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Intrigue versus fear: don’t be afraid to do things differently

Change Makers

Intrigue versus fear: don’t be afraid to do things differently


If you want different business outcomes, says Ryan O’Connell, you’ll need to try different things.

Ryan_OConnell med res copyHumans respond to something ‘different’ from the status quo in one of two ways: with intrigue, or with fear.

When it comes to communications, eliciting intrigue from the desired target audience is a good thing. With the bombardment of messages that consumers receive each day, and the ever-growing volume of content competing for their attention, it’s harder and harder to achieve cut-through. In order to do so, marketers usually have to create something different.

‘Different’ is a valuable commodity, because different creates intrigue, and intrigue gets you noticed.

Yet that ‘different’ that we should aim to produce shouldn’t exclusively be asked of the creative output. Asking for a different output without changing the input is lazy at best, arrogant at worst. After all, it’s easy to say ‘think differently’, but significantly harder to actually do it. If your wish is a different result, then what you should really do is try a different process for said result. Mixing things up and approaching things in a new way should generally provide a new type of outcome.

To that point, some of the ‘tricks’ I’ve used before include:

  • briefing an unexpected person – like the despatch kid or receptionist – on a big brief,
  • liberating the creative team to present one idea that the client will ‘never buy’, or that is deliberately off brief,
  • having an individual who represents your demographic – but doesn’t work in marketing at all – write the brief (in their language),
  • giving a creative team the problem to solve, and literally nothing else. No budget, no prop, no insight, no strategy, just the business problem, and
  • asking ‘what would Donald Trump do?’


Another way to mix things up and introduce fresh thinking is courtesy of new people that aren’t bogged down by the usual way of doing things. By having someone without the baggage that experience can counter-productively bring, problems will be attacked differently. That’s a good thing, I assure you.

An example

Consider the following scenario for a minute; one that’s well played out in the industry:

You’re interviewing for a position, and you have waded through the candidates and arrived at the final three prospects.

Two of them come with impeccable resumes and perfect experience. Their references speak highly of them, and you get a strong sense that either of them would do a fantastic job. It’s somewhat of a no-brainer selection, provided you can somehow split them and choose one.

Then there’s the third candidate. It’s a surprise they’ve made it this far, as their experience doesn’t quite match the job description. Perhaps it doesn’t match it at all, and they have never even worked in the industry. Yet there is just something about them. They have definitely intrigued you.

They answer your questions in a totally unexpected way, if not exactly ‘correctly’. There is a unique freshness to their perspectives. Though they may not know all the jargon and lingo – and you have to explain it to them – it doesn’t impact their ability to understand a problem, and have an opinion on how to solve it. They’re different, but in a refreshingly brilliant way. You’re inspired after meeting them, and you can’t help but feel that despite the other candidates’ perceived perfect suitability for the role, that the savvy option is actually staring you right in the face.

Sadly, fear – the other response to ‘different’ – kicks in. You become afraid.

You lose your nerve and play it safe. You choose the solid candidate, and guess what? Everything works out. As you anticipated, they’re great for the position. They’re everything the role requires, and the machine rolls on. Job done, jog along.

The unfortunate aspect is that sometimes you don’t want the machine to roll on. Sometimes you want to throw a spanner into the works. You want different thinking, because you want a different result. If only you had hired that ‘different’ candidate, huh?

I’ve been there. I’ve felt that regret. I’ve pined for the ‘one that got away’.

That’s why the last time I found myself in the above position, I rolled the dice, and hired the different candidate. The one that answered my questions in a totally unexpected way. The one that had a unique freshness to their perspectives. The one that was different, but in a refreshingly brilliant way.

I was afraid, for sure. Yet intrigue won out in the end. I figured that jargon, lingo and all the rest of marketing BS can be learnt, but uniqueness can’t. The good news is that I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It should shock no one that the person has a fresh take on things, which has helped lead to fresh thinking and different outputs.

The lesson I learnt is simple: if you want a different outcome, do something differently. Don’t be afraid of being afraid.

If we want our audience to be intrigued – rather than scared – of something different, we should probably ask the same of ourselves.


Ryan O’Connell is deputy head of strategy at Ogilvy Australia.


Further reading

Image copyright: rrrainbow / 123RF Stock Photo





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