Art & Commerce

Floats Like a Butterfly and stings like a bee.
Creatives could benefit, writes Court Crandall, if they think like a champ I’m on a big Muhammad Ali kick. Obviously, the man is amazing on a number of levels. But perhaps he’s most impressive when viewed strictly as a fighter.
Surprisingly, Ali never spent much time thinking about how hard or how often he was going to hit his opponent. Instead, he focused almost exclusively on the mental aspect of each battle.
First, he’d figure out how to get into his opponent’s head. As a huge underdog in his first fight with Sonny Liston, you’d expect Ali to have tried to earn his respect. Instead, he did just the opposite, doing everything possible to convince the champ that he posed no threat to him whatsoever. This effort culminated with Ali feigning a mental breakdown at the weigh-in, causing his stock in Las Vegas to plummet, and Liston to expect an easy bout. Eight rounds later, Ali was wearing the belt.
Once he’d messed with his opponent’s head, Ali would focus on his own. He’d run each upcoming fight through his mind, visualizing exactly how and when he’d dispose of the other boxer, then announcing it to the world in rhyme: “Round 8 to prove I’m great.”
Why do I tell you this? Well, I think most creative people could benefit by adopting Ali’s approach. As a creative director, I’m dumbstruck by how often writers and art directors jump into the ring and start throwing punches before they’ve spent a moment thinking about how to win the battle. I believe that if you’re in good shape, the witty headlines and visual twists will come naturally, like a jab or upper cut. However, if you don’t incorporate them into a larger fight plan, you’ll compromise their potency, if not waste it altogether.
My partner Kirk and I have an unwritten process we undertake with each new project. We begin by verbalizing what success would look and feel like. We welcome delusions of grandeur: “What if Virgin became the popular vernacular instead of Coke?” Or, “What if the president responded to our ESPN campaign?”
Next, we think about the particular strengths of our opponent(s). What are they good at? How much do they spend? Where do they have us over a barrel? We determine how we can hit them hardest, without leaving ourselves open for a counterpunch.
Finally, we talk strategy. Should we do something that slaps consumers in the face like a bucket of cold water? Should we take a grassroots approach that builds over time? Should we forget about advertising altogether and put all the money into a PR event? The key is, we’re visualizing the end of the fight, not one of the 12 rounds. It only takes an hour to complete this process, and more often than not, it determines whether our agency will be standing at the end of an upcoming bout.
Tomorrow, creative people around the country will be handed a brief for laundry detergent or spark plugs or family restaurants. Each brings an opportunity to shock the world. It just seems that if you’re given something like that, you might want to spend a little time thinking about what you could do with it. A little time figuring out how you’re going to go from being a copywriter or art director to the greatest one of all time.
It’s just an analogy. Probably not even a very good one. But like I said, I’m on a big Muhammad Ali kick.