The other week, I got a brilliantly challenging question from Stuart Smith. He saw my presentation on Creativity and Complexity and asked me how to reconcile semantic & emotional complexity of brands with the need for the consistency of their global deliverables.
That's a nice one. After all, what's the benefit of complexity? Well, the human experiences are rich and nuanced and often really ambiguous. There are no two people that experience a same thing in the exactly same way. So, if human experiences aren't simple, why should brands be? The best brands are indeed those that are able to keep this complexity intact, without falling into the trap of reducing it the only one narrow aspect (the statement, the medium, the audience).
Think Apple. The most famously elegant brand around is, in fact, pretty complex. Where does this complexity come in? Counterintuitive as it may sound, it's in design. The design of Apple's products is intuitive enough to appeal to everyone. Steve Jobs never defined the "target" for his products. He never exclaimed that he wants to "appeal to 18-24 year old men," for example. And intuitive is not the same as simple. In fact, it's pretty far from it. Intuitive things retain the complexity of experience without simplifying it to a single dimension.
Or, think Converse (I have some sort of emotional hangup with this one). Thoughout the years/decades of being around, Converse created a rich & multidimensional brand, based on layers upon layers of accumulated cultural meanings & signifiers. Instead of being part of some pre-designed brand experience, these cultural connotations come from memories that are simultaneously personal (mine) and that cross the boundaries of country and audience (everyone's). This sort of collective memory can only be created from associating products with experiences that are so deeply personal that they become universal.
Both of these cases remind me of boundary objects. They are things that "have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. They are plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of several parties empoying them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identitiy across sites. They are weakly structured in common use and become strongly structured in individual use. The creation and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing coherence across intersecting communities."
So people have thought about this one before.
Good. Because, in my own experience, complexity is great for creatives. It gives them the maximum inspiration & creative flexibility and the maximum executional options. It also creates thinking/outputs that are emotionally robust and nuanced enough to provide a backbone for many years of creative work for the brand (and removes the on-off campaign mentality) - you can go back to the well many times without repeating yourself. Second, complexity breeds many executional options, and secures that they are adaptive and adaptible to the fuzzy digital environment. Third, complexity has really become the only way, when you think about it. The old school planning mantra, narrow everything down, make things obvious, make things clear, doesn't get today's brands' problems solved. It just ignores them. Not the risk I'd take.
And besides, clarity is the enemy of magic.