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Visual strategy in marketing: Finding inspiration during uncertainty

  • Posted on February 8, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
visual strategy in marketing

Surreal moments of creativity can happen at the most unexpected times. Take 2020, for example. Never has there been such an explosion of collective creative exploration and output or a focus on endlessly imitated trends. TikTok exploded during lockdown with dancing, baking and lip-synching challenges created to be intentionally replicated. On the flip side, celebrities were under an even more focused microscope as they tried to be creative. J-Lo's performance at the 2020 American Music Awards was called out as a recycled version of a previous Beyoncé performance. For me, this past year was a catalyst for risk-taking creative innovation during a time when being part of the crowd was safer, but it was also an unexpected lesson about how easily inspiration can become imitation.

Avanade launched our Rethink global go-to-market campaign on May 19, 2020, to help our clients respond quickly and to offer guidance on how they could reset and renew their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the shift to virtual and so much similar content competing for limited attention spans, we needed to stand out visually. As the creative director of the campaign, I was passionate we tell the visual aspect of the story in an elevated and optimistic way. But it had to be bold and make a genuine human impact — like our brand.

We intentionally moved away from the ubiquitous images of medical workers and the virus itself that we saw in the market. With thumb-stopping visuals of unexpected objects isolated on bright color backgrounds and evocative headlines, we challenged people to pause, engage with the imagery and rethink what they saw. We wanted to inspire positive conversations about the campaign's core message — businesses need to rethink their way forward with their employees, clients and organizations during these turbulent times to survive. It was memorable and made waves in the market and our company — the Rethink imagery and ideology have become embedded in our culture.

Now that the campaign has been in the market for several months, we've noticed a few new other campaigns pop up recently that bear a striking resemblance to Rethink. That got me thinking about imitation and what we should do next to keep our audience engaged and ensure the campaign remains bold, fresh and differentiated.

Click over and read my complementary blog post, "Bring creative vision to life: Shifting from inspiration to innovation."

"When imitation goes over big, it's not imitation, it's a trend."

Walter Darby Bannard American abstract painter

Inspiration vs. imitation
Who doesn't want their idea to be original – or at least original enough to make it imitation worthy. Throughout history, creative minds have embraced the idea that to be creative, you don't necessarily need to be original, nor should you concern yourself with the actions of others. Ironically, many well-known quotes about imitation all sort of mimic each other.

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said:" There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before."
  • Mark Twain wrote:" All ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources."
  • "Good artists copy, great artists steal," is a quote often misattributed to Picasso.

Let's face it; imitation happens everywhere. The worlds of art, fashion, music, design, even technology are full of examples. A trend that emerged during lockdown is people imitating masterful paintings at home. Creatives consume culture and draw on many sources – including their competition — for inspiration. You may think you have a new idea only to realize through research that it already exists.

It can be a challenge to avoid unintentionally crossing into imitation. So how do you avoid that fine line between imitation and inspiration? Dig deeper, understand what you offer your clients and how you want to tell that story. Shift your thinking from imitation to inspiration.

True creative inspiration is different – it's that spark that makes you pause and think differently about an idea or a solution. It requires strategic thinking aligned with vision and effective communication of that vision as you make it real. That's when creative innovation - the difference between achieving continued success and becoming a one-hit-wonder - happens.

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