A couple of nights ago I was driving home and listening to NPR's Melissa Block's @NPRmelissablock interview with Bill Prady @billprady, co-creator of "The Big Bang Theory" (among other rare TV block busters). He was talking about the buzzwords used by comedy writers. The phrase that resonated with me was "Laying Pipe" (get your head out of the gutter, not the 'urban dictionary' definition "/). Here's how the conversation went:
PRADY: Laying pipe is one of the most annoying things to have to do when you write a script. And laying pipe means delivering exposition, creating a way to share with the audience information usually that the characters already know. So you often hear it done very clumsily. You hear somebody say, well, John, you're my brother and an attorney, so you should be familiar with this.
PRADY: What you look for is a way to do it artistically, and sometimes, you know, you can talk about how it was done in restoration comedy, where you had what was called feather-dusting scene. So a maid came out and said, well, here we are in sunny Spain, and that set the scene. But, you know, in a modern comedy, that's not the kind of thing you want to do.
BLOCK: That's not going to fly.
PRADY: No, you look for an elegant way to lay pie. And then you can sort of modify the lingo. You say, oh, that pipe is nicely hidden.
Here's the entire interview: https://www.npr.org/2014/11/05/361820803/in-comedy-writing-fear-the-bonos-and-nakamura
This brought to mind the days at Leo Burnett of training creative strategy writing. Most beginning account executives were wannabe copywriters, so part of their training was to understand that inspiring great creative does not mean writing the copy. It means "laying the pipe."
As Bill says above, it can be tedious to "lay the pipe." Behind every great creative strategy is a study of the marketplace - the consumer, the competition, the product development.
But a really great creative strategy is elegant in its simplicity. Like a "well-hidden pipe," it has just enough information to "get" the key who, why, where. But it leaves the "how" to be discovered.
To inspire a great "how", a great strategy ignites ideas the way a match sparks when it hits a strike. For example, 'the Holidays are a busy time when stressed-out customers deserve a treat' paraphrases a strategy that inspired a promotional spot for McDonald's by Jim Ferguson @HicoBoy. It featured a family at a christmas tree lot safely tucked away in the station wagon while the Dad posed with different trees in the pouring rain for their approval. That spot performed so well vs promoting McDonald's Holiday Chicken McNuggets as a party pack it was repeated in subsequent years.
The tension must be relevant, and must live at the intersection of your brand and your customer’s life. Finally, the tension must be vividly set up, and then discharged by the story of your respective product or service.
I continued to test and retest this theory incessantly in the days and weeks that followed. I studied tension and what was known among psychologists and social scientists on the subject. I came upon the quote by Sigmund Freud that became a mainstay of every presentation that I’ve ever given since: “Without tension, there is no release. Without release, there is no joke.” All of the best humor is rooted in tension. Think about it: Tension is at the root of all great stories however they are told or whatever medium is used to tell them, including advertising.
He points out in this post that most of the time, it is the creatives who come up with the tension, as is illustrated by the "Be Like Mike" campaign, written by @BerniePitzel. He then goes on to describe the thinking process that led to the strategy for the long term positioning of Gatorade around the tension of sustaining confidence day-to-day for atheletes.
The examples shared here relate to a time when advertising was designed to build awareness - primarily via Network TV at home - far away from the point of purchase. Do the criteria for a great strategy from this time apply today?
Bill Prady's interview explains that "laying the pipe" is not a new concept, but must be applied with today's audience in mind. Today's audience has a shorter attention span than ever before. So the techniques of the best :30 second advertisements, print ads, and billboards should be more relevant than ever before. But there are new factors to consider. The flood of information overwhelming the strategists, the creators, and the customers. New media which reach customers or prospects at diverse stages in the purchase decision process, including the "Moment of Truth" at retail. The resulting tension of "just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
To improve results - and there is a lot of room for improvement - we need to put as much time into figuring out how to use new media capabilities strategically as was done "back in the day", when we had less information and fewer choices to make.