Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Great creative never starts with a blank page

Most people probably think that as ad creatives, we start with a blank page.

I would argue that in advertising that is rarely the case. And usually when it is, it means something is dreadfully wrong.

Starting point

Strategy is already shaping the page before we even touch it. And, that's as it should be. The all too crucial brief starts to put the structure together that defines a starting point, and the end point.

What is the problem we're solving? What obstacles might we face? What key insight(s) do we have about the problem or people we are trying to reach? What message are we trying to communicate? What is the reason to believe the message? How will we measure success/What is the end goal? What is the opportunity?

And the best will also include the audiences' fears, dreams, etc with pyschographics, as well as data on the competition for even more context.

This strategic foundation is the basis of great creative work, most importantly the key insight(s) which is the meaty goodness creatives love to sink their teeth into as they brainstorm.

Get inside the box

The all too overused phrase "think outside the box" when applied to advertising or marketing should really be "think inside the box". If there are budget constrains, specific requirements, or other elements that will ultimately constrain the "blue sky thinking" that most often happens in brainstorm sessions, it doesn't matter how great the idea is if the client can't pay for it. Sure, I've had plenty of projects where I've been able to sell in more expensive ideas--but it's not the norm. The solutions you can create that don't cost millions have to work harder and be smarter. Sure you can throw dollars at something and that alone might be enough. But, it's thinking within the parameters and constraints that is the challenge of developing great ideas that break through. It's also how we bring value to what we create; what makes our job skilled and not something just anyone can do.

Bring on the ideas

Great ideas play off archetypes that resonate with people. That help them see how a product or service solves a problem or helps achieve a goal. These ideas sometimes bring unrelated thoughts together in new ways that capture attention and drive engagement. Other times the ideas bring together new technologies and evolving social behavior in new ways.

Ideation or concepting might begin with doodles, random notes, and even research. Brainstorming brings some of these ideas together in ways not thought of before because different thinkers are combining their thought processes. It's one reason why team work is often better than the work of a single creative. Working in a vacuum, there is no outside voice to bounce things off or to build upon the idea with a different perspective. These additional idea builds can come from anywhere and from anyone.

The tricky part is to know what are good builds and what are bad builds--to keep the original idea from becoming too muddied--to keep it on strategy. All too often you see an ad where you wonder how it came to be. There's a gleam of something amazing there, but it's been stripped down or covered up with other things that it's a shadow of what it once was. Often that means it's a victim of "design by committee" or "too many chefs in the kitchen" issues.

Ideas that win

Put yourself in the audience's shoes. Sure, you might not be the target, but what are the kinds of things that resonate with you? What do you like to see? What ads have you loved? We are all human--we all have similar desires and fears. We want people to like us. We are afraid of being alone. We want to have it all. We want to be happy. There are many ways to skin these basic human emotions. The best ideas play into these in ways that are relevant to the audience you're trying to reach. It's why good creatives are curious. They want to understand what makes the people they are talking to tick. Because that's key to making ideas that win.

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