GETTING CREATIVE: Play the Opposite

The best actors do it all the time:
Play the Opposite.

Let’s say you’re cast to be a psychologically terrifying super villain. The kind of blood chilling monster that’ll keep you up nights after seeing the movie.
Someone like this:

But someone even worse. The Joker was, after all, telegraphing his malevolence via makeup. This is no slam on Heath Ledger. His portrayal was magnificent. Easily the best comic übermeany in any current, recent or past comic book flick.
The competition wasn’t stiff. Maybe Bane?

Again, just way too over the top. The tell is the face mask. Just a little too… “I am a social deviant,” don’t you think?
Fun? Sure.
Keep you up all night? Not quite.
But the guy below? Still freaks me out.
Anthony-Hopkins-as-Hannibal-Lector-Playing-the-Opposite-oh-so-calmlyHe’s a psychopathic genius who just happens to enjoy human flesh, with a nice Chianti and some Fava beans. Excuse me while I go to change my underwear.
In Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lector seems almost hyper sane. And that’s what’s so dang freaky.
A guy like Leatherface here is scary for the first few minutes, and only afterwards through the liberal use of editorial shock cuts.
…sigh…you were scarier when we didn’t actually see you.
But a Mensa-member cannibal that looks like the slightly weird guy down the street?
Invite him to a backyard BBQ? Yeah—no.
Hopkins, rather than playing type (insane cannibal) played the opposite (human ice cube). And it worked big time.
Congrats on the Oscar, Anthony. You deserved it.

Playing the Opposite (PtO) works wonders in marketing too.

Back in the Mad Men days, some dude coined a phrase that comes close to the power and utility of PtO:

“If everyone is zigging, it’s time to zag.”

As in, if everyone is doing A, do B (or even Z) to differentiate your message from the pack, and break through the noise. Well, duh. Counter programming. Good idea, Einstein. But how?
PtO is one really great ‘here’s how’ technique. I can think of no greater example than this masterpiece from 2007:

The product: Halo 3 for Xbox 360
The music: Chopin’s Op.28 No.15 ‘Raindrop Prelude’
The imagery: a gigantic, but completely static, diorama.
And the only thing moving in the whole thing?
The camera.
So let’s get this straight—
Marketing for one of the most frenetic, chaotic, and testosterone-poisoned game franchises in history fires up its gamerboy fanatics with a one-minute, 32-second trailer featuring a single camera slowly moving over a static set filled with non-acting action figures to the strains of classical music written in 1839? What’s that about?
They Played the Opposite. And to massive effect.
If everybody’s zigging, consider playing the opposite. But not just the opposite of the ziggers. The opposite of your brand’s standard operating procedure. Your product all about function? Look at presenting it emotionally. Or if you’re all about ‘low cost,’ present it with all the trappings of a luxury product. Either way, you’re sure to get a second (and more) look from an audience forced to view you with new eyes. PtO is a powerful technique, and an important tool to keep in your Creative toolbox.
Congratulations (even a decade later), McCann / San Francisco on one gorgeous, provocative, mesmerizing spot, and what I consider to be one of the very best examples of ‘Playing the Opposite.’
– D.P. Knudten
Chief Collaborator
©2017 D.P. Knudten / COLLABORATOR creative – all rights reserved

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