When was the last time you did something different? Never-mind the time you wore the tutu in Central Park -- I'm talking to advertising people, here, and I'm just asking, "Done anything different lately?"
Advertising and marketing, since I've been in the business, has always preached the virtues of difference, while secretly espousing a culture of sameness. I've directed hundreds of TV spots. Literally. Hundreds. And on exactly two occasions, the agency asked me to make something that they had no previous reference for. Twice. Every other spot I directed -- every one -- had a reference that came from the agency, and every one of those references was for another, usually competitive, spot.
Creatives, theoretically, strive for difference to make the client's brand stand apart from the competition. (And the competition doesn't just include other things in the brand category, but all competition for viewers' attention, at least when we're talking traditional advertising.) Yet how many creatives leap onto the latest trends they find in CA? Let's not just pick on creatives here. How many agency owners wish their agency could be just like CP+B? Or Goodby? Or...it doesn't matter who. You get the point.
Enter the web. And on the surface, it gets worse. Because the truth is, a lot of the structure of what we need to do on the web requires a certain amount of sameness. It's one of the things that frustrates traditionalists most when they tiptoe into working on the web. You don't know how many discussions I've had with designers, art directors, writers -- creatives -- about why navigation needs to be what navigation needs to be. They want to do something different. And to their credit, well, they want to do something different. Navigation isn't, typically, the best place to apply that quest, though. I know there are exceptions. But in the world of the web, those exceptions are few.
As an aside, here's how I explain the sameness of navigation, and how it doesn't close off all avenues of creativity: Ever live in/stay in a place where the faucets are set up wrong? Hot on the wrong side, or maybe the valves turn different ways? Maddening, isn't it? Does that mean, in order to make a brilliant architectural statement, an architect should completely redesign the way the faucets work in a home? Clearly, it doesn't. A statement can, in fact, be made -- with faucets that work the way people are used to them working. Once in a great while, an elegant innovation comes along, and changes functionality -- like the motion-sensitive faucets in public restrooms. But even those get implemented over time. And even those are simply another type of sameness. You won't find the motion sensors on the wall behind you.
If you're questing for a difference in details like navigation, or faucets, for that matter -- it's probably a sign that your overall concept has way too much sameness going for it. You should be looking to broader strokes to create a point of differentiation. Much broader strokes.
Compounding the difficulty is the emergence of social media as a marketing force. One hundred and forty characters is one hundred and forty characters, no matter how you count it. Nonetheless, there have been numerous innovations in ways to use those characters to provide a different experience for the follower. Ditto Facebook apps, widgets, iPhone apps, and all the other stuff we play with every day to try to improve the perception of the brands we work on.
The fabled "Horse of a Different Color" has to come earlier. In the positioning, the big idea, and in the concept -- of the spot, the ad, or of the experience you want a prospect to have. That's the place to apply what Seth talks about in Purple Cow (I find it amusing that the horse in the Emerald City was also purple.) If your concept is just like everybody else's, no amount of innovative typography, photography, illustration, animation, or music composition is going to be enough to make it stand out.