Clarity Is More Important Than Creativity — The French Onion Soup Rule

Make sure I know what you do before your marketing gets too creative

I worked in a restaurant out of college that decided spice things up at lunch and serve soup. We went with two classics out of the gate: broccoli cheese and French onion.

My guess is someone in the corporate office wanted to keep costs down, so we served the French onion with big cheesy croutons lids (toasted baguette slices and some melted some cheese over the top) instead of melting cheese over the entire bowl. This was our “unique take” on traditional French onion soup. The line cook filled the bowl with the soup and then dropped one of the crouton lids over the top. Done and out. Time saved and food costs cut.

The problem that quickly presented itself was we weren’t serving the “French Onion Soup” our patrons were expecting. For better or worse, Americans have been taught that beef soup with caramelized onions only becomes “French Onion Soup” when it has a big pile of gruyère cheese melted over the top and down the side of the bowl. If we would have called it Beefy Onion Soup with Croutons, we’d have been fine.

The cheesy crouton lid method lasted about a week before we had to convert to the melty cheese method as French onion was printed on the menu.

While it can be tempting for a photographer to want to be an alchemist of light and shadow instead of a photographer, it’s a smarter decision to be a photographer first.

Doing this lets me know if you can help me solve my photography problems. Once what you do is clear, then knock yourself out with the light and shadow alchemy copy. That could create a cool and unique brand that sets yourself apart from the rest of the blah photog websites out there. But if I need photography help and you’re an “alchemist,” figuring out if you can help will be harder. And we all hate that. Heck, in America today, most people probably don’t even know what alchemist means.

Clarity needs to come before creative in today’s insanely busy world. Creative can come right on in after the door is open, but clarity is the key to the door.