Innovating (only) with what you have

rachel audige
4 min readOct 29, 2021

Unification in Advertising. Task Unification in anything else.

One of my favourite ads of all time is a Coca Cola® [‘Coke’] ad created by the agency McCann Erickson in Argentina here. The story I have been told is that the agency received an unusual creative brief: They had to get across a really inclusive message of Coke being ‘for everyone’ using only use the components of the product.

Screenshot from Coke Ad: McCann Erickson, Buenos Aires Argentina (see QR Code below)

Whether this is really how it happened or not, the way they delivered on this was both creative and cunningly clever. Even the accent is charming! And for some strange reason, I am surprised by the sneaky tear that appears every time I watch it…

My interest in this ad goes beyond its sticky smarts and the appealing voice over. As someone who believes that creativity has a DNA, I’m interested in the code behind it.

In their book Cracking the Ad Code, Jacob Goldenberg, Amnon Levav, David Mazursky and Sorin Solomon, go through 8 patterns that are apparent in some of the most creative ads. These patterns can be harnessed to create other great ads or to test or sharpen an idea.

The ad in question used a creative pattern that we humans have been using for centuries that the the authors call ‘Unification’. This is where you look at all the available resources in your ‘problem world’ and give one of them a now job to do. In the case of this ad, the Coke cans and bottle and lids are configured to tell twenty different stories.

In another memorable example in the UK, the John & Dylan Integrated Creative Team were asked to do something impactful to promote the ‘give blood’ campaign in National Blood Week. They identified existing assets or components and opted to drain the red from iconic features in the London urban landscape: mail boxes, red double-decker buses, the red circle of the Underground and simply added ‘London is running low on blood. Please make a date to donate.’ This made for a visually arresting campaign but it was also incredibly resourceful.

Both ads were the result of a powerful pattern that is not only intrinsically resourceful but also busts an important blind spot or bias in creativity, that of ‘functional fixedness’. This is a term coined by Karl Duncker back in the 1940s to explain our tendency to perceive an object as having a specific function and not be able to imagine alternatives.

In Systematic Inventive Thinking (aka S.I.T.) this ‘unification’ is applied to a ream of other areas including systems design, process and productivity issues and product innovation. In these applications it gets called ‘Task Unification’ and it is as obvious as it is surprising. Given how intuitive it is, what is key is to apply it with rigour and work through the available resources in a thorough or systematic way.

Examples from around the world include:

  • the realisation that blighted (condemned) houses could be used for temporary offices and a R&R space for workers rather than building pre-fab buildings on a major highway project;
  • the identification of existing structures in a design that could serve to protect people from potential blasts instead of adding cost and weight to a floating production unit for oil and gas;
  • the brilliant use of $73,000 customer receipts by Bar Aurora & Botteco Ferraz, in Brazil, to give bar customers the potential cost to them of drink driving. [“They got p&*&d…and then they got the message”]
  • the world’s largest luggage company, Samsonite, used Task Unification to expand into the college backpack market. Backpacks, especially for college students, cause back and neck strain due to the weight of their contents: textbooks, laptops, beverages and so on. Instead of padding the straps like other backpacks, the team created a way to use the heavy weight as a comfort advantage. The straps are shaped so that they press softly into the wearer’s shoulders at strategically located shiatsu points to provide a soothing massage sensation. The heavier the contents, the deeper the sensation and the more stress relief for the wearer.

What tends to happen at the end of every workshop where we have applied this is that people nudge each other, a bit incredulous and say “Surely, we’d already thought of that!?”

The beauty is that we are using not what is outside but what is inside the proverbial ‘box’; finding new uses for things that are right under our nose!

The Task Unification Tool

Here is a simple way of applying this tool:

i) Choose a topic for innovation (product, service, process, system, ad…);

ii) List its components;

iii) Choose a component from the list and assign its task to another component from the list;

iv) Visualise the ‘Virtual Situation’ by using words or a sketch

v) Identify opportunities, benefits and values for potential customers and situations;

vi) Spot feasibility challenges and write your initial thoughts on how to overcome them;

vii) Adapt the new situation to meet constraints and organisational needs and get out there and test it.

Rachel is a certified and experienced facilitator and trainer in Systematic Inventive Thinking, based in Australia. She is passionate about helping clients access more creative and counter-intuitive solutions and works at the intersection of marketing, strategy and innovation. She is the author of ‘UNBLINKERED: The quirky biases that get in the way of creative thinking…and how to bust them’.



rachel audige

Unearthing resourceful ideas hiding in plain sight. I am a Franco-Australian facilitator, trainer and writer on innovation and creative marketing & strategy.