Reinterpretation: a form of creative adaptation

I went to the exhibition of Gabriel Orozco in Tate Modern last week. Gabriel once described his work as not inventing, just reinterpreting. I thought that is quite a brave statement from an artist especially in a world where originality is king. After seeing the work in the exhibition, I think I share his vision of creativity. His work often involves taking up existing objects and alter or reconfigure them, so that familiar items are transformed or placed in a new context, often with a keen understanding of the wider associations that they carry. It is a skill that requires not only creativity, but insights and sensitivity.

I can’t help but think, as advertising creatives, that’s a skill which has become more and more crucial. With fewer and fewer true inventions these days, products and services are by nature a reinvented version of the existing one. Advertising messages, at the same time, is a new angle looking at an emotion, or pardon my jargon, the selling proposition.

Part of the work I am engaging in my profession is adaptation. It often involves taking an idea which originally was either created for one market and re-engineer it to make it relevant for each local market where the message is communicating. Or sometimes we take an idea that was created within one single media platform in mind (often TV) and extend it 360 degree in all other media creating a truly cohesive message across all platforms.

Just take the classic brand Kit Kat as example, the ‘Have a break Have a Kit Kat’ proposition was successfully reinterpreted forAsia. A market where ‘having a break’ doesn’t necessarily mean a break in the mundane but simply a moment of relaxation in a highly stressful life.

The craft in adaptation also means when reinterpreting messages for different markets, you are avoiding the boring approach of standardization and really customizing it with the local audience in mind.

In fact not only in international advertising, the skill of adaptation runs in other disciplines and other forms of communications too.

In interior design (or shall I say retail communications), when Starbucks announced the opening of a branch in central London’s Conduit Street last year, some of the nearby residents famously object to the idea, fearing that the overtly manufactured mass appealed coffee chain will ruin their neignhourhood. The solution, led by the design director Thom Breslin, is to modify the interior design, taking inspiration from independent coffee houses, and created a branch that is in sync with the neighborhood, something even Rupert Everett will approve. The methodology has then rolled out to other branches in different areas from Knightsbridge to terminal 5. It’s adaptations at its best.

Photo by Louie Chow. Artwork entitled Carambole with pendulum by Gabriel Orozco.