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The end of “edgy”

One of the side benefits of tough economic times is that fewer clients are asking for “edgy” work. Edgy we’ll define as “different for the sake of different” but it is also has an element of cool. It’s a special request of marketing managers who want to be able to show around their work and get the compliment, “ooh, that’s edgy!”

So what’s the problem with edgy? Good creative grows from a solid understanding of product and audience and a calculated plan to put the two together, which may or may not produce something never seen before. If you’re selling an insurance product it’s not likely that it will meet the edgy test without being irrelevant and ridiculous. But maybe you could sell a new movie in an edgy way… or maybe not.

In the great article on Pixar in the May 16 issue of the New Yorker, John Lassiter remembers the first time he pitched the movie “Toy Story” to executives at Disney. “They said, first, ‘You absolutely can’t have “Toy” in the title, because no teenager or young adult will come see the movie.’ And second, we had to make the characters ‘edgy.’” Can you imagine Woody as a bleary has-been with a Nixonian 5 o’clock shadow? That’s Disney’s “edgy” version which was ultimately tanked in favor of the thoroughly traditional cowboy who is now part of movie iconography.

Anthony Lane, the writer of the Pixar article, advises dramatists to “avoid anyone who talks about edgy, apart from a practicing mountaineer.” Same goes for those mini-dramas we call advertising.  Most creative briefs have a section about the voice of the copy, and it’s fine to request a fresh and unexpected tone and the copywriter will do their best as long as it doesn’t compromise the core marketing message. But please, no “edgy”.

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