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Page1of 1 Or I Could Just Shoot The Guy
by Ernie Schenck

If you’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’ll remem­ber the scene in the bazaar where Indiana confronts the swords­man in black, wielding his scimitar, threatening to slice Professor Jones into so many flesh, leather and khaki ribbons. I have a copy of the original screenplay and it calls for a long, drawn-out sword fight between Jones and the swordsman. But the day before Steven Spielberg was scheduled to shoot the scene, Harrison Ford came down with a horrific case of food poisoning. Ford tried to pull off the sword fight, but it was no use. He was sick as a dog, needed to get back to his trailer and so, of course, he improvised. He pulled out his pistol and shot the swordsman dead.

Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has performed entire concerts. He doesn’t practice. He doesn’t rehearse. He doesn’t have to. He makes the entire thing up on the fly. “People think if you do something 500 times, somehow you know it,” Jarrett contends. “Well, the more you do these things, the harder it is to really do them as new. I never go with what I feel an audience wants and also I’m not even going with what I want. I’m just trying to let my feelings tell me; show me a sound I haven’t heard.”

Improvisation is a talent of staggering proportions. The ability to pull an idea out of the air, with virtually no time, no deliberate thought, no sense of what could be called a quantifiable direction, is something that actors, comedians and musicians covet mightily. And so they should. And so should you and I.

Will Burns is a consultant, founder of virtual ideation company, Ideasicle, and a contributing columnist at Recently, Will did a piece on a social media incident involving a Facebook post and Bodyform, the feminine hygiene products company. As it turns out, a snarky guy named Richard posted this, um, cynical observation on Bodyform’s advertising:

“Hi, as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years. As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things, I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding, rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings!! Dam my penis! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for the joyous adventurous time of the month to happen…you lied!! There was no joy, no extreme sports, no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no. Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming wooaaahhhhh bodddyyyyyyfooorrmmm bodyformed for youuuuuu as my lady changed from the loving, gentle, normal skin colored lady to the little girl from The Exorcist with added venom and extra 360-degree head spin. Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform, you crafty bugger…”

Needless to say, a lot of brands hate this sort of thing. It’s exactly the reason so many fear the perceived vulnerability that comes from having a digital presence. Not Bodyform. Instead of running for the hills, they pivoted on a dime with a mock apology video, the kind of quick turnaround that would have been right at home on Second City.

In the clip, fictional CEO Caroline Williams, fesses up about the company’s advertising over the years. “What you’ve seen in our advertisements so far isn’t a factual representation of events, you’re right. The flagrant use of visualization such as skydiving, roller­blad­ing and mountain biking—you forgot horse riding, Richard—are actually metaphors, they’re not real. There’s no such thing as a happy period.”

This is something new. And social media has made it so. Brands need to be agile now. And so do you. In the new media landscape, you’re going to need a new talent in your quiver. An ability to turn on a dime and react to real-time pressures in a creative, rapid-response manner. In a word, improv.

As Burns points out, “Brands are no longer so carefully crafted, calculated and canned that we must plan in the fall, produce in the winter, launch in the spring and maintain in the summer. There’s little that’s static about a brand’s performance in the marketplace today.”

Creative improv is about acceptance. Keeping a fluid mind. Accepting creative challenges as they’re thrown at you instead of resisting them, doesn’t mean you do anything the client wants. It doesn’t mean you throw craft out the window. It just means respecting the objection instead of giving it the brush-off. It means keeping an open mind. Let the resistance in, riff off it and see if it gets you to a better place. It frequently does. ca Schenck
Ernie Schenck ( is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.