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Zigging, Not Zagging

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

If you zig while others zag, you're likely taking the right steps toward Different. (Photo credit: Jake Colvin from Pexels.)

AT THE ADVERTISING AGENCY where I worked for 7+ years, the owner and chief creative director used to admonish his crew to “zig when everyone else is zagging.” It was great advice for developing attention-getting ad campaigns. If you don’t make your product or service stand out among the marketing clutter, you simply won’t get noticed.

The exhortation triggered a discipline in the creative process that applies to anything we do that involves creativity—including creating and following a personal dream for your life.

Your First Idea Is Probably Not Your Best

My years in creative business—ad agency, book marketing, writing for publication—have cued me in to a part of creativity that people often miss. It's a problem you see at times in advertising, greeting cards, or other creative expressions: Something about the headline, promo pitch, or punch line doesn't hit you quite right, but you're not sure why.

A humorous line may not fit the intended purpose. It happens in ads when a pun or some other quip doesn’t quite connect with the product it’s selling or makes you work too hard to figure out the connection.

(We've all seen the truly lame attempts at this—the heating and air service billboard that promises, "We'll bee there for you," and features a cartoon image of a bumble bee.)

In really bad cases, you remember the clever idea but can’t remember what the advertiser was selling.

Ideas like this make it into the public eye through short-circuited brainstorming. Someone in the room comes up with a clever idea—probably the first potentially good idea—and everyone decides to go with it. The concept may actually have some merit, but it is almost universally true that the first idea you come up with is not going to be the best.

“Best” means it works in every way to accomplish the mission. In advertising, the idea gets your attention, entertains you, makes you want what it’s selling, and leaves you with a positive feeling about the product or service. But it takes work beyond your first good idea to get to the best idea.

Think It Through (Again)

"Best idea" is also what you want when you set out to do Different.

You can probably name a handful of things that would make you happy. But if you press the ideas long enough, you’ll discover a downside to many of them you’re not willing to live with. That's why you need to stay with the creative process long enough to make sure you’ve considered all the angles.

Every choice you make entails a trade-off. Here are a few good questions to ask about the possibilities you're considering:

  • What will you have to give up in order to get what you want? Is the required trade-off one you will regret later? For instance, is the freedom of “setting your own schedule” worth the ups and downs of a freelance income?

  • Will you have to give up something you don’t want to do without in the long run? When we stepped out on our country-living dream, we determined that giving up the convenience of grocery stores nearby was worth the trouble. Even if a concern seems like a "little thing," it can frustrate you in the long run if you're not prepared to accept the new reality.

  • Are you trying to solve a short-term problem with a long-term solution? If you can’t stand your current job, for example, it’s probably a bad idea to just quit. You want to set yourself up to be moving toward something positive, not just away from something negative.

  • Have you thought it over and recognize that what you want is worth what you have to give up? If the answer is a solid "yes," that’s where you want to be.

Check out my blog “How Ready Are You to Do Different?” for additional help evaluating what you face in setting out on a life of your dreams.

End Up with an Idea that Works in Every Way

No-regrets living is your goal.**

In advertising development, thinking about how someone else could take your clever idea is critical. Is there a negative implication you don’t want?

To give you an example of how bad a negative connotation can be: On a software marketing project at the agency I worked for, our client was promoting a superior software product that was also aggressively price-competitive. So, our group came up with the clever headline, “More Bang, Less Bucks.”

We thought it was a great twist on the well-known saying “more bang for the buck.” What was unknown to us—but, unfortunately, known to the client—was a perceived origin of the saying that could render our idea seriously inappropriate. The client refused our approach because some would associate it with a phrase supposedly used by sailors to evaluate their experience with a prostitute.*

As I said, an ad reader often won’t know why a headline or concept leaves them with a bad feeling, but it registers nonetheless. You don’t want that to happen when planning your life.

Job changes, house sales, and business start-ups will have a major impact on your happiness. And zigging while others zag is absolutely the right way to think. You just want to be sure you'll feel great about whatever choices you make for how you want to live.

To help you think through how a change will affect your life as a whole, check out my post, “Here’s How You Can Manage the Many Moving Parts of Different.”


*Since then, I’ve learned that the client's attribution is likely not the actual origin of the phrase. It has more legitimate military origins about firepower on the battlefield. But merely the possibility that someone could think of the other origin would not have been good in a widespread advertising campaign.

**Photo credit: Natasha Fernandez from Pexels.


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