How to make a living cooking pancakes for kids.
The ghost of Mickey Mouse has haunted me for nearly a year now.
I swear it’s true. I can still hear those big unmistakable ears — bubbling warm on a fall morning. If I really think about it, I can even smell the concentric circles of egg, milk and powdered mix, as they swell to form that round and familiar face.
Against the stark contrast of a teflon sky, the outline of an iconic head slowly surfaces, like a Magic 8 Ball answer. My kids react to this site as if they had received the response, “It is decidedly so” or “You may rely on it” after asking,“Will we go to Disney World this summer?”
Their new limbs trembling, shivering in nervous energy, while a frantic remix of laughter and anxious applause envelop my kitchen. For a moment I think of Deadmau5.
To this day, I’m not quite sure what spawned my culinary departure that morning. Maybe it was a flashback to a childhood breakfast of my own, or a subconscious reflex to the Rick Moranis interview I had heard earlier in the week? (You know, the one where he speaks of leaving the bright lights of showbiz behind to focus on being the best Dad possible?)
What I do know is; the bar was inadvertently lifted from the very moment I unveiled my Walt Disney-inspired creation, binding me forever to a new standard for creative “pancakery.” Round, regular cakes-of-pan no more.
Subsequently, each weekend since Mickey’s delicious debut has been an exercise in divergent thinking. In the last year, my spatula has flipped trains and planes with the strength of a superhero and felt the underside of a crude, yet completely edible, rendition of Spongebob Squarepants. My 1/4 cup measuring scoop has poured out holiday tributes in the shape of hearts, eggs and shamrocks and even resorted to drizzling batter with divine hopes of producing a mouthwatering sacrament, reminiscent of the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
Fast forward to this past weekend— It’s Saturday morning. 6:30a.m. My latest creations are piping hot and on display; a “P” for Parker and an “A” for Adeline. They are golden-brown like a late summer tan and prepared to meet their demise at the hands of the two small humans, wielding miniature utensils, who sit salivating just feet from me. I stand proud in all my “dad-ness”, watching as they devour their initials.
My heart is a pad of butter on a hot surface, coursing a sticky, syrupy love, when it occurs to me…
“My work is a lot like making pancakes for kids.”
Let me explain. Everyday I stand and face the challenge of creating great work, as does anyone who has (or was) chosen to make a living reliant on creativity. Whether you’re a designer, a strategist, a marketer or technologist, the weight and desire to make something that’s not just memorable, but unforgettable, connects us all.
No one sets out to create ordinary, predictable, run of the mill work, but it happens. This unfortunate byproduct can be attributed to a variety of situational and circumstantial factors. Maybe your creativity is slowly suffocating inside a risk-adverse organization, dying at the hands of minuscule budgets, or gasping for breathe in between insane deadline requests. Perhaps the well of inspiration is running dry in a desert of bland, overly prescriptive, Betty Crocker creative briefs:
-1 cup Facebook campaign
-3 tbsp Twitter #hashtag promotion
-2 cups of Instagram
-An optional pinch of the “next big thing”
And while it would be convenient to believe that our work suffers at the hands of that which is out of our control, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the obvious and ugly truth which is; it’s WAY easier and feels FAR safer to produce the predictable. The same actions give birth to the same results and no one gets hurt, right? Copy and paste. Rinse and repeat.
Let’s face it, great creative work rarely comes about without risk, peril and its fair share of opposition. Combine the inherent challenges of our trade with the reality that we are often tasked with creating something extraordinary from the same ordinary ingredients that everyone else is using, and it’s no surprise to see so many erring on the side of caution, sticking with convention.
Comparability breeds vulnerability and vulnerability awakens an innate desire for self-preservation within us all.
With primal instincts on full alert, we retreat to the tried and true, cookie cutter, common-place campaign. We adjust our focus and aim for the status quo, relieved to see another, mediocre day.
But what if we took a different approach to the same tired recipes? Could the ingredients we are given be used in less obvious ways? Through a different lens, is it possible to reshape the work and experiences we make?
If so, why would we churn out the same unexceptional, circular pancakes, when a simple shift in thinking and application has the potential to fill our audience with child-like wonder intrigue and delight?
Let’s be honest, when was the last time your work made someone smile?
If it’s been some time, try rethinking something mundane into to something fascinating, and don’t be scared to make your Mickey Mouse pancake.
Below, I’ve started to assemble a few examples of what happens when the standard functionality of a platform is re-imagined, stock features are repurposed and apparent confinements are viewed from a different perspective to create unintended, unpredictable and unforgettable experiences.
Nick Hardeman’s, “Follow This”
We are Social’s, “Tweet & Shoot”
Ford’s, “Let them Tweet Cake”
Heineken’s, “Crack the US Open” (W + K)
Evian’s, “Instawalk” (MKG)
Intel’s, “Museum of Me“
Obscura Digital’s, “Connections for Facebook”
Ariel’s, “Fashion Shoot”
Google’s, “5 Great Ad Campaigns + Maps”
VW’s, “Fox Twitter Zoom”
*Worth mentioning: Fiat’s Google Maps-powered prank on VW
GE’s, “Social Fridge” (iStrategy Labs)
Granata Pet’s, “Snack Check”
American Express’s, “Foursquare Sync”
Peugeot’s, “Panama Puzzle”
Westfield Mall’s, “Real-life Pinterest Board”
Feel free to add via the comments feature…
Brendan Brown is an Account Supervisor at GY&K Marketing. Connect with him @TheBrendanBrown