Emily Vernon

The Power of Concept Novelty

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If you’ve ever had the feeling we are recycling concepts over-and-over, trust me, you’re not the only one. Creating something that has never been done before is not easy in any industry, whether you are in consumer goods or streetwear. But with tough stakeholders and even more discerning audiences, it’s about creating concept novelty to excite individuals around elaborate, innovative or even recycled ideas.

We were all less jaded decades prior, in university or our first ‘real’ jobs. Then as time passed, everything became more predictable. The excitement of our first collection, season or campaign - a memory. I’ve fallen into this slump, and gotten out of it after witnessing the influence of concept novelty.

First, we need to understand how humans think. Humans love novelty, and in all forms. For some this means travelling to faraway places, others changing jobs and positions frequently, and many experiencing new neighborhood finds like a restaurant or shop. This brings excitement and stimulation into our opposite quest of forming and following routines. I know, we want it all. But today, there’s so much content, options and stimulation that we’re both overwhelmed and bored. Fun times.

A novel concept is familiar, clear and intriguing. Whether the premise for a novel or foundation for a collection, it’s mere summary or title makes people want to know more. For example, if you are writing a novel and its premise is ‘woman moves to a big city and faces new adventures’, well, it seems predictable and flat. If the premise changed to ‘80-year-old World War II survivor moves back to where it all started’, then we already want to know more about the character’s past, future and how they will overcome these. (I just read a WWII novel set in Paris, so it’s on my mind).

If pitching a marketing, communications or retail platform, it’s all in the concept name. Coming up with the right name, even if it is only for internal purposes, can take numerous rounds. This is because you need busy stakeholders to understand, love and internalise your idea. If a key stakeholder already starts to use your novel concept name after your presentation, then it worked.

For example, say you need to sell a new glass cleaner concept to your CEO. If your concept premise is ‘glass so clean it feels like you’re outside’, you might call your concept ‘Your Sunshine Agent’ or ‘Window Eraser’. This suggests a playful benefit to an otherwise standard consumer good. This novel concept name already gives your audience an idea of the tone of voice or content that would be included. The CEO, very quickly, can understand your idea from the clear and compelling title.

Concept novelty is creativity, in a way. When coming up with a concept on highly commercial projects, we don’t always feel creative. This is because the idea seems obvious, simplified or limited by numerous brand or industry rules. In this case, we apply creativity to pitching the concept and persuading others to believe in it. For many, this can feel counterintuitive. We believe the work should speak for itself. But in our world of emails, quarter results and global targets, the creative marathon comes in after your idea’s creation. This is where concept novelty helps to keep your idea intact and alive.

It took me years to understand and believe in concept novelty. But as both a brand strategist and designer, this helped me form better, more intriguing ideas. We all have many ideas, but it is usually the most compelling and easy to understand that survive. Concept novelty is a reliable litmus test you can use to decide on an idea or improve one that is super close to awesome. Just remember - all humans like novelty. It’s how we have fun in our routine-driven, overly-simulating world.