Out of the Box!
Yet another paradox?
“Out of the box” is an expression that is often heard these days. People are told to think out of the box, write 'out of the box' and do 'out of the box' stuff. It is specially talked about for such activities as are supposed to be serious stuff. These activities are related to disseminating information, generating awareness, changing behaviour pattern and, often, dealing with effecting change in the belief system. Here, in the world that I spend most time in, you hear this spoken most vociferously and with a lot of conviction. Having said that I must confess that this set of words has come in to our lives recently. I also must admit that I have great respect and admiration for the expression “out of the box”. It exudes a certain 'feel good' factor. It is said to imply that one should think differently, unconventionally, even quite in contrast with the norm. This in itself is quite innovative and, therefore, has a certain special appeal. In the business of communication where even a 'not so developed' country like ours is bombarded with sales messages and solicitations one needs to stand out to be taken notice of. Now, how do we make ourselves noticeable? We think of an apparently easy formula. We go out of the box. If my memory serves me right, this expression started on its journey in the advertising trade first and then spread to various fields including the academia.
During the course of my experience in advertising, now known as marketing communication, I have learnt many such expressions for well over three decades. And I remain ever so grateful to the trade for that. I am still deeply involved in communication and look forward to collecting many more jargons of the trade as they come along. That, however, is not the purpose of my today's piece. I would like today to share with my readers what bothers me when this expression is used indiscriminately to look for a way of being noticed. When we say we have to break the clutter or attract attention or create excitement we do something that is different. Something that people do not normally expect. It stands out, creates interest and may encourage people to act the way we want them to. In order to start this rippling effect resulting in a wave we do all these “out of the box” exercises. Many examples of such work, especially in the field of advertising and communication, have become legendary the world over. The trend has started in Bangladesh as well. We see things that we are not used to seeing. Some of them stir us and we sit up. Some others surprise us and there are still others that exhilarate us. With the passage of time the intensity of such communication is increasing. May be time has come for retrospection on this 'post modernistic' practice. At this point I'd like to fall back on something that an all time favourite of mine, David Ogilvy, a doyen of modern advertising, had told about his own creative works. What he said is what we ordinarily describe as “the taste of the pudding is in the eating". In this case the word 'eating' is deployed to describe the impact a particular communication is meant to create. It is meant to create such urge among the people it is targeted to that they seek the product in the market place or the service in wherever it is available. If that is not the case, the purpose of the communication will have failed. Ogilvy even gave a succinct example to elaborate what he said. “When Achenes spoke, every one said, “How well he speaks.” But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, “Let us march against Philip”.
This is what communication is supposed to achieve. The clients do not pay their hard earned money for the consumers to just appreciate the communication. To say how smart and interesting it is, but to actually feel inclined to try it. There after if the product on offer is good, people will stay with it. Out of the box or lateral or which so many ways you describe it, the job of communication is to communicate, to create interest and urge. And for that we need a complete understanding of our communication by the group that we call the target audience. Therefore, we often hear of communication consumption these days. Have the people consumed the communication that we have laboured so heard to make? Those of us who are involved in the job of creating communication should think hard about this. Otherwise we may end up creating something that is insipid, innocuous and useless. Or we may create something so out of the box that it flies over the head failing to deliver what it is meant to deliver.
Suddenly I find that I have all this long been speaking about something that I live with everyday while the purpose of this column is to take my mind away from it all. Just a word of caution though before I conclude, I would ask those who create communication that in order to get out of the box let us not create a new box where we would willingly confine ourselves in an exclusive world and be considered irrelevant before long. All our peers' oohs and aahs will have been in vain.
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