A party spokesperson defended his leader’s obsession with building statues of her own with the explanation that it was just a “permanent poster”. The ostentation of constructing a big garden to celebrate a particular community was explained away by comparing it to the Taj Mahal. When the Taj was made, it too may have been seen as the extravagance of the king but today it is seen as a memorial to eternal love. Give the garden a few centuries of existence and it would be seen in a similar light, the loyal follower said. This is not to defend either of the two acts or pass a judgement in their defence, but one can’t ignore either argument. Though they may sound facile or comical, one can’t debate the “creativity” of the explanation. The unusual connections do make them interesting statements.
Much in literature and art attracts our attention because of the unusual connections they make. Talking about poetry, Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” is filled with metaphors – “And then I saw a crowd of daffodils, fluttering and dancing in the breeze” – connecting flowers with words commonly associated with humans, “crowd” and “dancing”. In India, the lyrics of some of the most charming songs work when they use words in unconnected ways. For example, Javed Akhtar eulogises the personal euphoria of being in love with the words “Din mein hui kaise chandni” (in daytime there is moonlight) — unlikely to happen but just so uplifting! Prasoon Joshi romanticises the interactions between lovers with the line “Choo lo badan, magar is tarah, jaisa koi sureela saaz ho” (‘Touch me just as a musician caresses his instrument,” says a beloved to her lover). It is, again, the unusual connections the creator makes with words that capture a listener’s imagination.
In his book The Tell-Tale Brain, V S Ramachandran identifies nine “laws” of aesthetics, nine elements that make people’s brains react intuitively to things: grouping, “peak shift”, contrast, “peek-a-boo” or perceptual problem-solving, isolation, abhorrence of coincidences, orderliness, symmetry and metaphor. Five have a connection with what makes our minds and hearts respond to creative messages. “Peak shift” is about the appeal of exaggeration — a reason why caricatures always capture our imagination. “Contrast” is the appeal of a sudden change in luminance, colour or some other property of spatially contiguous, homogeneous regions. Isolation is the appeal of simplicity — a seeming contradiction of the two laws already mentioned. “Peek-a-boo” is about how images that leave something to the imagination – alluring, challenging – appeal to the human brain. And “metaphor” is about how words conjure up visual images (like the examples stated earlier), or visuals that mean more than what they are — in both cases evoking strong emotions and reactions within the brain. Interestingly, hidden in each of these rules is some “unusual connection” a creative expression contains that makes it appealing to the viewer.
Let me now illustrate this with some examples from advertising. After all, advertisements are pieces of art attempting to appeal to the aesthetic sensitivity of consumers while trying to make a sale. There are, of course, many layers of any good piece of advertising; however, if peeled, some interesting and unusual connections can often be revealed.
In SBI Life’s “diamond ring” commercial, an old man is seen gifting a diamond ring to his wife on Valentine’s Day. The message is this: with an SBI pension plan, you can afford the good things in life even in old age. There is much to be said in the casting, scripting (“heere ko kya pata tumhari umar”, or how does the diamond know your age?), and the direction. However peeled, it is the contrast of an old couple celebrating Valentine’s Day – associated mostly with young romantics – that makes the idea fresh and arresting.
In a spot for Centre Shock, a young “dude” walks into a barber’s shop to get a funky haircut. The old, experienced barber puts some sour candy in the dude’s mouth to give him a shock that makes his hair stand up automatically to the “style” he desired. Again, much can be said about the way the story was told, from casting to acting to direction. However, looking further, what works is the rule of “peak shift”: the exaggeration. Juxtaposing old and new, haircut and sourness, and doing it all with hyperbole make the creative piece charming. Much the same principle is at work in the Happydent “castle” commercial, in which a young boy rushes back to a castle to join a chandelier that lights up the king’s dining table. Though the overall setting is bizarre (humans hanging in place of lightbulbs all along the way), the magical song and dramatic reveal of the lighting add to the engagement. But again, “brightness of teeth” being connected unusually to “brightness from a bulb” makes the expression engaging and memorable.
“Metaphor” has been the heart and soul of much of Vodafone’s advertising, and that of Hutch before that. Whether it was the kid and dog (a boy in the “Network” campaign, and a girl in the “Happy to Help” campaign) or, of course, the Zoozoos, the visual metaphors challenged the brain to make connections between the offering and the story, and thus charmed the heart. These have caused execution after execution to be much anticipated. Metaphors have also been at the heart of much of the iconic Fevicol advertising. Clearly, metaphors are perhaps the most explicit form of making unusual connections.
The charm of “isolation” comes from something unusual within it. Take the Indian Railways commercial made for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. The adult train (a game usually played by kids) made to the tune of a 1960s famous Hindi song was an enchanting way to represent a railway brand.
Creativity has two parts. The idea, which is often the connections the creator embeds in the content; and the craftsmanship, the elements that go into the execution of the idea. The best ideas are those that make the most unusual connections, thus providing the human mind something unexpected. Interestingly, craftsmanship often involves the other “laws” of aesthetics.
The real challenge is to identify which unexpected connections are acceptable to the receiver’s mind. But that’s the fun of creativity. Something worth thinking about.
The examples are based on the writer’s experience.
All interpretations are his own.