The Inspire or Expire Rules

Why do you do what you do? Yes, you. You over there making stuff. Sure, you have to pay the bills. But, really, if you’re doing something in this making-stuff field (aka creative services) chances are good it’s because you want to make something GOOD. So how do you judge whether your own work is good enough? Good enough for you, good enough for your clients, good enough for the rest of us out here in the big wide world.

I have developed a simple set of rules meant to help us check our own boring “is-it-worthy” bullshit at the door and answer that question without all the usual panic. I call these rules the “Inspire or Expire Rules.”

They apply to everyone in marketing, advertising and related creative fields: from copywriters to programmers, account execs to project managers, creative directors to interns. Because the reality is no one is relieved of the obligation to inspire. If you do relieve yourself of this charge because you think it’s too hard, you might as well resign, or expire.

It matters not whether we’re talking about a billboard, a cocktail napkin, a mobile website, a piece of letterhead, a print ad, a voice over for hold music, even a social media post (actually, especially a social media post). These are all opportunities to inspire and to be inspired.

Here goes! The rules. Hold up that thing you made, and consider carefully:

Rule # 1 – Is it funny?

Does it make you laugh out loud, or chuckle to yourself?

We all know that humor, when relevant, really connects with people. And the world is just not funny enough these days (even Kid President thinks we’re all too boring).

Rule # 2 – Is it clever?

Does it make you smile or sigh in a “that’s really fucking smart I wish I had thought of that kinda way?” (just think about how many times you’ve wished you invented Velcro).

Anyone who’s seen the famous print ad for Volvo with the safety pin shaped car knows what I mean.

Rule # 3 – Is it touching?

Does it move you? Tears of sadness or joy are acceptable.

(I will not name names, but I have seen people cry while watching lame tide commercials. That’s not what I mean.)

It really has to touch and or/tug at your heartstrings, in an “I do believe in unicorns” or “I want to help starving babies way.”

Rule # 4 – Is it shocking?

Does it freak you out, or rattle you to your core? Not in the way an animated gif can be shocking, but in a jaw dropping, I can’t believe that shit just happened kind-of-way, inspiring you to desperate wanting or to total revulsion.

Think about those crazy smoking ads with people using electronic speech machines while still smoking through the hole in their neck. Really makes you want to light one up, right?

Rule # 5 – Is it educational?

Does it teach you something meaningful? That you’ll still remember after a few beers?

Did you know banking on the weekends means you’re 30% less likely to be the victim of a stickup (most of which take place at banks during the week). Not sure this makes for a great bank ad, but you’ll probably think twice about swinging by the ATM during lunch on Tuesday.

Teaching is a big part of inspiration. Share the knowledge and insights in an inspiring way, and the info will really stick.

Rule # 6 – It is valuable?

Does it offer something worthwhile?

In some instances, inspiration can be delivered through intentionally well-positioned value. I hate to say it, but the right kind of offer or coupon can stimulate trial and grow awareness. However, if this is the only rule you’re satisfying with your creative effort, then you are most certainly copping out.

You get the gist. If your work doesn’t live up to the rules, take a step back. Explore. Be Curious. Get inspired by finding what inspires you. Then commit to better work, perhaps find better colleagues or more inspiring clients. At the very least you go back to the drawing board, or back to your project manager to ask for more time. Mine usually lets me off the hook.

Good luck out there.