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Updated 16 Oct 2019


Unexpected sources of inspiration

Why you should be open to everything.


Alex Sudheim, 18 October 2015  Share  0 comments  Print


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“Chance favours the prepared mind” was the motto of the great French chemist Louis Pasteur. It’s a famously succinct way of saying that, in order to cultivate the greatest chance of success, your mind ought to be in a constant state of readiness. 

Thus, when a potential solution to a complex problem arises – especially one that might appear entirely unlikely – you will see it for what it is and immediately seize upon it. 

Related: How to take your brand from zero to the next big hero

A universal call-to-action

This is exactly what happened to Dan Wieden, one of the founders of global creative powerhouse Wieden+Kennedy. In the early days of the agency, Wieden found himself as creative director on the campaign for an anonymous athletics brand called Nike.

The then-unknown Nike was about to trigger a lifestyle revolution in America by taking sport and fitness from the realm of the professional athlete and making it accessible to everyone.

In order to do so, though, they needed a powerful brand narrative and a universal call-to-action. This was in the early 1980s and Nike didn’t have a lot of money. 

They had paid a design student a mere $35 dollars for their now-famous “swoosh” logo and presented Wieden+Kennedy with a minuscule budget. Nevertheless, Wieden set his mind to it. One morning, glancing at that day’s New York Times, a story on the front page caught his eye.

It was the tale of Gary Gilmore, a convicted killer and the last man to be executed by firing squad in America. Asked if he had any last words, Gilmore defiantly cried “Let’s do it!” moments before the shots rang out.

“Well, I liked the ‘do it’ part,” recalls Wieden and thus was born the most memorable advertising slogan of all time. Asked to reflect upon the immense impact of Nike’s inspirational mantra, Wieden simply says: “Sometimes it’s the most inadvertent things you don’t really see.”

The power of detail  

From the annals of advertising comes another illustration of the importance of keeping one’s eyes peeled. When asked to create a campaign for the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, even the great copywriter David Ogilvy was stumped.

After the luxury British carmaker had thrown out every creative direction Ogilvy came up with, he spent the next three days reading every word in ostensibly the most un-creative thing he could find: the hefty engineers’ report on the car.

Whilst dissecting the technical details regarding engine acoustics, Ogilvy noticed a tiny handwritten margin note from one of the engineers. “At 60 miles an hour, all you hear is the ticking of the electric clock,” it read. That became the headline for one of the most successful campaigns Roll Royce has ever run. To the engineer, this fact was a mere detail. To the creative mind prepared for problem-solving, it was the solution it had been looking for all along.

Embrace the unfamiliar

Taking off your blinkers, correcting your tunnel vision and broadening your horizons is always a great recipe for finding inspiration in unexpected places. Just ask world-renowned Durban graphic designer Garth Walker. 

Founder of the iconic Orange Juice Design Studio and creator of South African design bible i-Jusi, as a young designer Walker was perplexed why the local advertising and design community had a massive blind spot when it came to the unique energy of the local visual vernacular. 

Walker’s genius was simply to recognise what needed to be done and proceed to do it. This was to challenge corporate South Africa’s mimetic Euro-American paradigm and propagate the use of Afro-centric design in local advertising.

Frustrated by the predominance of values which did not reflect the reality of South African society, Walker undertook to bring the semiotics of the street into the ivory tower of big-budget advertising and design.

Related: Robin Sharma on becoming a ‘chief inspirational officer’

Inspired by spaza shops wallpapered with Liqui-Fruit cartons, roadside haircut salons and the simplicity of the design of working-class consumables such as pilchard and shoe-polish tins, tobacco pouches, matchboxes and washing-powder containers, Walker’s mission was to open South African advertising’s eyes to the splendid palette of images that glowed and abounded in everyday life. 

Cultivate a 360° field of vision 

All too often that which we seen is hiding in frustratingly plain sight. Sometimes it is right beneath our very noses. The trick to finding this elusive creature is to change not what you’re looking at but how you’re looking at it. A slight alteration in perspective or a fresh lens is often the answer. To paraphrase Gary Player, the more your practice this method of looking, the luckier you will be at finding what you seek.

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About the author


Alex Sudheim

Alex Sudheim is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker, screenwriter, copywriter and lecturer. He heads up the Field of Copywriting at Vega School of Brand Leadership. Alex has received the Thomas Pringle Award for journalism and, as a copywriter, has won 7 Loeries. He has extensive experience in the financial sector and worked extensively on the positioning and brand identity of Barclays Africa. Alex recently completed his Masters in Media Theory and Practice at the University of Cape Town.

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