Advertising and the Importance of Asking Why?

By Lindsay King, Associate Creative Director 

There’s an adage that kids say the darndest things. It’s only partially true, though. They also ask the darndest things — and the asking only ends when they’re asleep.

As any parent or caregiver will attest, toddlers love to push boundaries. This can be infuriating, sure, but this ever-inquisitive behavior also underscores what we’re trying to do as advertising professionals every day. A constant bombardment of “Why?” may make you want to pull your hair out, but you can learn a lot from the wisdom of the little ones when you begin to incorporate more “whys” into your role as an advertising and marketing professional.

Why Lean Into “Why?”

As an adult (or a good facsimile of one), you probably don’t ask “Why?” enough. That’s understandable. We’re busy and under tremendous stress. When was the last time you had more than a few days (or hours, even) to start and — gasp — finish a project?

The consequence of working in a pressure-cooker environment is that we tend to become focused problem solvers. The pattern often goes something like this: We’re handed bits and bobs of information. We engage our creative minds to synthesize everything into something exciting. We deliver results. Rinse. Repeat.

Here’s the problem, though: We get so caught up in this in-and-out process that we forget to breathe. We forget to ask why. After all, we’ve already jumped in. We don’t want to put on the brakes. But without deeper contemplation, our solutions might look good yet remain surface-level.

Ways to Incorporate “Why?” Into Your Workflows

Maybe you’re fine with potentially missing out on insights that could help you arrive at winning ideas. I’m guessing you’re not, though. Therefore, I’ll offer up a few tips to help you think (not act) like a toddler the next time you’re stretching your creative muscles:

1. Forget the ABC’s. Just concentrate on the C’s.

Curiosity. Context. Comprehension. Keep these three C’s in mind. Whole swaths of our industry have been built on being the first to market, so get clever and curious. At the same time, make sure you keep context in mind because it can be a game changer. For instance, if a client asks for a particular deliverable, find out why. You’ll satisfy your curiosity and get a better perspective on the root of the ask.

Finally, remember that you can’t ideate on what you don’t understand. Asking why a product works the way it does or has a certain strength or pain point deepens your comprehension. Consequently, it allows you to be a more effective, confident problem solver.

2. Go a step farther and ask “Why not?”

RAPP recently worked with Spectrum Business, which has the most competitive prices in the industry. So we went beyond “whys” and asked a series of “why nots”:

  • “Why couldn’t we call competitors and ask them to beat Spectrum’s price?”
  • “Why shouldn’t we publicize that the competition basically had to admit they couldn’t compete and Spectrum had the best deal?”

 

This minor shift generated major results. It was an unbelievable outcome for Spectrum, and one we couldn’t have achieved without mimicking the attitude of a relentless kiddo.

3. Invite (appreciative) conflict into your “Why?” meetings.

When you start incorporating “Why?” all over the place, you’re going to invite conflict. It’s OK. Disagreements don’t have to end in temper tantrums. Even youngsters can argue, pout, and get over everything in two minutes.

As you explore your “Why?” solutions, be prepared to engage in polite, calm, and reasoned discussions with everyone. (In other words, model good behavior.) Listen and learn from one another, but don’t just give in before you’re satisfied. You may raise a few eyebrows or hear some annoyed sighs after the fourth time you ask, “Yes, but why?” Nevertheless, know that early questioning can lead to significant and positive results.

Being a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to let go of your past self. Reach back to your inner toddler the next time you’re given a creative brief and let the “whys” flow. You may surprise yourself with the answers you find.