up as a PowerPoint presentation for an annual general meeting, motivating employees to meet new sales quotas. The deliverables can look different, but the outcome should be the same: moving the needle.

Content writing: the art of engaging.

I know what you’re thinking: how many more times are we going to hear this word “content,” and could it be any vaguer? The answer is many more. And no, probably not.

Content has taken the digital world by storm, with 70% of marketers actively investing in content marketing as of 2020. And for good reason: good content is yet another way to introduce people to your brand and to nurture existing relationships. It demonstrates proactivity and expertise. It helps users see your brand in a positive light. But it’s not always clear what it constitutes.

Content can be anything a brand publishes, from articles to social videos to podcasts and eBooks. It’s media users can read, watch, listen to, or engage with – like this! But for the purposes of this argument, we’ll look at the cornerstone of content: long-form writing.

The majority of content writers are responsible for crafting articles or blog posts. Why? To help brands stay top of mind and to grow their reach. In fact, odds are, and according to Forbes, a user won’t even discover your business if you’re not creating content.

The key difference between copywriting and content writing comes down to this: a piece of content doesn’t need to incite action. But it should definitely be insightful.

Whether it’s a makeup tutorial or an article covering the financial benefits of modular construction technologies, readers should feel like they’re taking away something useful. Don’t feel obligated to jump on the bandwagon strictly because you’ve heard that “content is king.” Without purpose and strategy, content for content’s sake can come across as noise, and consumers can see through that. It’s a balance. A transactional relationship. If a customer or prospect is giving you their time, you need to provide something worthy in return. In other words, if you’re not adding value, you’re not adding much.

Additionally, content writers tend to have more expertise in SEO. And while you certainly want to avoid keyword stuffing, it doesn’t hurt to engage someone who’s skilled in optimization. After all, if you’re investing in content, you want to make sure you’re getting eyes on it.

Where copy and content intersect

So, here we are, where things get messy. (But not really.)

If content can be anything a brand publishes, then copywriting is content. But that doesn’t make content copy. Confused yet?

Let’s put it this way: if you consider long-form content writing, the goal isn’t necessarily to encourage action. As mentioned, it can simply be to inspire or inform. Where the two meet, however, is when a piece of content becomes a soft-sell for your product or service.

For example, if you were to write about how to deal with a rodent infestation (now that’s useful content!), and you signed off with a subtle call to action to hire your company, Acme Pest Control, you just infused a dash of copy into a piece of content. You’ve become both a humble helper and a salesperson, killing two birds (or rats) with one stone. Congrats!

As Copyblogger puts it, “content without copywriting is a good waste of content.” Which is all the more reason to consider both.

And let’s not forget that a good content writer can harness other copywriting principles, too, elements like compelling headlines or a sense of urgency. Succinct sentences. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of ways to weave the two together, but the primary difference boils down to purpose.

What’s the best option for your brand?

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. The answer is both.

A skilled copywriter can help you with more than just words, working behind the scenes to define or reimagine your brand – including its tone of voice – and then share your story across a variety of channels, ultimately convincing a user to act. A skilled content writer can run with your copywriter’s efforts to engage leads and nurture clients via long-form writing that adds value to the customer experience. Together, the pair is unstoppable.

In short, if you’re a digital marketer or a brand planning a campaign, you’ll want to harness copywriting and content writing to get the best results. But don’t forget to see where you can overlay them.

At Alphabet®, our writers have a knack for both skill sets, not to mention a fiery passion for language. If you need to elevate your brand’s writing, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help.

See what we did there?

Chris CampeauSenior Writer