Let me start by making something very clear:
I am loud, small, and from Long Island.
I would not do well in a sensory deprivation tank or on Tom Hanks’ island in Castaway. I am the furthest thing from an introvert.
People like me are woefully unchill, but we have redeeming qualities. We’re less timid when we present in a meeting, for example.
But extroversion can go awry, too. An extrovert can be all flash and no substance, preferring to dazzle and charm rather than actually solve a creative problem. Just because people are loud does not mean they’re right, myself included.
But over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with many introverts, who are some of the hardest-working talents in the creative services industry. In fact, one might argue — one is, in fact, arguing, right now, at this very moment — that, although the smooth-talking extrovert is still the agency stereotype, advertising is going the way of the introvert.
What is an introvert?
Contrary to popular belief, an introvert is not someone who’s shy or prefers alone time. The difference between extroversion and introversion is based on the way in which people respond to attention and other stimuli.
“At its core, introversion is about deriving less reward from being the center of social attention,” Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University, writes in Psychology Today. “Getting the spotlight is not that important or fulfilling. Extroverts, in contrast, love social attention. It energizes them, it brings out their best qualities, and it bolsters their stamina, extemporaneous thinking, and productivity.”
This presents a challenge: How can introverts convince people of the validity of their ideas when all the gregarious extroverts are sucking all the oxygen out of the room?
Here’s what I’ve gathered from my field research, a.k.a. talking to creative introverts:
Let introspection be your guide
From the ’60s to the ’90s, advertising was built around the tagline. Here are a few that are probably imprinted in your brain:
• “They’re G-r-r-r-r-eat!”
• “Don’t Leave Home Without It”
• “Got Milk?”
Extroverts are great at delivering taglines in a big pitch meeting — it’s their Super Bowl. It’s the place where they can be loud, boisterous, and razzle-dazzley.
In fact, one could argue that, historically, Super Bowl ads were very extrovert-driven: big, brash, and borderline self-obsessed.
But that’s all beginning to change.
Advertising has become more nuanced over the last few decades. The Super Bowl is no longer the belle of the ball. With the advent of the social media, blogs, vlogs, and all other kinds of logs, audience interest and attention is more fragmented than ever. Today’s consumer doesn’t just watch TV shows or channels, they also live in subreddits, absurdist twitter accounts, and other online niches.
Having multiple audiences with a multiplicity of interests means advertisers have to produce content with more layers. This calls for the ability to look inside oneself for answers to the outside world; to remove oneself from the spotlight in service of the audience. Introverts tend to do this sort of introspective work better than anyone.
Use your natural ability to deconstruct
Ad blockers and DVRs have given people the magical ability to skip the ads they think suck. Anyone who’s consumed ad-supported content knows the gimmicks and this point:
- You’ve got X Problem? Try Y Solution!
- Suck at Thing X? Thing Y will make weirdly good at it!
It’s how diets, acne creams, and myriad other products have been marketed for decades.
These hackneyed constructions just aren’t cute anymore.
This is a bit of a generalization, but introverts are naturally more cerebral and empathetic. They have the patience to sit alone (they enjoy sitting alone!) in order to interrogate who an ad or product is trying to appeal to and why. As a result, they can create outputs that are more nuanced and, frankly, less corny.
Nuance is your friend
These days, clients want campaigns to work harder and get more legs from content. It’s helpful to have a campaign that has layers to it, because that means there’s more for the audience to be curious about. The level of depth and self-awareness it takes to create something speaks to the introvert’s strengths.
Take Old Spice ads, for example.
Men’s hygiene products haven’t traditionally been the most profound. But over the last decade or so, Old Spice commercials have mainly been about the absurdity of, well, commercials.
In one, for example, a couple is about to have an “intimate moment” when the husband turns the conversation into an oddly specific inquisition about his Old Spice Moisturize with Shea Butter Body Wash. It’s extremely self-aware for a body wash commercial — and it’s working.
“It’s weird that I intentionally, willingly clicked on this even though I knew it was an ad,” YouTube user Ian Luna commented back in January. “Finally, an ad me and other people would actually click,” added YouTube lurker Patrick Star. About 20 million other people who’ve viewed the ad feel the same.
So how do you actually pitch as an introvert?
A good sales team is like a well-selected squad in Pokemon Stadium: everyone uses their own strengths to accomplish something, whether it be winning a client or beating the Viridian City gym leader.
To translate that for those who don’t speak Nintendo, there’s opportunity for everyone to contribute in the pitch meeting — extroverts, introverts, and all the folks in between. Extroverts can still woo the client with their wily ways. Introverts can discuss the more nuanced and self-aware elements of the campaign, explaining the inputs that were necessary to create such a dazzling output.
Introverts are also well-positioned to tease out the layers of a campaign that give it legs, like an ongoing content platform, or a feedback mechanism that considers the audience’s POV, and turns them into advocates.
None of this is to say that people are only either introverts or extroverts. People are not black-and-white cookies; they’re more the Italian rainbow kind. Understanding how to harness the introverted and extroverted qualities inherent in our nature can make us more successful in the boardroom and beyond.